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[Opinion] What the Moto X promised to be, what it will be, what it won't be and why

The leaks promised us the world, the launch left us a little flat, and the future is undecided. Read on as we take a look at all the Moto X will and won't be.
August 4, 2013
Moto X

The Moto X was unveiled this Thursday to what can only be described as a mediocre response. The Moto X was the most hyped, and most leaked smartphone of the year so far, and no matter how good the smartphone turned out to be, it couldn’t live up to the hype.

So why has the Moto X failed to inspire people to call it the game changer that Motorola says it is? The reasons are a blend of trip ups, slip ups and some plain stupid decisions that could hold this phone back from reaching its full potential.

The Apple influences are there for all to see

When Motorola unveiled the Moto X it said that it wasn’t about the spec-sheet, but the user experience. If that sounds familiar it’s because Apple uses the same argument for the iPhone every year.

The iPhone might not have the most cores, the highest megapixel count, the biggest screen, or the largest battery when it’s unveiled, but regardless of whether you like iOS or not, you can’t argue that the iPhone performs admirably in the places where it matters (at least for the regular consumer).

galaxy s4 vs iphone 5 5 back aa

The iPhone 5 takes great pictures, performs smoothly, has a great app store, decent battery life and a solid, high-end design. These are pretty much the only factors that matter for the regular consumer. So where does the Moto X fit into this?

Those who have gotten their hands on the Moto X have all said that the Moto X performs buttery smooth, even smoother than other high-end Android smartphones like the HTCOne. This is due to the X8 computing system, and software optimizations by the Motorola team, but to a regular consumer this means very little. All that matters is whether or not it performs smoothly, and the Moto X passes this test with flying colors.

Since the Moto X is an Android smartphone, it has access to the Google Play Store, which has blossomed into a competent app store. While not quite on the same level as the iOS App Store, the Play Store has shown that it is able to put up a good fight, and the Moto X benefits from this. There are enough games to fill a users storage space, and plenty of apps to choose from for every task.

Moto X

As far as design goes, despite being made of plastic, the Moto X does a good job of feeling great in the hand and keeping that high-end look and feel (Plastic can feel high-end? Quick, someone tell Samsung).

There’s also the ability to customize your Moto X’s design to match your lifestyle and attire, but that’s not without flaws (more on that later). Full camera comparisons haven’t been made yet, but so far the consensus has been good, but not great when it comes to the Moto X’s camera. The camera app on the other hand…

So you’ve read this far and thought, “Wait, so where’s the bad part?” Patience young skywalker, all will be revealed.

The Moto X wants to be the default phone choice for the masses

We just compared the Moto X to the iPhone 5, and its similarities are more than just software and hardware. They’re even targeted at the same market. The Moto X wants to be the default phone choice for the masses, the one that a person chooses when he walks into a carrier store looking for a smartphone, but without a specific phone in mind.

Galaxy S4 vs iPhone 5
The current default phone choices for the masses, the iPhone 5 (left) and the Galaxy S4 (right).

The problem with Motorola’s plan is that the two biggest smartphone manufacturers in Samsung and Apple occupy this space already. When a person walks into a store they either go for the iPhone 5 due to the brand name, build quality and app store, or they go for the Samsung Galaxy S4 for the supposed “cool factor”, big, bold and beautiful Full-HD Super AMOLED display and the cool features.

Motorola has some serious competition to deal with, but the question is, how does Motorola plan to combat them?


Let’s get this out there right now. It’s no secret that marketing is a very big factor in the success of a smartphone. I mean just take a look at the market share lists and you’ll see that the two companies with the biggest manufacturing budgets — Samsung and Apple — are right at the top of the list. If Motorola wants to uproot this duopoly it’s going to need some serious pulling power.

WSJ reported that Google and Motorola could spend several hundred million dollars marketing the Moto X, and it’s going to need every single cent of it.

Samsung has gone the route of making its phones look cool, often at the expense of other manufacturers (cough… Apple…cough) in order to market its smartphones. While some would call this a not so classy way of selling your product, it works, and the skyrocketing sales of Samsung smartphones are proof of this.

Apple on the other hand, is forever trying to remind us that it focuses on creating that signature look, feel and experience. From the “Designed in California” labels, to the Jonathan Ive-starring design videos, Apple wants you to know that “this is our signature, and it means everything.”

Motorola has already begun its ad campaign with a bang. It had full page ads running in major U.S. newspapers to remind people that the Moto X is coming, and it’ll be the first smartphone to be designed by you, the consumer, and assembled in the U.S.A. This ad also happened to run on the most patriotic day in American history — the 4th of July — so the whole “assembled in the USA” theme meant even more.

Moto X ad

We’ll see how much Google will be willing to spend marketing the Moto X and any other variants that may appear, but for now it’s too early to judge.

The Moto X has a very cool X factor, but it’s only available on AT&T

If there was one leak which got people most excited, it was the customization leak. At first we thought it could be something to do with specifications. Allowing you to choose between a budget Moto X for your mother, or a high-end Moto X for yourself.

Turns out that this didn’t end up happening, but we still got a very cool way of customizing our smartphone. The Moto Maker is the x factor that the Moto X so desperately needs to stand out from the rest of the crowd.

The need to be unique is one that is almost universally shared by humans. Case in point, despite the huge costs for custom license plates on cars in Australia, there are hundreds of thousands of people willing to pay for this small, and arguably worthless, differential factor. The Moto X offers this type of differentiation for free. You get the point that this is going to be a huge selling point (and I mean massive).

So many colors!
So many colors!

So Motorola went and completely shot itself in the foot by making the Moto Maker feature an AT&T exclusive, at least for the time being. It’s almost as if the Motorola executives came together and made a list of the top 10 worst ideas for the Moto X launch, and this was second from the top, so they went with that. The worst idea was not releasing it worldwide, oh wait they did that too…

With over 2000 customization options, you can customize everything from the front panel color, to the boot animation, as well as the back plate, wallpaper, even the trim color.

With over 2000 customization options, you can customize everything from the front panel color, to the boot animation, as well as the back panel, wallpaper, even the trim color. By tying the biggest selling point of the Moto X to one carrier, Motorola could have condemned the Moto X to a premature demise. Luckily, the Moto Maker won’t be an AT&T exclusive forever, so customers on other carriers will need to either wait or switch carriers to customize their Moto X to their heart’s desire.

They want how much?!

That was probably the reaction from many people when we saw the carrier price for the Moto X. Most were expecting a price of about $99 on contract and $299 off contract, so when Motorola announced that it was pricing the Moto X at $199 on contract it came as quite a shock.

If you ever needed proof that Motorola was serious about taking on the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the iPhone 5, this was it. By pricing the Moto X on the same level as the Samsung Galaxy S4, HTCOne, and iPhone 5, it signalled Motorola’s intent. This is a high-end smartphone, despite the seemingly mid-range specs.

galaxy s4 vs moto x

Technically, there is no off contract price for the Moto X. AT&T is going to sell the 16GB model for $574.99 and the 32GB Moto X for $629.99, but that’s just AT&T and doesn’t reflect the true price. Unfortunately, for now it’s your best bet for an off contract Moto X, and as an added bonus you can customize the phone as well.

We’ll probably have to wait for the developer and/or Google Play Edition versions of the Moto X to get an idea of how much Motorola is planning on selling the Moto X off-contract. In the end, Motorola was pretty much stuck trying to maintain the high-end mantra, and in order to do that it had to price it similarly to the competition.

Specs still (sort of) matter

I’m not the spec-fanatic I once was, and I understand that software optimization is as, if not more, important as the spec sheet. In fact I was, and still am, a big supporter of Motorola taking specs less seriously and focusing on user experience. But the thing is that specs still sort of matter.

A perfect example is the 4.7-inch, 720P AMOLED display on the Moto X. Now most would agree that on a display of that size, you don’t need a Full-HD display, and they’d be right. The advantages of the extra pixel density do not outweigh the advantages of increased battery life and GPU performance.

Outdoor shot (daylight); screens on auto brightness; backward tilt at about 45 degrees
LCD bests even the best AMOLED displays in direct sunlight.

But what people forget is that the resolution is not the only measurement of a great display. A well tuned screen with accurate color reproduction, a bright display, and wide viewing angles is just as important as the pixel density. So while the Moto X has a high enough pixel density, and it’s not a pentile display, it still suffers from the same issues as all AMOLED displays.

The Moto X doesn’t have the most accurate color reproduction, and as it has an AMOLED display, it is significantly worse under bright sunlight when compared to LCD displays of the same calibre.

The Moto X is buttery smooth now, but for how long?

The Moto X’s specifications don’t look particularly high-end, but in regards to performance (especially graphics performance), it’s definitely buttery smooth, but for how long? Every phone suffers from some sort of slow down over time, and by being one step behind on the spec-sheet from launch it means that by the time that most people get off contract, they’ll be three steps behind the latest technology. Can the Moto X stand the test of time?

A Googorola smartphone, this is not

Despite what we were led to believe — both by the leaks and Google itself — this phone is not a Googorola phone, not even remotely. The first and most obvious clue to this is the fact that Motorola unceremoniously sold itself to the carriers. Google hasn’t kept its disdain for carriers a secret, and we all believed that Motorola would uncouple itself from the carrier-manufacturer relationship we’ve all grown to dislike.

By offering the Moto X on all four carriers, Motorola achieved the mass market appeal that it sought for. Unfortunately, this was tainted by the fact that the Moto Maker feature is an AT&T exclusive for now. While the front of the device is free from any unsightly carrier logos, or even a Motorola logo for that matter, the back is not.

moto x motorola broll (6)
The AT&T Globe is there for all to see, albeit not as prominently as on some other smartphones

Now it isn’t that the carrier logos on the Moto X are massive and horrid, it’s their symbolic meaning and since the Moto X still has carrier logos on the back (added bloatware included), this isn’t the phone to shake up the carrier-OEM relationship.

The fact that the Moto X is running Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean is further proof that this is not a Googorola smartphone. Android 4.3 Jelly Bean doesn’t have massive user facing changes, but the fact that Motorola is once again, a step behind at launch, worries us.

The Sony Xperia Z and HTCOne were both unveiled with Android 4.1.2 Jelly Bean despite the fact that Android 4.2 had already been unveiled, and it took several months for the Android 4.2.2 update to finally arrive for the two flagship smartphones.

Motorola’s already behind the curve when it comes to Android versions, and even if the Android 4.3 update comes out soon after launch, it could take months for carriers to approve the update.

Motorola is once again behind the curve when it comes to Android versions.

If you needed more proof of this being strictly a Motorola phone, the Moto X’s bootloader is unsurprisingly locked on AT&T and Verizon. The pricing doesn’t exactly fall in line with the Google ethos, and we’ll have to wait for the Google Play Edition Moto X before we see the true Google influence.

The fact is that Google tried very hard to reassure us that Motorola would be treated just like any other OEM, and this ultimately hindered the Moto X.

Why can’t we have both?

It’s a seemingly innocuous question, right? The Samsung Galaxy S4 for example, achieves mass market appeal through cool features, and an insanely good marketing campaign. But it also achieves tech geek appeal thanks to its brilliant Super AMOLED display, the fastest quad-core processor available on the market at the time of release, 2GB of RAM and fan favourites like removable batteries and expandable storage.

The TouchWiz UI doesn’t matter for these people since they know how to flash custom ROMs and what’s even better is the fact that there’s a Google Play Edition of the Galaxy S4 which allows them to flash a perfectly stable build of stock Android, should they so please.

samsung galaxy s4 google play edition aa performance
High-end specs, and mass market appeal! Who would’ve known?

The Moto X on the other hand, offers no such comforts. It doesn’t have the highest clock speed, or the largest battery, or the most pixels stuffed into its display. Perhaps at a lower price it could’ve attracted more tech geeks, but at the current price it is strictly aiming at the mass market.

The camera app is another place where Motorola has made cut backs. It’s simple, a little too simple, in fact it makes the Stock Android camera app look like rocket science.

Motorola says that nobody ever goes into the settings anyways, but that’s beside the point. If you offer settings to change exposure, scene, aperture and more then you cater to the people who want these sort of things, and those who don’t go into the settings, will do just that.

So where does the Moto X fit in?

The Moto X could’ve been the phone that changed it all. It could have been this decade’s defining moment in the smartphone market, but it wasn’t. The reason for this is that Motorola chose not to.

Firstly, if you don’t live in Canada, Latin America or the U.S. it’s very unlikely that you’ll even get the Moto X on your shores. Instead, Motorola has other “cool and exciting” devices from the same family coming to Europe.

Motorola could’ve told the carriers that it was going to provide the updates, and that the carriers were just going to have to deal with it. It could’ve priced the Moto X aggressively, sold it via the Google Play Store, and done away with the carriers completely. What we ended up getting was an attempt at being revolutionary, with moderate success.

Moto X vs

The Moto Maker is an incredible feature, and the x factor the Moto X needs to differentiate itself, but it’s stuck on AT&T. The cool software additions are great and the all day battery life claim untested, but the Moto X’s future will hinder on whether it can break the duopoly of Samsung and Apple, because the masses is ultimately the market Motorola is aiming at, and they simply doesn’t care about specs.

These people don’t care about the carrier stickers on the back of the device, or the fact that the bootloader is unlocked, they want a phone that works, and works well. Whether the Moto X can convince them that it works better than the iPhone 5 or the Samsung Galaxy S4 remains to be seen.

Now what do you think of the Moto X?