Motorola has traveled a bit of a rocky road over the past few years. Though it was one of the early innovators in the phone and smartphone space, it lost its way and was snatched up by Google. Despite an emphasis on producing well-priced, quality devices running almost stock Android, Google didn't seem to get what it wanted from Motorola and recently sold it off to Lenovo.
This transaction was completed in October 2014, so the first phone launched after that time, the Nexus 6, was in development prior to the change in ownership. It wasn't until now, many months after Lenovo took over, that we expected to see if the Chinese OEM would have any impact on Motorola's direction.
After seeing the devices at today's event, I can say, yes, but perhaps not detrimentally.
At today's events, which took place in London, New York and Sao Paulo, Motorola introduced three new phones, with each city's speaker covering a device. London talked about the Moto X Play, New York covered the Moto X Style, and Sao Paulo the new Moto G. The choice of cities for each device also reflected the market that they are aimed at.
Before it dove into the actual phones, Motorola President Rick Osterloh recapped their strengths, emphasizing their customization options and the "86 percent customer satisfaction" level it has. Osterloh also said that a survey reported Motorola as one of the top three brands in the US. Although that's perhaps a bit of a stretch, the strategy does seem to be working, with a reported 118 percent growth in sales. This is, of course, surely made up by more of the lower-end phones such as the Moto G and Moto E that have done very well, especially in emerging markets like Brazil.
Next, Adrienne Hayes, SVP of Marketing, came on stage to talk about the relationship we have with our smartphones, and how Motorola is aiming to improve that. She threw up some statistics that showed how attached we are to our mobile devices, such as 40 percent of respondents saying they ask their phones things they wouldn't ask a friend. However, even though we love our devices, Hayes said that they often don't necessarily love us back, and many of us are not happy with our phones. Motorola aims to fix that by focusing on five key areas.
The first is "Meaningful exchanges" with our phones, meaning that Motorola wants to use features like Moto Voice and Moto Assist to enhance how we interact with them. The second is "Making and sharing memories" by giving its new phones best-in-class cameras. The third area is "Self expression" that lets you use its Moto Maker to customize the look of your phone to make it unique to you. The fourth is a phone that is "Always there for you," and Motorola hopes to achieve this with long-lasting batteries and fast turbo charging. The last tenet is phones that won't "Empty your wallet." Hayes said that Motorola believes that you should get more for less. This usually either means you have to sign a contract, or get something cheap and be disappointed. Motorola hopes that with its latest devices, you won't be forced into this compromise.
Moto X Style
The first phone announced was the flagship Moto X style. This phone is a direct successor to last year's Moto X, continuing the same design language (that was also used on the Nexus 6). It still has the attractive metal frame with a non-removable curved back. Around front, there are stereo speakers, and the Moto X now sports a big 5.7-inch QHD screen.
Despite its big screen, the Moto X Style does have a class-leading screen-to-body ratio of 76 percent, making it reasonably compact for a phone with such a big screen. Like previous versions of the X, you can customize the look of the Moto X by changing the back cover's color or material and by changing the color of the metal.
The default material for the Moto X Style's back is a new coated silicon rubber available in 10 different colors. This new material has a nice smooth, soft-touch finish that resists discoloration, so you can be confident that the blue from your jeans won't ruin your white X. The Moto X Style can also be customized (for an extra fee, of course) with either a wood or leather back. There are four wood colors and four types of leather to choose from.
The Moto X Style uses Motorola's turbo charging tech (which is Qualcomm's Quick Charge 2.0) that the company claimed charges faster than Samsung's Adaptive Fast Charging. When compared to the Galaxy S6, the Moto X Style gets 50 percent more charges in 15 minutes (reaching 34 percent vs. 26 percent for the S6). This is supposed to give you 10 more hours of use, but we all know that this is an inflated number that doesn't reflect real-world battery life.
One of the biggest weaknesses of Motorola's phones has always been their cameras. Although they're by no means terrible, they just couldn't quite compete with cameras on other leading devices. For this year's models, it has gone back to the drawing board to equip the Moto X Style with a class-leading camera. The X Style uses Sony's new 21MP Exmor RS IMX230 sensor (as far as we know it's the first phone to be equipped with it). This new sensor in addition to improved image processing means better low-light performance, faster focus, faster capture and better color accuracy. Motorola said that DXOMark has rated the Moto X Style to be "One of the top 3 smart phone cameras in the world." Another camera innovation is the inclusion of a front-facing flash for better selfies. The X Style does not have OIS.
Motorola didn't go over the other specs in detail, but it did put up this slide quickly that shows that the Moto X Style uses a Snapdragon 808 SoC; has 3 GB of RAM; comes with 16, 32 or 64 GB of storage; and has a microSD slot. It also has a 3,000 mAh battery, runs Android Lollipop 5.1.1, has a water-repellant coating and has universal LTE banding.
This last spec is a big deal, because the unlocked Moto X will work on any U.S. carrier – AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon. That is an impressive feature.
Although the Moto X Style will be available in other markets through more traditional means (such as carriers), in the U.S. it will only come as an unlocked Pure edition, either directly from Motorola, or from Best Buy and Amazon. You can only take advantage of the Moto Maker customization if you buy it from Motorola. It only comes in white, black or bamboo from the other retailers.
The last, and some might say the most important, piece of information is the price. The Moto X Style Pure edition will be $400 for the 16 GB model, and an extra $50 more for each storage tier. This is a very competitive price for what on paper seems to be an excellent device. However, it will not be coming until September.
Moto X Play
The second phone announced today is the Moto X Play. Motorola said that the Play has almost the same specs as the Moto X Style (well, "almost" is relative), but it's less expensive. It has the same 21MP rear camera, but the front-facing camera doesn't have the flash. It also has a smaller 5.5-inch full HD screen and runs a slower Snapdragon 615 SoC.
Its design language is also quite different than previous Motorola phones, eschewing the metal sides (they're plastic coated to look like metal), and this, at least to me, points to its origin as being more Lenovo that Motorola. Perhaps the new owners wanted to release an "almost" flagship with slightly lower specs that the margins are higher on. What it does have is a larger 3,620 mAh battery.
The Moto X Play will not be available in the U.S. though -- just other markets, including Canada. Pricing will be less than the Moto X Style, so you can expect the equivalent price in USD to be $300-350. In Canada it will be $400 CDN outright. Unlike the Moto X Style, the X Play will be mainly sold through carriers, but you can still order a Moto Maker-customized one from Motorola. The Moto X Play will be released in August.
Moto G (2015 Edition)
The last phone to be announced is the new Moto G. Although there is no official name change, to make it easier we'll refer to it as the 2015 edition. The original Moto G and 2014 version of the Moto G have been Motorola's best-selling phones, with millions sold. Since its release, its competitors have stepped up their game in the mid-range space, but Motorola said today that the only real "Moto G killer" is the next Moto G.
The Moto G offers flagship-like performance and features for 1/3 of the cost of flagships. Last year's model is an excellent mid-range device, but one of its primary weaknesses was its camera. Motorola has addressed this on the new model by equipping it with the same 13MP Sony Exmor RS IMX214 as the Nexus 6.
Costs had to be cut, though, so there is no OIS. One other big change for the new model is that it can now be customized in Moto Maker, and in conjunction with this, Motorola announced the availability of Moto Maker in Brazil, one of the largest markets for the Moto G. While you will be able to customize the color of the new Moto G, unlike the Moto X Style, there won't be wood or leather options.
Another new feature is that the Moto G is now IPX7 rated, making it water resistant in up to a meter of water for 30 minutes. This is usually a feature reserved for much more expensive phones. The new Moto G is powered by a quad-core Snapdragon 410 SoC (the same as the Moto E that we recently reviewed), and it has a 5-inch HD display, comes with either 8 or 16 GB of storage (with a microSD slot), 1 or 2 GB of RAM, and a 2470 mAh battery.
The new Moto G is available in 60 countries (including the U.S.) starting today for $180 for the 8 GB model. The 16 GB model with 2 GB of RAM will be $220.
Event Wrap Up
Today's announcement showed that Motorola isn't really deviating much from its strategy, at least with its most successful device, the Moto G. On the higher end, while the Moto X Style itself isn't dramatically different than its predecessor (apart from the much-improved camera), how Motorola wants to get it to consumers is very different, at least in the U.S. market.
By eschewing U.S. carriers and selling only the Pure edition, Motorola is taking a page from the Chinese (OnePlus, Xiaomi) smartphone playbook. This is likely influenced by its new owners, and it will be interesting to see how this new sales model works. Further, with the lack of a smaller lower-end Nexus phone right now, the new Moto X Style takes over the slot occupied by the Nexus 5 for those looking for a pure Android experience (at least until Google releases an actual successor).
The Moto X Play is the most unusual phone announced today, as we're a little unsure of its place in Motorola's phone lineup. Being priced close to the flagship phone, but with some significant negatives (slower SoC, plastic construction, lower-res screen) means we wouldn't recommend it over the Style. It seems there will be markets like Canada where the Play will be the only option (at least for now) for those looking for a new Moto X.
The Moto G isn't a big step up from last year's model, but that's okay. All a new Moto G needs to do is keep on trucking with the same good mid-range specs and features for an excellent price. The addition of a better camera and Moto Maker customization is just icing on the cake.
Stay tuned for more coverage of these phones.