The first Moto X reviews are in, and the verdict seems good: Motorola’s new flagship takes a little time to demonstrate its worth, with features like always-listening Google Now and “breathing” notifications, but testers seem taken with the Android smartphone. Yet, if there’s one well-repeated criticism, it’s of Motorola’s pricing for the Moto X; even as it was being announced, in fact, vocal complaints that the phone would cost more than its hardware warranted could be heard. Is the Moto X too expensive? Or are Android smartphones finally reaching a tipping point where overall experience decides worth, rather than how many cores are inside?
The trouble starts when you look at what has been squeezed inside the Moto X’s bow-backed body. Motorola may have given its processor a fancy name – the “X8 Mobile Computing System“, no less – but at its heart it’s a dualcore 1.7GHz Snapdragon S4 Pro and Adreno 320 graphics, components that, in the grand scheme of recent Android flagships, aren’t exactly leading the pack.
That’s led to suggestions that the “mid-spec” Moto X should come in with mid-spec pricing, namely the $100 price point – with a new, two-year agreement, naturally – rather than the $200 it will arrive on AT&T, Verizon, and others at.
Should Motorola be “passing on the savings” to consumers? The $200 price point has always been an artificial delineation, by carriers wanting to balance getting some upfront cash from out of your pocket, while at the same time not scaring off new subscribers. In fact carrier price points seldom have much to do with the actual hardware: it would be tough, otherwise, to justify Apple charging $100 more for a 32GB iPhone 5 over its 16GB sibling, when the extra NAND flash chip itself only adds around $10 to the bill of materials.
If anything, Motorola is doing exactly what critics of Android device strategy have been asking of manufacturers for some time now. Rather than take the easy route, and slap the latest hardware into a casing and effectively call it a day, Motorola has taken the “it’s the overall experience, stupid” mantra to heart.
The iPhone, Android skeptics seldom tire of pointing out, doesn’t have the very fastest processor or the biggest display. What it does have is software and hardware the development of which has been closely matched. Apple doesn’t need a quadcore CPU in its phone because iOS has been fettled especially to get the very best out of the hardware it has to play with; as a result, there’s no power hungry core excess to drain the battery quicker.
The Moto X is arguably the first Android device to do the same. Yes, Motorola may not have developed its own CPU, but the custom companion chips in the X8 system – which handle “natural language processing” and “contextual computing processing” in a more power-efficient way than relying solely on software might – work with under-the-hood tweaks in Android to deliver a device that has the sort of immediacy in everyday use we’d expect from the most powerful flagships on the block.
In short, Motorola has looked at overall experience and is charging accordingly. The argument from the company’s perspective is, presumably, that just because that experience doesn’t demand a quadcore chip from Qualcomm’s bleeding-edge, that doesn’t mean the Moto X should be considered a lesser phone. In fact, optimizing is even tougher to do than stuffing the most potent processor in, battery be damned; shouldn’t Motorola charge the going rate for all that hard work?
We’re at a potential tipping point for Android smartphones. On the one side, there’s the established “biggest, fastest, brightest” paradigm which prizes specifications above all others. On the other, there’s the potential for a more nuanced approach to mobile where hardware is only part of the recipe that is the complete user-experience. If the Moto X succeeds – and that’s admittedly a far more complex matter than raw pricing, counting on marketing, extending Moto Maker support, and Motorola explaining why context really matters in mobile – it could be a sign that, just as Android has grown up in recent years, so the manufacturers that use it have matured too.