The Moto X is an unsung hero among superphones. It doesn’t have a monster-size phablet screen or the ability to pause video when you look away, but it makes up for its lack of flash with sheer utility and convenience. The touchless voice controls alone blew me away during my Moto X review, as well as the smartwatch-like notifications on the screen when you’re not actively using the device. Being able to customize your own design is pretty neat, too.
So why did Google's smartphone unit just post a $248 million loss in the third quarter and Motorola’s revenue plummet 33 percent from a year ago? For one, the Moto X hasn’t been on sale for a full quarter yet, but there are some other key reasons shoppers aren’t opting for the X. Here's what Motorola is up against -- other than the obvious Apple and Samsung duopoly.
Spec and Benchmark Snobs Won't Give It a Chance
Right now, the most cutting-edge smartphone processor is Qualcomm's Snapdragon 800 CPU, and it absolutely flies in handsets such as the Galaxy Note 3 and LG G2. However, the Moto X doesn't get enough credit for its unique X8 Mobile Computing System, which is comprised of a 1.7-GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 CPU, a quad-core Adreno 320 GPU and two other processors for natural language processing and contextual computing. In our tests, the Moto X offered silky smooth performance with virtually no lag, and it also beat the S4 in several real-world benchmarks (instead of synthetic ones you can cheat on). This includes everything from opening the camera and apps to transcoding video. Unfortunately, too many shoppers assume that quad-core is simply better.
Moto Maker Exclusivity Diluted Impact
I love the idea of being able to customize my own smartphone online, from the back and front colors to various accent hues. However, tying this feature to a single carrier at launch in AT&T diluted a key selling point. Everyone else was left with their choice of white or black. Yes, Moto Maker is coming to other providers before the end of the year, but by then it may be too late. It also doesn't help that Motorola had to halt its inscription option for the back of the handset in order to beef up quality control.
The Camera is (Still) Second-Rate
There are some things I like about the Moto X's UltraPixel camera, including the quick launch gesture that lets you fire up the app with a flick of your wrist. However, the image quality is below average for a smartphone, even after we tested Motorola's recent software update. While the live view for the camera flickered less and it had less trouble focusing, indoor images looked fuzzy and some outdoor shots appeared blown out. Check out our face-off between the Moto X and HTC One for proof.
Ads More Funny Than Effective
I'll be the first to admit I'm a TJ Millerfan. This comedian cracks me up whenever he appears on (hijacks) the "Jeselnik Offensive." So I can see why Motorola would want to tap his crazed pothead vibe to personify other so-called lazy smartphones. The problem is that I remember him flopping around half-naked on a conference room table more than I do the name of the device that offers active notifications. I’m not buying TJ, I'm buying the phone.
The Shadow of Nexus 5
With its bloat-free interface, the Moto X has the cleanest build of Android this side of a Nexus. It's unmistakably a Google phone. And that's part of the problem. Those who wouldn't touch TouchWiz with a 10-foot pole probably already have their heart set on the Nexus 5, expected to debut soon with a newer Snapdragon 800 CPU, a higher-resolution 1080p display, and the newer Android 4.4 KitKat.
Can the Moto X Turn the Corner?
Given the above challenges, as well as the momentum of the iPhone 5s and Samsung Galaxy line, Motorola will have a tough time getting shoppers to make the Moto X their first pick. But it should be able to sway more people if it can get Moto Maker up and running on all the carriers quickly and tweak its messaging to emphasize what it's phone does -- as opposed to what the others lack.