Google's Motorola unveils Moto X Android smartphone, brings it to multiple carriers

After months of buildup and rumors, Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Motorola Mobility unit unveiled its Moto X smartphone, a new flagship Android phone that is the highest-profile embodiment thus far of Google's hopes for a revived Motorola brand.

google android moto x motorola

Click here for pictures, video, specifications and complete coverage of the Moto X.

Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T), Sprint (NYSE:S), T-Mobile US  (NYSE:TMUS) and U.S. Cellular (NYSE:USM) will carry the phone, which will be available in a 16 GB version for $199.99 with a two-year contract. A 32 GB version will be available online for more (AT&T is charging $299.99 for that version). Google is also offering up to 50 GB of free Google Drive cloud storage for Moto X owners for two years. The phone will go on sale in late August or early September in the United States, Canada and Latin America, with each carrier determining the exact launch date.

The phone will curiously not be available in T-Mobile stores at launch, and though it will work on T-Mobile's LTE network, customers will need to purchase it online. It was not clear if customers would need to purchase the phone outright on an unsubsidized basis or if the phone would work with T-Mobile's no-contract Simple Choice plans, under which customers can make a down payment and pay off the rest of the device's cost in installments.

"The Moto X optimized for T-Mobile's 4G LTE network will initially be available through Motorola's channels," T-Mobile CMO Mike Sievert told AllThingsD. "We do not plan to stock Moto X devices immediately in our stores but are working closely with Motorola to make the Moto X a great experience for T-Mobile customers. Any news about distribution in our stores would come at a later date."

The phone runs on mostly stock Android 4.2.2, has a 4.7-inch AMOLED 720p display, a 10-megapixel rear camera and a 2-megapixel front-facing camera capable of shooting 1080p HD video, 2 GB of RAM, 802.11ac Wi-Fi and support for CMDA, HSPA+42 and LTE networks. Rick Osterloh, Motorola's senior vice president of products, told The Verge that Motorola's plan was simply to "remove a lot of the customizations that have plagued Android phones for a long time, and just focus right on the core Android user experience, which has evolved to a great place."

The phone uses a specially designed system-on-chip called the X8, which is also running the new Motorola Droid Ultra, Droid Mini and Droid Maxx. As explained by PC Magazine, the system is comprised of a dual-core 1.7 GHz Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) Snapdragon S4 Pro processor and a Qualcomm graphics chip, as well as customized Motorola silicon, including a "contextual computing processor" and another core for "natural language processing."

As Google executives have hinted, the Moto X makes use of a variety of sensors to set itself apart. One of the key features of the phone is Touchless Control, an always-on voice recognition system that quickly learns a user's voice and only responds to them. When a user says "OK Google Now," users can launch the Android app Google Now to check the weather, traffic or other information simply by using their voice. The phone's super-low-power natural language processing core is constantly listening, according to Wired, which saves battery life on the phone.

Active Display automatically displays important information on the screen so that users don't have to constantly wake the phone up to look at the time or see messages.

Another feature of the phone is Quick Capture, which lets users twist the phone with their wrist twice to open the phone's camera, no matter what screen they are on. Tapping anywhere on the screen automatically makes the camera focus and take a picture. The phone also constantly monitors its sensors to be contextually aware and can automatically switch into Driving Mode when it detects a user in a car.

Customers who order the Moto X via an online studio called Moto Maker will be able to pick from a variety of colored backs, and will also be able to select a personalized engraving and customized pre-loaded wallpapers for the phone. However, at launch, according to The Verge, only AT&T customers will be able to take advantage of the color customizations, but other carriers will soon follow. Motorola said it will ship online orders for free in four days or less. The company said customers can choose from more than 2,000 possible combinations, and will be adding new offerings, such as real wood backs, starting later in the year.

Motorola CEO Dennis Woodside told AllThingsD that it can take as much as eight seconds to get a phone out of a pocket and take a picture. "The challenge to the team was, 'How do you get that down to one or two seconds,'" he said. "We think we've gotten that down to about 1.8 seconds."

Since Google finalized its $12.5 billion purchase of Motorola in May 2012 the company has slashed more than 10,000 jobs to focus on fewer devices. Woodside, who formerly ran Google's advertising sales business in the Americas, has said his directive has been to take Motorola "back to the roots of innovation and build devices that have the potential to change people's lives."

According to a Wall Street Journal report, which cited unnamed sources familiar with the matter, there were cultural clashes between Motorola and the Android team inside Google as the Moto X was being developed. The phone's development team was able to work closely with other parts of Google, but when people on the Moto X team sought help from the Android team they often received no response, the report said. The phone does not run the latest version of Android, 4.3, which may be a result of the wall that Google has created between Android and Motorola, which it has said many times it is running as an independent business that does not receive preferential treatment over other Android hardware partners. "The relationship is good," Woodside told the Journal, saying the lack of Android 4.3 was due bad timing and that it showed Motorola is independent. "I don't believe there were issues there."

Google will reportedly spend upwards of $500 million in marketing the Moto X, according to a recent Journal report. However, Google CEO Page directly addressed the speculation about the marketing budget during the company's second-quarter earnings conference call, and said Motorola is "doing things that are normal for that business." While he did not confirm or deny the $500 million figure, he said "probably too much has been made over those things," according to Seeking Alpha transcript.

Motorola has made a great deal of the fact that it will employ 2,000 people in a 480,000-square-foot facility in Ft. Worth, Texas, that used to manufacture Nokia (NYSE:NOK) phones to build the Moto X, though the phone's processors will come from Taiwan and the device's screens will come from South Korea. Woodside has said 70 percent of the manufacturing of the Moto X will happen in the United States--a notable achievement considering most phone manufacturing has moved to Asia. In conjunction with the July 4 holiday, Motorola ran an ad campaign for the phone with the tagline "Designed by you. Assembled in the USA."

In the interview with AllThingsD, Woodside said Motorola will also be releasing new phones, including those aimed at the lower end of the smartphone market. "Without giving too much away, one area that I talked about at [the D11 conference in May] was this massive market for devices that are super high-quality but also reasonably priced," Woodside said. Those devices will be for U.S. prepaid carriers as well as emerging markets, especially in Latin America. "We think there is a big opportunity there for Motorola," he said.

"The experience of devices you can get for less than $200 is subpar right now," Woodside told CNET. "We want everyone to have access to affordable smartphones."

For more:
- see this Motorola site
- see this Motorola release
- see this Wired article
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this The Verge article 
- see this separate The Verge article
- see this AllThingsD article
- see this separate AllThingsD article
- see this CNET article
- see this separate CNET article

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