Motorola Mobility has announced the 4.7-in. Moto X smartphone after weeks of build-up that touted the device as the first made from scratch under Google ownership.
Still, analysts said that build-up didn't exactly crowd out this reality: In a saturated smartphone market, it's getting harder to stand out.
"As the fruit of Google and Moto collaboration, it seems to come up a little short of expectations," said Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi, who later tweeted: Moto X is "different in an Android market that got a bit bland, but [is this] enough?"
Milanesi noted that Moto X shares features with three Motorola Droid smartphones announced last week to be sold exclusively by Verizon Wireless.
"It seems...Moto X is a way to go around the Droid being a Verizon brand, and delivering a similar product to AT&T to widen opportunity in the market," Milanesi said.
In addition to its 2200 mAh battery and Android 4.2.2 OS, the Moto X has a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro dual-core processor clocked at 1.7 GHz with 2 GB of RAM. A 2-megapixel front camera complements a 10-megapixel rear camera.The device supports LTE wireless.
AT&T and other major carriers will sell the Moto X at the end of this month for $199.99 for a 16 GB version with a two-year contract; Verizon will sell an unlocked version later.
Similarities in the Moto X to the Droid Ultra, Maxx and Mini models from Verizon include a similar processor, camera, display and natural interaction features, such as voice commands that work when the phone is idle and a gesture to activate the camera instead of using a specific button.
"Voice command is great when it works, but an absolute turn-off when it does not," Milanesi said.
Distinctions from the Droids include a curved back and the ability to order customizable colors for back and front of the handset through a Moto Maker feature on the Motorola Website. The customized version is only available through AT&T.
The customizable Moto X will come in two color choices for front and 16 for the back, with seven color options for accent colors for the power key, volume key and camera ring. Unique wallpapers and other features are also available, as well as a 32 GB version for $249.99 in addition to the 16 GB version for $199.99.
As for customizable cases, she wondered how much different those will be than just buying a separate smartphone case from a third party.
"Consumers today are differentiating their experiences already with third party cases," added Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. "If Motorola can make this stick with marketing, then they have a shot at being more than they are today, which is irrelevant."
It also seems strange, several analysts said, that Motorola didn't load up Moto X with Android 4.3, the latest OS version recently announced, rather than the 4.2.2 version it ships with. An update can come quickly enough, but the fact it's not included at shipping may indicate a Google Nexus smartphone with 4.3 is on the way, Milanesi said.
Ezra Gottheil, an analyst at Technology Business Research, had another possible theory for why Google and Motorola stuck with 4.2.2. "It's possible...that Motorola and Google bent over backwards to avoid the impression that Motorola was getting special treatment from the parent company and that early releases and technical assistance that Google sometimes provides to partners were ruled out in this case," he said.
Various manufacturers of Android smartphones reportedly were upset by Google's 2012 purchase of Motorola because of the possibility that Motorola would get favored treatment from Google.
"Not having the most current OS is a disappointment, but most buyers don't care," Gottheil added. "It's likely that Motorola had to freeze the OS to bring the product out on time and to build the inventory they hope they need."
Overall, Gottheil said that Motorola has "done a pretty good job of pulling together an attractive and moderately differentiated package" with Moto X. "Motorola has to restore itself to relevance in the handset world.... With so much activity in smartphones, led by some of the most aggressive companies in the world, it's very hard to differentiate."
Using Moto Maker for customizable cases is clearly a "blatant pander to the youth market, but that doesn't mean it won't work," Gottheil said. "Custom cases may appeal only to a small segment of the market, but it's different and it's visible."
And sharing features with Droids makes sense, Gottheil added. "Moto X is the flagship for an entire product line, and for Motorola to succeed, Droid has to succeed," he said.
While recognizing the overlap with Droid smartphones, IDC analyst Ramon Llamas said the first Motorola phone under Google is "really important and ranks an 11 on a scale of 1 to 10."
"Moto X is probably not the be-all and end-all, but it's a great mid-range device and shows us blueprints for future products -- perhaps a phablet or a mini version," Llamas added.
Forrester Research analyst Charles Golvin said he was surprised at the $199 price. "I would have thought they'd be more aggressive on price and try to undermine competitors with compelling but affordable pricing -- maybe $150 or $99, which would have been a complete home run," he said. "But there are realities about the cost of goods."
"Everything about this device except price speaks to a market that is largely saturated," Golvin added. "Motorola is saying people want customization and personalization by making the phone their own with custom cases and engraving. At the same time, people need fundamental utility from smartphones, and this device will go all day long."
The 2200 mAh battery in the Moto X is larger than many recent smartphones, and capable of up to 24 hours of mixed usage or 13 hours of talk, Motorola said.
"Most phone features are available on virtually all devices," added Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. "So small things -- like case customization, voice command, special apps -- matter. The market for smartphones is becoming so saturated that vendors have to try to be unique and go above the noise."
Nokia has uses a high-quality camera in its Lumia 1020 smartphone as a differentiator, Gold noted. "What can Moto do to find a differentiation niche? Compete on price? No. Compete on features? Hard to do, as most features are a commodity. This 'have it your way' personalization might work for them."
The Moto X measures 5.7 x 2.6 x .4 inches (at its widest point since it curves) and weighs 4.6 ounces.
This article, Moto X comes up short with a high price and no Android 4.3, was originally published at Computerworld.com.
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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