By Stephen Schenck | May 7, 2013 7:01 AM
Sometimes, I worry we’re getting too cynical when it comes to smartphones. Just look at the Samsung Galaxy S 4, a powerful, popular, feature-packed Android that’s sure to set sales records. Despite all the glitz, we ultimately found the heavily-hyped handset to be just a little lacking. Maybe more than any particular area where it came up short, the whole thing just seemed somewhat uninspired.
Right now, I’m finding those same sort of feelings beginning to influence my opinion of the so-called Motorola X phone – a smartphone that’s yet to even be officially confirmed, let alone launch. Heck, we’re not even sure under what name it will arrive.
This is a bad position to be in for someone who writes about phones; forming opinions after the fact is what we’re supposed to do, and while I need to be able to share opinions on rumored, upcoming hardware, it’s important to keep in mind that rumors are just that.
So, how did the X find itself in this position in the first place? Is it really going to be a disappointment, or just end up as something other than what I might have hoped for? Let’s back up first and see where Motorola stands in the broader Android ecosystem for a moment.
The Bed That Motorola Made
I’ve got a soft spot for Motorola – I really do. My first Android was an original Droid, and I still use that handset to this day. Over the years Motorola put out a couple dozen some Androids, including more QWERTY-enabled Droid models and families like the Atrix devices. Some were good, some where “ehh,” and some were great, but few were “gotta have” models.
Things started getting more exciting around the time of the first Droid RAZR in the fall of 2011. Motorola was starting to refine its design language for its phones, and the angled corners and Kevlar back really gave the phone an iconic look. The RAZR Maxx was one of the best ideas to hit smartphones in a long time, and the pair seemed to have a bright future.
The problem is that even with this attractive hardware, Motorola was still finding itself behind the curve. When the RAZR HD and its own Maxx equivalent arrived last fall, we were just a matter of weeks away from the first 1080p phone dropping and here was Motorola, acting like 720p was something to get excited about. It was the kid showing up to school inappropriately excited about his new G.I. Joe lunch box after all the other kids’ interests had moved on to Ninja Turtles.
As a result, it’s felt for a while now that Motorola lacks a flagship. When rumors of the X phone started coming together in late 2012, there was finally cause for optimism that the X might be the phone to bring Motorola widespread acclaim.
Those Captivating X Rumors
So, what did we hear about the X phone that built my expectations up so high? Right from the start, this sounded like a big-ticket hero phone, with Google leading the charge to making sure this would be -the- Android to pay attention to in 2013. We wondered if this might be the new NeXus handset (hence the codename), and help usher-in Android 5.0 Key Lime Pie. There was talk of broad carrier support – everything sounded lovely.
Then the scope of any Google influence on the X phone started to sound seriously diminished. Comments from Google execs had it looking like the X was soundly a Motorola-envisioned product, with only cursory Google input since its acquisition of Motorola Mobility.
Further rumors talked about hardware that sounded a lot like a rehash of the RAZR, and while they also mentioned a number of new software features, that whole avenue in general feels kinda shaky, at least following our disappointment with the GS4 and its own software failings.
Those X rumors got some fresh life when theories arrived that Motorola would offer some innovative level of hardware customization with the smartphone, maybe going so far as to give customers control over features that were usually set in stone, like the amount of RAM. Subsequent rumors have gone back-and-forth on the issue, but at the moment it’s sounding likely that any such options will be limited to purely cosmetic choices, like the phone coming in a whole lot of colors.
Worth A Thousand Words
Most recently some leaked pictures of an unknown Motorola handset arrived, and unless we’re way off-base here, this apparent “XFON” could easily be the X we’ve been anticipating for so long. And… it’s a little “meh.”
Granted, a bulky black-out case prevented us from seeing much, but what little we could make out appeared to match a separate leak that arrived a little earlier (way above) – putting them together, it was starting to seem like we just might be looking at the X phone.
And the thing is, it looks fine. It’s got a clean design, but it lacks much in the way of a Motorola identity. Sure, the logos are there, and in at least one pic it had the sort of textured back we might expect, but lose all that and you wouldn’t know if you were looking at a Motorola phone or the Nexus 4.
More than anything, this bland look has me worried. Granted, it wouldn’t be a case like the GS4, which looks like every other Samsung Android under the sun, but might a RAZR rehash have been preferable to this tall glass of generic design?
Maybe that’s what it takes to sell phones nowadays. Maybe the Motorola X hardware will end up blowing me out of the water to the extent that I couldn’t give a second thought to its looks. What I do know is that Motorola seems like it has a lot riding on this smartphone, and as we get ready to enter our fifth month of X phone rumors, it feels like the handset has more opportunities to let us down than it does to wow us.
I really want the X phone to be stellar. I wish I could settle for “decent,” but at this point Motorola seriously needs to deliver. I don’t have the luxury of simply ignoring further X phone rumors that arrive, but I’m doing my best not to ruin my expectations for this guy. Now it’s just up to you, Motorola.