(Updated to correct SoC error in software section.)
As anyone who’s ever sold an old phone on eBay or Craigslist knows, there’s a wonderful waterfall effect that follows when a new piece of consumer technology launches. Very often, in the case of early-adopters, last year’s top-of-the-line widget goes on the auction block, the proceeds from its sale used to defray the cost of whatever New Hotness has just dropped. The Onion expertly captured this phenomenon with a 2009 piece called “new device desirable, old device undesirable,” brilliantly lampooning the fickle tastes of consumers and the rapid pace of advancement in technology.
Nowhere is that more true than in the mobile space, where devices barely six months past their release date are considered old enough to re-review, and year-old offerings see discounts reaching into the hundreds of dollars. It’s these discounts which drive some people to eschew the above-mentioned auction mentality, opting instead to pick up last year’s flagship smartphone for a song. The most famous example is probably Apple’s iPhone line, whose entire “mid-range” option long consisted of last year’s model offered at a discount (until recently, anyway).
Google’s Nexus line is an exception. The product family took a turn toward the affordable with last year’s Nexus 4, but if eBay results are to be believed, the device has done a pretty good job of holding its value ever since.
Despite its superior sequel starting at just $349, the Nexus 4 is still attractive to the price-conscious. As the above screencap demonstrates, buyers can save a fair amount of coin if they forgo the new Nexus 5 and unearth a bargain-priced version of last year’s Googlephone instead.
But why would they do that, when there’s a brand-spanking-new device with similar specs and an Android build that’s just as pure? Especially considering it’s being sold at a price lower than any of the examples above?
Meet the Moto G: Motorola’s just-announced budget version of its excellent Moto X, selling for between $179 and $199 … off-contract. And again, this is no refurbished return unit or “like-new” used device: after you cut the tape off its box and lift the lid for the first time, your hands will be the first ones to touch the Moto G since it left the assembly plant. (That plant isn’t guaranteed to be U.S.-based, though; according to Motorola, “Moto G was designed and engineered in the U.S. We manufacture Moto G in factories around the world to support global sales and to help ensure that we can deliver [an] exceptional phone at an exceptional price.”)
Taylor Martin has an excellent piece on why the Moto G might be the new best value in mobile, so I won’t step on his toes by regurgitating all the reasons this phone is groundbreaking in the broad sense. I want to keep our discussion confined to how the Moto G compares to the Nexus 4.
Skipping aesthetics and diving right into specs, you can see a pretty clear delineation here between the former flagship and the purpose-built budget phone. From the larger display (4.7″ vs 4.5″) to the higher resolution camera (8MP vs 5MP) to the heavier RAM load (2GB vs 1GB) to the slightly-larger battery (2100mAh vs 2070mAh), the Nexus 4 trumps the Moto G in the “minutiae” section of the spec sheet.
All that pales in comparison to the differences under the hood, though. Even though the Motorola phone boasts the newer Snapdragon 400,
that’s a dual-core SoC to the Nexus 4′s quad-core S4 Pro. We’re not big fans of core-counting as an indicator of prowess around these parts, but after some pretty lackluster experiences with the Snapdragon 400-powered HTC One mini and HTC 8XT, we’re not completely sold on the chipset’s reliability. That’s bolstered by this report from CPUBoss showing the S4 Pro outshining the 400 in almost every category.
(Edit: Sorry, folks; we mistook the quad-core Snapdragon 400 [MSM8926] in the Moto G for the dual-core variant [MSM8x30], which mollifies our SoC concerns for the moment. Thanks to all who let us know about this one.)
But does any of that stand a chance of making an impact on the so-called “average consumer?” Not likely. If reviews of the Moto G show a demonstrable inferiority in the day-to-day experience compared to the Nexus 4, then that might change over time. In the interim, though, “Mrs. Jones” (or whoever) is much more likely to be wowed by the Motorola product’s aggressively marketed customizability and the other lifestyle pitches on its product page. Go ahead; hop on over and take a look. You can almost hear the gasps at living-room computer desks across the world: “all those colors and Android KitKat … for $179? Break out the fireworks, Jimmy; we’re having a Motorola ho-down!”
Okay, so nobody talks like that. But you have to admit, the Moto G is a compelling device next to the Nexus 4 – even considering the latter’s apparent spec superiority. A smartphone promising these capabilities, wearing the badge of a major manufacturer and backed by Android’s creator, has never been seen before. If nothing else, it’s going to make a dent in the older Nexus’s sales.
That’s a likelihood not worth either bemoaning or celebrating; it’s just interesting to bear witness to, considering Mountain View’s deep investment in both “Nexus” and “Moto” product families. If the result of Google’s peculiar price war with itself is that consumers have smartphones like these to choose from, then I’m all for it. The only question is: which one will do better, and why?