By Taylor Martin | January 20, 2014 4:28 PM
The Moto G is an exception to the rule. Its specifications, hardware, and design are mediocre. And unlike its next of kin, the Moto X, its software is plain and lacking serious value.
In fact, the only exceptional part of the Moto G is its price. At $179 without a contract for the 8GB model, it’s one of the best smartphone bargains to be had in the Android space. And doubling the storage space costs a mere $20.
It’s affordable and isn’t terrible – there’s plenty to be said for that. Many manufacturers have attempted similar smartphones before, and have come up far short of the respectable user experience offered by Motorola’s sub-$200 smartphone.
A testament to the importance and popularity of the seemingly unstimulating Moto G is how frequently it has been in and out of headlines since its launch in November.
As recently as last Tuesday, the Moto G found itself in headlines across the mobile space, once again. This time, the Moto G was unexpectedly found in the Google Play Store as a Google Play edition smartphone. For the very same pricing ($179 or $199, plus applicable taxes), the Moto G could be had with a completely stock version of Android and a very marginal set of differences from the original model.
The reactions following the announcement, the reactions went through a progression of thoughts. First, everyone rejoiced (as expected). Hooray! Another Google Play edition smartphone! Once everyone started uncovering how few differences there were, they began to question why it existed. Finally, everyone was up in arms over why Motorola and Google would go through the trouble of rebranding a device and selling it through yet another channel.
For what it’s worth, those questions were valid. The GPe Moto G is … effectively less valuable than the original. It’s missing all of the software features which made the Moto G unique and such a great value.
Save for a handful of Motorola’s baked-in features – Motorola Assist, Motorola Migrate, Trusted Devices, Motorola Privacy, and Motorola Device ID – and the custom camera UI, the original Moto G runs a virtually stock version of Android 4.4 to begin with. It’s as close as you can get to bone stock Android without having … bone stock Android. The GPe edition, however, has the standard Android camera UI and removes any trace of Motorola’s software, which most have actually found very useful.
Further, as a Google Play edition device, the Moto G will undoubtedly receive more frequent updates than the original model. Notice I said “more frequent,” not “more rapid updates.”
Just weeks after its earlier-than-expected launch, the Moto G was quickly updated to KitKat. I published my full review of the Moto G running Jelly Bean on December 11. The official KitKat update started pushing to devices just nine days later, less than a month after its release, making it among the very first devices to receive the most current version of Android and beating out several Google Play edition and Nexus devices to Android 4.4.
Unlike the GPe smartphones before it, the impact of having the Google Play edition moniker on the Moto G is markedly less important or notable.
Removing Samsung’s TouchWiz software on the Galaxy S 4 or Sense 5 from the HTC One is a notable, drastic change. And the software updates come exponentially quicker to the GPe versions of these models, as will likely be the case for the GPe Z Ultra and G Pad 8.3.
The only other notable difference between the GPe Moto G and the original Moto G is band support. The US variant of the Moto G comes with AWS support for T-Mobile HSPA+ here in the States. Instead, the Google Play edition Moto G is exactly like the global Moto G – the one we reviewed – on the inside. So if you rely on AWS support on T-Mobile, you will be stuck on 3G with the Moto G. Otherwise, you will likely HSPA+ on T-Mobile and AT&T with the budget phone.
So why does this GPe Moto G exist? Why should anyone buy one?
To ask those questions is to miss the point of the Google Play edition program entirely. It’s never been about boosting sales, opening availability, or price. Google has made it very clear the Google Play edition devices are not Nexus devices; there is a clear and definite difference. And time has proven Google Play edition devices are not about sales numbers.
Instead, it’s about offering smartphones, which would otherwise be running heavily customized software or locked to a specific carrier or region, with a choice in software and compatibility. The Google Play edition devices are about choice.
Don’t believe me? “Freedom of choice” is the common theme found on the product page for each of the GPe handsets.
Specifically in regards to the Moto G, even if the effect of a pure stock device is less notable, the effect and message sent by that particular device being part of the GPe program is just as important as any device. It means any device can be a GPe device, and invites other manufacturers to enter their own devices into the program, even if they aren’t the top tier, flagships like the One, Galaxy S 4, or Z Ultra.
In my mind, since the very first Nexus, I’ve wanted every Android phone to come in a stock version. It only makes sense, even if it’s a nightmare from a customer support perspective. (Providing support to users with a varying level of possible software choices is nothing short of a giant hurdle.) The Moto G – or any device for that matter – being offered as a GPe device brings us one step closer to living in that hypothetical dream world.
So, under the microscope, does the Moto G as a Google Play edition smartphone make a lot of sense? Not really. But that’s not the point … at all. It’s Google and Motorola working towards what we’ve been begging for all along.
The more Google Play edition devices, the better. Period.