US factory in FW means buyers can customize Google phoneAugust 1, 2013
Google's new Moto X smartphone doesn't aim to be the fastest, biggest, or prettiest smartphone. It wants to be the smartest. The search giant on Thursday, August 1, 2013, unveiled the first smartphone of its own design since it bought struggling Motorola last year.
Credit: Courtesy Motorola
Google's Moto X smartphone: Big ideas, modest execution
By Adrian Covert
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Google's new Moto X smartphone doesn't aim to be the fastest, biggest, or prettiest smartphone. It wants to be the smartest.
The search giant on Thursday unveiled the first smartphone of its own design since it bought struggling Motorola last year. Rather than go toe-to-toe with top-of-the-line smartphones, such as Apple's iPhone, Samsung's Galaxy S4 or HTC's One, Google designed the Moto X to make clever use of sensors and language processors to stay one step ahead of you.
The Moto X is built upon a chip called the X8, which allows the smartphone to understand natural language and gives it situational awareness. It's always listening for your command, whether it is sleeping or awake. And it knows where you're using it, and how you're using it.
By calling out "OK Google Now," you can place a call, map out a destination, log a reminder, or search on Google. The special language processing chip allows the phone to constantly wait for your voice to tell it what to do -- without you having to activate the microphone. Better yet, Google says that will have no detrimental effect on battery life.
Other wizardry: The display will automatically reveal the clock when you pick up the phone or pull it out of your pocket. Place your finger on the screen, and notifications pop up for your viewing. Let go, and it goes back to the default lock screen, quickly obscuring your communications from prying eyes.
When the phone is sleeping, twisting the phone like a screwdriver will allow you to access the camera with minimal fuss.
There's also a custom app called Assist that can use the Moto X's array of sensors to detect what sort of setting the phone is in and allow you to establish a group of settings that automatically kick in during these situations. For example, you can have all text messages read aloud to you while you drive. When you exit the car, that setting turns off.
It may emphasize sensors and smarts over power, but the Moto X is no slouch. It packs a 4.7-inch, 720p high-definition screen into a body not much bigger than an iPhone. It runs a relatively clean, bloatware-free version of Android, which means it's fast, excellent and will receive updates much quicker than a phone like the Galaxy S4. It has a 10-megapixel camera. And it has a battery that promises 24 hours on a single charge under "normal" use conditions. Yes, 24 hours.
The Moto X's hardware falls somewhere between the quality craftsmanship of the HTC One, and the plastic chintz of the Galaxy S4. It's definitely nice -- it's comfortable to hold and isn't too heavy -- but it's not so nice that it's an object of marvel in and of itself.
Perhaps Google's biggest idea for the Moto X have little to do with technology: Users -- only AT&T customers, for now -- can log onto Motorola's website and customize the front, back and accent colors of the phone.
For the Moto X's target audience, a general consumer audience less concerned with pixel density and camera sensors, Google's marketing plan might actually work. The company's money-losing Motorola division doesn't need a critically acclaimed phone, it needs a commercially successful phone.
In the few hours I've had with the phone, the voice activated, contextual features were decent -- not terrible features, but for a $200 phone that was hyped as heavily as the Moto X as the solution to our smartphone problems, it was hard to not expect a little more.
The Moto X goes on sale at the end of August.
PETER SVENSSON,AP Technology Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — With its first smartphone designed completely in-house, Google is demonstrating one of the benefits of moving production from Asia to the U.S.: It's letting buyers customize phones to give them their own style.
Workers at the factory in Fort Worth assemble the custom phone and Google ships it to the buyer's door within four days.
The Moto X is going on sale in about a month at all four national wireless carriers — Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile — starting at $200.
Initially, only AT&T will offer the customization option, but Google said it hopes to make it available across all carriers soon. The company will offer 18 different back covers ranging in color from "spearmint" to "cabernet," a choice of black or white fronts and seven different metallic accents for details like the volume button. That makes for 252 possible style variations of the phone.
In the fall, Google plans to offer four variants of wood for the back cover.
The Moto X is the first smartphone to be assembled in the U.S. Even though the concept of the smartphone was pioneered here and many phones have been designed in the U.S., the vast majority of phones are assembled in Asia.
With labor costs rising in China, some electronics manufacturers are looking to move manufacturing back to the U.S. Apple is moving production of its Mac Pro desktop computers to the U.S. this year.
The Fort Worth factory will let Google stamp the phone as "Made in the U.S.," but assembly is just the last step in the manufacturing process, and accounts for relatively little of the cost of a smartphone. The cost largely lies in the chips, battery and display, most of which come from Asian factories. For instance, research firm iSuppli estimates that the components of Samsung's latest flagship phone, the Galaxy S4, cost $229, while the assembly costs $8.
Google sees other value in a U.S. factory.
"Over time, by having the engineers closer to the factory floor, we'll be able to innovate faster and develop products that actually are quite interesting down the road," said Dennis Woodside, head of Google's Motorola division.
The factory is owned and run by Flextronics International Ltd., a Singapore-based contract electronics manufacturer. It's set to employ 2,000 people.
Google bought cellphone pioneer Motorola Mobility for $12.4 billion last year. While it launched some phones last year after the acquisition, those were designed while Motorola was still independent. The Moto X is the first phone that "gives you some indication of how Google is thinking of hardware," Woodside said in an interview.
The phone looks much like other smartphones, with a 4.7-inch touch screen. It comes with a no-frills implementation of Google's Android operating system, a contrast to recent phones from Samsung and HTC, which put their own stamp on the software with various add-ons.
The most unusual feature of the Moto X, apart from the customization option, is that it's always listening for its owner's voice. When it hears the phrase, "Ok, Google Now..." followed by a command like "call Bob," it will wake up from standby and execute the command —provided it understands it. Most smartphones offer voice control, but it's usually activated by pressing a button.
Rick Osterloh, the head of product management at Motorola, said the Moto X has a special chip devoted to listening, which means it doesn't have the drain the battery by keeping the main processor running all the time. It should be able to pick up the owner's voice even in the noise of a car, he said.
Google is backing the launch with a big marketing campaign, including TV ads. The Moto X represents its best chance this year to make back some of the money it spent on buying Motorola, and the $1.7 billion the division has accumulated in operating losses since the acquisition.
Motorola has become marginalized in the global smartphone market, taking just 1 percent of recent sales, according to research firm IDC. Google has slashed Motorola's workforce to 4,600 people, down from 20,300 last year.
The acquisition was motivated mainly by Google's desire to own Motorola's patent portfolio, which provides it with ammunition to defend fellow makers of Android phones from Apple's and Microsoft's patent claims. Motorola's patents haven't proved very useful so far, and the division puts Google in the uncomfortable position of competing with other companies that make Android phones.
Analysts see another value in Motorola: it gives Google a toehold in smartphones, acting as insurance against the possibility that Samsung, the dominant maker of Android phones, could jump ship to another operating system or create its own version of Android.