My Moto X (1st gen) is dying. The camera can no longer focus on anything more than about a foot away. The radio reports 'no service' on a regular basis, requiring a reboot in order to find the LTE signal again (mind you, I can see the tower from my home). Bluetooth has gone from flaky to downright frustrating, making my Moto 360 less useful, and listening to podcasts in the car is nearly impossible. None of these are what I would call "design flaws" or reasons for you not to buy a Moto X; mine is just a few years old, with a few too many drops, splashes and slides in its history. In short - it was time for a new phone.
|The 'shapely' Nokia N900|
I didn't want a new phone. Especially not right now: every phone manufacturer seems to think bigger is better, and I'd rather have something with the form factor of a deck of cards than that of a notepad. I'd hoped my 4"ish X would last long enough for trends to change. Alas, it didn't.
So, since I couldn't get what I wanted, a small-screened powerhouse, I decided to revisit what I really wanted in a phone, and I decided to be a bit more pragmatic this time around, and not just get the most awesome phone I could find. To that end, I made a new list of priorities:
1. Durability is important. Elegance is not.
My phone lives in my pants pocket. My pants pocket, it turns out, is a relatively dangerous place. It gets mashed against my thigh. My kids sit on it. It gets laundered. Sometimes it's unceremoniously dropped in a pile on the floor and kicked approximately towards the laundry hamper. In short, not at all the kind of place to be keeping something fragile, or elegant, or svelte even. If the first adjectives a device evokes are about its style, it most likely doesn't belong in my pocket. If it can be described using similar words as an NFL Linebacker, than it might stand a chance.
2. Cheaper is better.
As I mentioned, anything that's going to be living in my pants pocket needs to be replaceable. I don't see any reason to keep nearly a $1000 computer in my pants pocket; that would be insane. (I'm looking at you iPhone
owners.) I'm not going to put my phone in a $90 case
, either, no matter how "life proof" it is.
3. Unlocked is important.
I don't want to borrow, or lease, or rent my phone from my carrier. I don't want a contract, and I don't want a monthly payment for anything but the services I'm provided. My carrier knows I can leave at the drop of a hat, and they provide me a satisfactory service experience, every month, to keep me around. I may have stayed with the same carrier for most of the last 12 years, but that's not to say I'll stay next month. I ask, when I pay every bill "what have you done for me lately?" I can't do that if I'm beholden for 2 years of payments, or if my phone won't take another provider's SIM.
4. Stock Android is the best Android.
Want to make a bunch of techies groan? Start naming phone manufacturer's Android skins: HTC Sense UI. "Argh." Samsung Touchwiz. "Ugh." Moto Blur. "Eww." You get the picture. Stock Android is cleaner, faster, more usable, and the individual parts are easier to replace should you choose to, than any of the vendor skins. Don't like the home screen? Install Nova Launcher
. Not enough keys on the keyboard? Try Hacker's Keyboard
. Crappy light sensor? Use Lux
. If your vendor has mixed and mangled services, you won't be able to do one of those. For example, don't bother installing a custom keyboard if you have an Asus Transformer tablet - unless you like having an on-screen keyboard using up half your screen while the physical keyboard is attached.
Updates are seriously affected by this as well, which makes perfect sense. What's going to take longer - validating and shipping stock Android, or reworking a skin on top of a new version? This is the #1 reason most phones don't get updates.
5. Phones make great cameras.
|No one thought to bring a 'camera' to the beach that day.|
Having a decent point-and-shoot camera in my pocket has changed the way I live my life, especially how naturally I can share photos with distant loved ones. Click. Share. Send. All of my best photos are impromptu, taken at a moment's notice, without staging or posing, with my phone. Having lived without this capability for the last few months, I've missed a lot, and therefore the whole family has missed a lot. Cameras are the best part of smartphones, and having one that's both high quality and convenient is critical.
Time to choose.
So... where do I look? Well, the "stock android" limitation really thins the herd. Basically, you've got the Nexus line, Moto, and some random Asian vendors who just don't do much business in the US, yet. And while it's not the most important thing in the world, I may need service from the vendor, and Chinese phone vendors are notorious for bad service. Moto, on the other hand, offers 'Moto Care', no-questions-asked accidental damage protection, and I've exercised that on the Moto X (before the warranty ran out) - their service is flawless. I don't know what to say about Google's Nexus devices, as I've never needed service on any of them during warranty period... so that's both awesome and questionable at the same time.
Looking to purposely avoid high-end phones, I eliminated the current-gen Moto X and Moto X Pure, as well as Google's Nexus 6 (also Moto) and 6P. While the Moto E's price tag is really appealing, the 5MP rear camera (and no front camera) is too much of a step backwards. The last-gen Moto G seems like a great value too, but my provider has awesome LTE service, so buying a device with a 3G radio seemed like a waste. This left me deciding between the Nexus 5, and the current-gen Moto G.
The Nexus 5 had a lot going for it. They've packed a lot of cool new tech into a device that's still reasonably priced: support for Google Fi
; an ergonomic fingerprint scanner, USB-C charging, etc. But, $349 felt pretty steep. I felt like the Nexus 5 was defying the direction I wanted to go; giving me cool tech instead of a reliable tool. Also, the "upside-down" photo sensor
really turns me off.
|Eat your heart out, rose gold.|
The Moto G, on the other hand, was just the opposite - I'd have to give up some tech toys I was used to with my Moto X: NFC, hands-free interaction ("OK Moto X"), the pure black of an OLED screen. In exchange, I get the durability I'm looking for: Corning Gorilla glass; cheap, replaceable shells that maintain a waterproof (!!!) seal over the solid metal frame. For fun, those shells are available in a rainbow of colors
, and even with a flip-back magnetic screen cover
. Not to mention that the G starts at about half the price of the Nexus 5: $179 for an 8GB with 1GB RAM.
I also get to keep using some of Moto's pioneering improvements, which I've gotten really used to - like their awesome camera app
. Two flicks of my wrist, and I'm taking photos: no other phone offers more convenient access to the camera. Their 'click anywhere on the screen' (or on my watch) approach continues to make my life easy. The 1080p video, or 720p slo-mo video, with live snapshotting during video recording, rivals any other devices camera tools. The pictures coming out of its 13MP camera look great both in printed snapshots, or when shared online. The 5MP front camera is more than adequate for videoconferencing as well.
|32GB of that is a class-10 SD card.|
I liked the Moto G's scaling factor as well - $40 more doesn't just bump up the storage to 16GB, but the RAM as well to 2GB. With an SD slot, and Marshmallow's ability to integrate SD storage seamlessly into the system, I ended up with plenty of storage, and plenty of RAM.
In short, I got everything I wanted: A durable, relatively inexpensive, unlocked phone running stock Android with a camera that makes my whole family smile. For fun, the shell I chose
is reasonably close to SUSE green. Do I miss NFC? Sure. Do I regret my choice? Not even a little. This phone is going to last me a few years, and who knows what will be out by the time it dies...
|My next phone will project the Death Star in lieu of a ringtone.|