Android, it needs to be remembered, is a software. An operating system that fuels smart devices. And one of the core philosophies with which the creators then, and Google now, nurture it is freedom. The ability to tweak it the way you want it to look like. Yes, in its own vanilla form, it manages to do everything that it intends to. And it may leverage on the hardware that will house it. But at the core, there is a heart that beats with a sole intent of delivering an experience.
Ever since its inception, Android has had two sorts of fans or adopters as we may also call them – the ones that love it the way Google intended it to be, and the others who love to see or give it various other forms, some so different that it almost looks like its arch-rival, iOS.
When one says “Stock Android”, there are two names that pop up usually – Google Nexus (and now Pixel) and Motorola, the Moto X in particular. Any hardcore Android fan – at least once in their lifetime – is more than likely to have either owned or used the phones from the above-mentioned lineage. Seven generations of Nexus and one generation of Pixel and three generations of Moto X have passed by us thus far. There is a lot of overlap between those two companies – Google owned Motorola for a bit, and the first two generations of the Moto X came from them. Both believe in delivering the best via the software, the stock version. But over the years, a number of things have occurred.
From Nexus to Pixel: from experiment to contender!
Let us talk about Google’s phones – of course, Google doesn’t manufacture the phones, but partners with the likes of Samsung, HTC, LG, Huawei and so on. This partnership is done with an intent of both parties benefiting from the deal. For Google, Stock Android will run on a highly reputed brand (remember, the freedom of Android means you and I can make phones and run it regardless of the brand value we may hold). For the phone makers, it is a unique selling proposition that will also lift their brand value and hence the image with an operating system rolling right off Google’s shop floor (or should we say software floor) and they can have software updates coming directly from Google, which otherwise usually has a lag of almost a year in some cases, thanks to the custom variants they provide with their normal phones.
The brands that Google chooses, typically nail the hardware part – the design, the build and decent innards. Coupled with that is Stock Android and it’s very hard for something to drastically wrong with that combination. The phones last literally forever (we still have many nerds using the first ever Google Nexus One or that Samsung Nexus). They may not have had the best of camera performances, but the intent was never to fight the flagships here. It was to deliver a smooth, hassle-free experience for all day to day tasks, yet never feel that one has bought a budget phone. The experience was the flaunt factor.
For five generations, Google’s phones delivered what they promised. And in that journey, it picked up lots of fans. Fans who would wait eagerly for the next iteration, who took pride in recommending the phone to their friends and families (ah, you would have heard that line from Mr. Jobs), who would go the length of importing the phones if they weren’t available where they lived.
But with the 6th generation in 2014, Google did something odd, pushing the boundaries, literally and figuratively, to a 6-inch display device with Motorola and bumping up the price as well. While it did have takers, they were few. And if this experiment wasn’t enough, Google followed it up the next year with two phones – the 5X and the 6P. While the former had a smaller screen, the latter had a bigger screen but smaller to the 6. But the biggest change was the pricing. With the 5X and 6P, Google made it clear that its phone would no more be affordable, and also with a huge improvement in cameras, build and design, they would be taking on the flagships from others. From experiment to a change in business model, the phones became Pixel from last year onwards with the prices almost matching iPhones and Samsung’s flagships. And the (rumored) sales figures of Pixels are a clear indication that they didn’t do well. For two reasons – they were not affordable, and if one had to pour in so much cash, one would rather get a Samsung S7/S8 or an iPhone, that were way better and more stylish.
The Moto X Way
It was not called the official Android phone, but the first Moto X was from Google. Just like its Nexus siblings, it came with the true Android experience, but there were a few things that set it apart from the rest – those gestures to fire up the camera, the voice commands and those tiny Moto software additions were so handy for an average user. While that was on the software side of things, the hardware too had its magic – this family would always come with AMOLED screens, an experience that is appreciated only when used. And it was not top of the line specs, but midrange specs that fuelled a highly optimised software. And that magic continued with the build as well.
Remember the Moto Maker? One could choose the color of the back, the material and even have their initials carved out on the phone. This had a strong sense of “belonging” with the notion of the user partnering with the phone company in building their phone. All of these when compared to the Nexus phones, were better and more enriching experiences.
And there was the design. That curve on the back that made holding the phone such a breeze, that Moto dimple while housing the brand logo helped the index finger grip the phone during single-handed usage, that rubbery back that ensured the phone will not slip off. The second generation had a unique circular LED flash around the camera that gave it such a unique look. And the voice command now could be invoked with a custom name you gave to your phone, allowing you to interact with it. And it was water-resistant too, which made sense for an average user. Lenovo took over Motorola and launched two phones – Moto X Play and Moto X Pure/Style. One was focussed on great battery life and the other cost slightly more and had a greater focus on audio and speakers. While these met with some success, Lenovo seemed to have ended the X-series and replaced it with the more modular oriented Z-series.
However, as recent events have shown, the Moto X is back in its fourth generation. Yes, they might not be coming from Motorola, but from Lenovo, but the mere fact that the X series is back will make the hearts of some folks skip a beat. It brings back a lot of things – the iconic Moto dimple and the very useful water resistant ability. Yes, the subtle style it once had is more pronounced with gloss and shine, albeit well-protected by Corning. And the audio department gets a unique wireless bump – pairing with four devices. And then there is that unique looking dual camera design, nerdy looking but yet worth flaunting. The last Moto X was taller than usual to handle for a single-handed usage, but the Moto X4 is back to being compact. A perfect blend of stock Android with Moto’s magic, stylish design, and good strong hardware. With the right choice of a processor that would keep it going all day long, yet can be charged zippy. All of these are signs of Lenovo taking the Moto X series back to where it belonged. And most importantly, not costing a bomb like the flagships.
In my book, THIS is the true Android Experience combined with the right meaningful additions that make a lot of sense. If Lenovo stays on top of keeping its software updated and a provides a good two years support (at least), the Pixel will have something to worry about – not an expensive flagship coming from the Samsungs and LGs, but a midrange soldier who is set up to be a commander when need be. Because at the end of the day, you do not always need a Bullet Train (read flagships) to get to a destination, a smooth chugging train can also get you there, and might even let you enjoy your journey more. That, folks, is the X-factor – and it does not come with a price tag. Which is why I suspect the Moto X might actually be more representative of the classic Android experience than the new Pixel. Yes, I appreciate the irony.