The new Moto X phone

Motorola has just announced the Moto X. The first Android phone developed since being bought out by Google. It's an interesting departure from the business class Droids that shows Google's influence in design and audience.

Leaks about the Moto-X have been apearing for awhile. Little leaks here and there, and then what seemed a torrent of information spilling the beans on most of the device features. Still the tech press expected more. They hoped for one last big reveal and were sadly disappointed. The only new information was that the ability to customize your phone will be exclusive to AT&T for a period of time.

Instead of the most amazing thing ever we got a mid-range specs, with a lot of custom colors, and some new features designed to sell a lot of phones.

Specs? Meh

The stand out specs do so not because they are high and amazing, but because they are mild and boring. A 720p resolution on a 4.7" screen is not cutting edge, and surprising to see on a flagship device. Especially when Samsung and HTC have had 1080p devices on the market for months. Spec-wise the Moto X just doesn't stand up to the competition.

Moto Maker, custom phones

Moto Maker is Motorola's new tool for customizing the look of the Moto X. You can chose from two face colors, 18 back colors, seven accent colors, and (coming soon) four backs made from real wood. In addition to also being able to customize the wallpaper and headphone color. And finally you can write a custom message that is engraved on the back.

moto maker

The possible combinations are huge. Motorola is betting big on people wanting to customize their phone. And why shouldn't they. It used to that people customized their phones with custom faceplaces. Before smartphones Nokia devices had changeable front and back plastic plates that could easily be swapped out. Little kiosks popped up in the malls that sold nothing but faceplates in all manor of styles and designs.

Now the Moto-X is a little different. Once you create your design you can't change it. The back is fused to the phone. I imagine to keep the phone thin and easy to hold. But the sentiment is the same. Let people customize their phone and they will enjoy it more as it's unique and special and they helped.

Some new features

Motorola introduced a couple new features with the Moto X that feel very Google. Instead of a notification LED the Moto X shows icons on screen when in sleep mode. You can then drag the icon to unlock into that app to see the notification. It doesn't take a lot battery power as it's only lighting a small part of the AMOLED display. There is also the always on voice command waiting for you to say OK Google Now before it launches into action. This is similar to the OK Glass on Google's glass device.

These customizations feel very Google. They are simple in action and design. They extend existing features in ways that help people interact with their phone, and in a less cumbersome way. Which gets them using their phone more.

Google makes most of it's money from advertising. It's goal with Android is to keep people using it's services and to keep searching. To that end phone features that get people using the phone more, using Google's search more, will only help Google.

I imagine that we'll see some, if not most, of the new features make it to future incarnations of Android. Or maybe specific Google Apps. But not after Motorola has them as an exclusive for enough time to sell more phones.

Sell some phones

Beyond the hype, the colors and the features the Moto-X is just another android phone. It's neat and new but nothing like the hype machine wanted. It's important to remember that the tech press is not the intended audience for this phone. The general public is. Soccer moms who keep their phone for years and years, men and children who couldn't tell the difference between screen density and have never swapped out a battery. It's not made for the power user or road warrior. It's made for the everyman who just wants a phone. To that end Motorola has done well. They have a good phone with nice features that users can make their own.

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What should my next phone be?

Firefox OS phone

It's time for a new phone. Your old phone has trouble powering on and the busted screen has started to flake off. It can be a challenging decision because of the flood of smartphones now available. Should you get the latest iPhone, or last year's "S" model. Or even the one before that. Then there's Android phones from Google, Samsung and Motorola; just to name a few. How do you decide?

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Apple, the iPhone, and it's make it or break it moment

iPhone 5, make it or break it

Today Apple is having an unveiling event. Where, it is expected, they will show off the next iPhone. For them I expect this to be the moment where they solidify their market dominance or begin the slow slide into mediocrity and obscurity.

Apple has been suing competitors left and right. They are insecure with their position in the market place and are seeking other means of staying dominate. As part of their lawsuits Apple has asked that several Android phones be banned from the United States. If Apple was confident in the iPhone's ability to compete with these phones then why ask for the ban. Their need to do anything and everything to keep buyers from seeing competitor's phones shows clear insight into how Apple see their position in the marketplace. Simply that the iPhone can't compete.

Recent iOS release have not been exciting. Apple hasn't introduced new features nor did they expand current features. They didn't introduce anything new. The most exciting new feature was notifications. Something that was a rip-off of Android's pull down notification window. If Apple want to maintain dominance they need to increase their install base. They need to sell more iPhones to Android users. And they won't do that unless they vastly improve iOS.

The iPhone hardware is a monoculture. For all intensives purposes it's the same hardware it's been for five years. Speed bumps, more ram and a different case don't make it a new phone. The biggest upgrade has been the retina display. Competitors are eating up the market by creating a variety of different phones for multiple categories. They have big phones, small phones, expensive phones, cheap phones. They have phones with 3D cameras, and phones with styluses. Apple needs to diversify it's hardware if it wants to fill these small niches and stay relevant. They need to get out of their ivory tower and and come down to where the people are.

Apple is scared, stalled and on the verge of losing an industry they created. The lawsuits show their insecurity. It's their poker tell. They know they need to improve their software and hardware, but will they. Will today be the moment they secure their place on top of the mountain, or the moment we all look back on as the beginning of the end.

Full disclosure: I own Apple stock.

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Galaxy Nexus

Samsung Galaxy Nexus
My first look at a Samsung Galaxy Nexus

The Galaxy Nexus, like the iPhone 4S, is more of an evolutionary step over previous models. The subtle updates to the hardware are overshadowed by an OS update to Ice Cream Sandwich, the newly released Android 4.0.

The first thing I noticed was the massive, beautiful, screen. The Galaxy Nexus uses the same Super AMOLED screen technology as the Nexus S, but with a larger resolution in a similar size. This translate into a noticeable difference. The Galaxy Nexus screen has smoother text than the Nexus S, even when both are using the new ICS roboto font.

The screen is huge, but not unwieldy. The full size comes in at 4.65?, however, the lower portion of the screen is used for on-screen buttons that replaced the haptic feedback buttons. This give the standard area an effective size of 4.3?.

The device itself does not seem large or awkward due to it?s thinness. It felt svelte and sexy next to the thick Nexus S. It?s almost as if someone squished a Nexus S to make it thinner and larger.

My only disagreement is the color of the back housing. It?s a subtle dark gun metal gray. It?s not unpleasant, but I would have preferred a black back.

Ice Cream Sandwich is pretty cool. I?ve been using it on my Nexus S for a couple of weeks.

It has the same basic feel as previous Android version but everything seemed just a little different, a bit smoother. There is a lot more eye candy, everything is a bit more polished. A bit more loved. Previous version of stock Android had a ultra simple launcher. ICS is Google's attempted to prevent the handset OEMs from needing to develop their own "skin" to overlay the default home screens. Or at least give them some serious thinking to do on the matter.

Previous updates to Android were backend stability updates. The UI never much changed. But now the UI is changing in grand and monumental ways. Not just the launcher, but also the browser, contacts, text messages, the camera, just about every app has new and subtle changes.

Overall the new ICS experience will be better than older versions, and better than OEM skins. Handset manufactures will be hard pressed not to forgo their skins and use the default Launcher.

Most of the changes to the Galaxy Nexus are subtle and will go unnoticed to the conscious mind, while enhancing the overall experience.

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