Motorola Makes The Moto G Official, A “Premium” Phone Starting At $179 Unlocked

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Motorola held a special event today to reveal its new Moto G, a spiritual sibling to the Moto X and a way for the Google-owned smartphone maker to bring its vision of a customized mobile device future to even more consumers with much more affordable pricing. “Now we’re setting our sights on the world,” is how Motorola CEO Dennis Woodside put it during the event today.

Noting that most people can’t afford a $500 or $600 phone today, Woodside said that the average worldwide is more around the $200 mark. Those phones offer really bad experiences, however, according to Woodside, using old tech that shows especially poorly when running modern apps. Woodside cited a Galaxy Fame phone as an example of a cheap device made poorly, and last-gen phones as the only other option.

“We believe half a billion people deserve better,” Woodside said, before announcing the Moto G. The Moto G offers an experience that can even rival the Galaxy S4 and other modern top-end superphones according to Woodside.

The 4.5-inch display, with 720p, 329 PPI resolution is the “hero feature” of the phone, and it outperforms the iPhone 5s according to Motorola. It has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 1.2 GHz processor with 1GB of RAM, and offers “all-day” battery life. That means around 14 hours of talk time on 3G networks, vs. 10 claimed for the iPhone 5s. It ships with Android 4.3, and there’s a guaranteed upgrade coming to Android 4.4, by January of 2014. There’s no LTE on board, which makes sense given the target market (growing, developed countries where LTE is in limited supply or nonexistent).

Motorola is keeping customization key to the product, too, with custom shells like its more expensive predecessor, and there are new flip shells that protect the screen and back.

IMG_9826Software on the Moto G was designed to build from pure Android, add value to Google’s vanilla OS and provide the user with more capabilities. Motorola┬áVP of Product Management at Motorola Mobility Punit Soni specifically called out the foolishness of adding complex skins to Android. It’s a predictable stance: Moto is now a Google subsidiary, obviously, and Soni comes from Google.

Soni also said they focused on the basics when optimizing software, instead of trying to jam a bunch of features in. This allows it to “punch way above its weight with respect to competitors”. The Moto G outperforms the Galaxy S4 on boot time, browser launch, return home, making calls and more, Soni notes, which is a validation to the team that focusing on basics is more important than complicating things with skins.

There is some software added, including Motorola Assist, which is a predictive software feature that tries to develop a profile of how you use your phone in order to anticipate your needs for optimal performance. They’ve also tried to focus on the camera software, which Soni said is capable of taking excellent photographs in every setting possible. The proof will be in the pudding, however, so I’ll reserve judgement until I get a chance to put it through its paces.

Moto G buyers get an additional 50GB of Google Drive storage free with the phone (in addition to the 15 that comes with the service). There’s also an FM receiver in the phone for “access to free music,” and dual-SIM support in select markets. Soni said that this approach of marrying value with features is what to look for from Motorola and Google’s combined efforts going forward.

The 8GB version in the U.S., unlocked and contract free is just $179. The 16GB version is just $199 unlocked, so still sub $200. At these prices, Google and Motorola might be able to steal away a big chunk of the low-cost feature phone market that Microsoft aims to transition to Windows Phone with its acquisition of Nokia. It’s on sale today in Brazil and parts of Europe, and will launch in the coming weeks in the rest of Europe, Canada (at Telus and Koodo within the month) and more. In the U.S., and a number of other countries it’ll launch early next year.