We're only a handful of days away from the presumed announcement of Lenovo's latest Moto flagship, the Moto X 2016 (or, perhaps Moto Z), which promises a new design and a unique take on the modular smartphone.
But how did we get here? Let's take a look at the history of the Moto X line, and just how much has changed in three years.
Under Google's warm embrace, the Moto X was envisioned as a divergence from the trend of bigger-and-more-powerful overtaking the Android space in 2013.
Compact and plastic, the Moto X introduced a number of features that took years to trickle down to the rest of the industry, foremost among them Moto Display, which took advantage of the phone's 4.7-inch AMOLED screen to preview notifications without having to press the power button.
There was a confidence with which Motorola played with convention in the Moto X: it tried new things, some of which failed, but informed future versions the X line, and trickled down to the ultra-popular, low-cost Moto G. When no other OEM was engaging with their phones using voice, the Moto X contained a separate chip specifically for this purpose, the X8, always listening for the phrase "OK Google Now" to begin engaging with Google's assistant.
Motorola was playing with confidence, and envisioned a divergence from bigger phones.
Alongside the phone, Motorola introduced an ambitious project to individually customize and build Moto X units inside the United States, shipping them to consumers within four business days. Dubbed Moto Maker, the undertaking has since expanded to nearly every product in Motorola's lineup.
But the original Moto X was not without its flaws: its 10MP camera was controversial, with atrocious low-light performance and hit-and-miss results at all other times, further let down by a camera app that sold itself as "minimal," but was really just poorly designed. And then there was the Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro processor which was already more than a year old at the time of the phone's release. While there were legitimate reasons for Motorola to employ the chip, it sullied the reputation of was otherwise a profoundly interesting and unique flagship phone.
Moto X (2nd gen) / Moto X 2014
The second-generation Moto X was in many ways a far more traditional smartphone than its predecessor. It did away with the customized dual-core Krait chip, leveling up to the standard at the time, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801. So too was its 13MP rear camera similar to what you'd find in other devices of the day.
Its larger and higher-resolution Full HD 5.2-inch screen and metal frame gave it an air of maturity, and helped justify its higher cost, but it was in the software that Motorola made the most significant improvements. Moto Display and Moto Voice each received a healthy dollop of new features — the introduction of infrared sensors on the phone's front allowed a simple wave to light up the screen — but the takeaway was that stock Android was still a better experience.
If anything, the second Moto X's Achilles Heel was its battery life which, from a 2300 mAh cell, paled in comparison to the flagships of the time, the Samsung Galaxy S5 and LG G3. That and the camera, which was just okay in a sea of devices that were increasingly capable.
But Motorola also began playing with the expectations of what a flagship should cost, introducing the phone at $500 and dropping it to $300 after a few months. Paired with an improved Moto Maker experience that included leather back options, a customized phone became something aspirational.
Moto X Play
The Moto X Play was a strange smartphone. Introduced alongside the Moto X Pure Edition in mid-2015, it attempted to right the wrongs of the past with an enormous 3630 mAh battery and 21MP rear camera. Both were great additions, and led to considerable improvements over the second-generation Moto X, but the Play was not widely available in the U.S., and scaled back on the spec sheet to keep costs low. In some countries, like Canada, the Moto X Play was the Moto X, creating an awkward return to a mid-range processor (in this case, the Snapdragon 615) and a plastic frame.
In keeping with tradition, the Moto X Play, despite having a larger 5.5-inch display, looked very much a Motorola product, all curved back and approachable rounded top. And though the battery was not removable, Motorola took a page out of the Moto G line with customizable back plates in a variety of colorful shades.
On the software side, it was more of the same, which continued to impress those who bought it, but did little to spur sales.
Moto X Style / Moto X Pure Edition
The best Moto X to date, the Style and/or Pure Edition (depending on the market) maintained the metal frame of the second-generation version but added a beautiful 5.7-inch QHD display and plenty of speed thanks to a Snapdragon 808 chip and 3GB of RAM. And while its 3000 mAh battery didn't quite match its Play counterpart, Motorola's implementation of Qualcomm's Quick Charge 2.0 spec let it recharge in around 90 minutes.
But recognizing its place in the market, new owner Lenovo understood that it couldn't just augment the existing Moto X design with better specs and call it a day; Samsung, LG and others were dominating the high-end space, and weren't about to relent. So Lenovo leveraged the strategy that had worked for the Moto G line for three years at that point: it released the Moto X Pure Edition at a base price of $399, unlocked and untethered to any carrier. It also improved Moto Maker, adding even more wood and leather choices, while keeping add-on costs as low as possible.
Which leads us to...
Lenovo Tech World. June 9.
There, Lenovo will unveil the latest Moto X, which, if the new Moto G lineup is any indication, won't be a radical redesign of the brand. Instead, it looks like Lenovo intends to use this year's Moto X as a jumping off point for a variety of accessories that snap onto the back of the phone.
It remains to be seen whether Lenovo can engender more excitement for this endeavor than LG, whose G5's lineup of Friends has become more of a punchline than a success story.
What's your Moto X story? Were you an early adopter, or a discount buyer? Let us know in the comments below!