Motorola pushes budget edge with $500 Moto X, $180 Moto G phones

The company also unveils the Moto Hint, a sleek Bluetooth earpiece accessory that costs $150.

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Motorola's Moto X gets a sequel -- also called Moto X -- with a bigger body and more premium materials. Sarah Tew/CNET

Motorola Mobility -- the unit that is owned by Google -- is going out with a bang.

The smartphone manufacturer, which will start new life as a unit of Chinese electronics maker Lenovo when the deal is completed later this year, used an event at its headquarters in downtown Chicago Thursday to unveil successor versions of its flagship Moto X smartphone and its wallet-friendly Moto G (the names remain unchanged). It also showed off a Bluetooth earpiece accessory called the Hint, and used the event as an opportunity to talk in-depth about its smartwatch, the Moto 360.

The new Moto X and Moto G represent a continuation of Motorola's strategy of selling smartphones that undercut on price despite features and components that stand up to the competition. The tactic helped raise the profile of the company, which had languished in a sea of similar Android smartphones. It has also helped it gain a foothold in fast-growing emerging markets such as Brazil and India.

The $180 Moto G and the $250 Moto 360 are out today, while the Moto X, which has a full retail price of $500 and a carrier-subsidized price of $100, will be out later this fall. The $150 Moto Hint will come in the fall. In the UK, the Moto X will be available on Amazon from the end of September, for £419. The Moto G is available on Amazon on 5 September for £150.

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The Moto G is the more affordable of the two Motorola smartphones. Sarah Tew/CNET
The Moto G saw modest improvements, including a larger 5-inch high-definition display, the inclusion of two front speakers for stereo sound, an 8-megapixel rear camera and a 1.2-megapixel front-facing camera, and a microSD slot for expandable memory.

Missing is an LTE version of the new Moto G, which the company declined to comment on. An LTE version of the old Moto G came out in May, even though the original version was released last November.

Still, the Moto G has proven to be an important part of the portfolio.

"It's become a worldwide phenomenon," Motorola President and Chief Operating Officer Rick Osterloh said on Thursday. The Moto G is Motorola's best-selling smartphone of all time for the company.

With the new Moto G, "we've delivered another exceptional phone," said Lauren Gellman, head of marketing for Moto G and Moto E, another cheaper smartphone from Motorola.

Check out CNET's first take on the Moto G.

The Moto X similarly saw incremental improvements wrapped around a fancy new body and a lower price.

Motorola's flagship smartphone is bigger, now featuring a 5.2-inch full high-definition display, as well as a faster 2.5-gigahertz Snapdragon processor from Qualcomm.

It features a 13-megapixel camera that can also shoot 4K video. An emphasis on the smartphone was the integration of more voice commands and touchless controls, allowing you to wave your hand over the phone to dismiss a caller or tell the phone to enter selfie camera mode.

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The Moto X features improved specifications, a more premium feel, but remains cheaper than the competition. Sarah Tew/CNET

Following the trend of more premium materials, Motorola added an aluminum frame around the Moto X, which also doubles as the antenna. It will also offer premium back covers made out of leather and wood. Motorola is continuing its Moto Maker program, which offers customers the ability to customize the look of the device.

The new Moto X's price represents a significant cut from the original. When the first Moto X debuted, it cost $200 with subsidized pricing or $580 without a contract.

Motorola emphasized the use of Moto Voice, the layer of the company's software that allows you to access the Google Now search capabilities. One personalized tweak: you can use a different trigger word to call up Moto Voice, so it will respond to different names such as "Jarvis" or "Moto Phone," rather than the standard, "Ok, Google" command.

Check out CNET's first take on the Moto X

To avoid confusion, Motorola will cease selling the older Moto X and Moto G once it gets rid of the last of its inventory.

To pair with the Moto X, Motorola offers the Moto Hint accessory. It's a sleek Bluetooth earpiece that allows you to remotely control your smartphone.

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The Moto Hint earpiece is designed to be small enough that it is barely noticeable. Sarah Tew/CNET

It was originally designed as a way to keep your head up and engaged, as opposed to staring at your smartphone. Motorola said the tiny, almost unnoticeable size was intended to break the stigma of "geeky and annoying" Bluetooth headset accessories.

The Moto Hint has a capacity touchpad for controls and has no buttons. You can tap the earpiece and make search inquiries or call out commands with your voice. It also has sensors that know when it's in your ear, and can automatically shut off when it's removed.

It weighs six grams, or roughly the weight of a quarter, the company said. It allows for 3.3 hours of talk time on one charge, but comes with a carrying case that offers two more complete charges, giving it a total life of 10 hours of talk time.

Check out CNET's first take on the Moto Hint.

Lastly, Motorola went into detail on its Moto 360 smartwatch. Jim Wicks, the head of the design group, actually won't use the term smartwatch.

"We think it's a modern timepiece," Wicks said at the briefing. "Being useful at a glance is the whole reason the wristwatch was invented in the first place."

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The Moto 360 finally hits stores after debuting in March. Sarah Tew/CNET

Wicks conceded that Motorola's early designs started with square and rectangular shapes because it was the most efficient way to jam in the different components. But he and his team quickly decided to switch to the circular shape, and challenged its component suppliers to create new parts that would work with the 360.

Motorola actually unveiled the first images of the Moto 360 in March, but held off on providing too many details until today's event.

Like the LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live, Moto 360 runs on Android Wear, the wearable-specific version of the Android software created by Google. While any Android Wear apps are compatible with the Moto 360, Motorola said that developers could go the extra mile to take full advantage of the round screen.

Check out CNET's first take on the Moto 360.

About the author

Roger Cheng is the executive editor in charge of breaking news for CNET News. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade. He's a devoted Trojan alum and Los Angeles Lakers fan.

 

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