Buying a brand-new smartphone to take advantage of new lower-cost, bring-your-own-device wireless plans from mobile operators doesn't need to break the bank.
This week Motorola Mobility, which is being bought by Chinese manufacturer Lenovo from Google,Just like the original versions of these phones, these new models offer savvy mobile consumers quality devices at low prices. So far, Motorola is the only smartphone manufacturer that's addressing the budget-conscious US smartphone consumer with inexpensive, high-quality, stylish, unlocked devices.
Still, figuring out which device to buy is tricky. In this edition of Ask Maggie, I try to answer this question and steer one reader to the Motorola device that will best fit his or her needs.
Getting the most smartphone bang for your buck
I'd really like to take advantage of a new wireless plan on AT&T or T-Mobile that lets me take my own device to the service. But I'm also in the market for a new smartphone. I've heard good things about the Motorola phones. That Moto G is priced just right! My question is do you think that's a good option for me? Are there major differences between the phones that I should be aware of?
Dear Smartphone Cheapskate,
I like the way you think. Savvy wireless customers can get good deals on wireless service by shopping for lower-cost devices that they pay for outright.
All four of the major US wireless operators now offer a discount on their monthly service to customers who bring their own smartphones to the network. And in some cases, the more data you subscribe to in a family-share plan, the bigger the discount.
For example, on AT&T's family-share plan, if you sign a two-year contract and take the device subsidy, it will cost you $40 to connect your smartphone to your data plan. If you don't take the subsidy and either finance your phone or pay for it outright, that fee drops to $25 a device. And if you subscribe to more than 10GB of service a month, each smartphone costs only $15 to connect to the data plan.
What I like about these plans is that consumers finally have an incentive to shop around for a lower-cost device, which ultimately lowers your overall cost of ownership. Since they were first introduced, I've been a big fan of Motorola's Moto X and Moto G. In fact, the Moto X is the phone I use day to day. And I love it.
The original Moto X doesn't have all the top specifications nor does the one that was just announced this week, but I appreciate the look, feel and features of this device over any other Google Android smartphone on the market. And even some of my iPhone-toting friends have been a little jealous of a few of the nifty user-friendly features, such as the screen tap to take pictures and the wrist twist to open the camera app.
I also really like the Moto G, which is a more basic version of the Moto X. The best thing about the Moto G is the unbeatable price tag you mentioned in your question. The original Moto G, as well as the new version announced this week, both retail for $189 without the need for a two-year contract. That's simply a price you can't beat.
Motorola has made some slight improvements to the Moto G in the new version of the product, 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. It also comes with a microSD slot for expandable memory. This is a very nice enhancement given that the older model only had 8GB of device storage and no slot to expand the 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.
But one thing to keep in mind is that at this price point, you'll have to give up a few things. For instance, for $189 you won't get 4G LTE on either the old or new model of the Moto G. That said, Motorola came out with an LTE version of the original Moto G in May, which retails for $219. This is still a terrific price.
So far Motorola is keeping mum about whether the latest version of the Moto G will also get LTE. I hope the company will offer an LTE version, because honestly that's the biggest downside I see in buying this device. Without LTE, you'll be relegated to the slower 3G network. If you plan on being in a Wi-Fi hotspot most of the time and you don't mind a little delay, this might be fine. But for anyone who has gotten to 4G LTE speeds, it would be hard to turn back to a 3G-only smartphone.
The Moto X, which is a higher-end smartphone than the Moto G, does offer LTE in both the older version as well as the new version. In general, the materials and other components, such as the processor, used for this device are also higher end. So it comes as little surprise that the price tag is also heftier. The latest model, which will go on sale later this month, will retail for $500 if you want to buy it unlocked at full price. Still, compared with competitive products from Apple and Samsung, the Moto X is less expensive when purchased at full price. The iPhone 5S costs $649. And a brand-new Samsung Galaxy S5 is also at the $650 mark.
The price of the Moto X is also likely to come down. Motorola sells the unlocked version of this device on its website for $390.
And as compared with the Moto G, there are definitely some additional bells and whistles you may be willing to pay a little bit more to have. Like the Moto G, the new version of the Moto X has a bigger, 5.2-inch high definition screen. It also comes with a faster, 2.5-gigahertz Snapdragon processor from Qualcomm and now features a 13-megapixel camera that can also shoot 4K video. Motorola has also integrated more voice commands and touchless controls into the device. And it now uses more premium materials, like aluminum for the frame, which doubles as an antenna on the device.
Consumers also have the choice of two premium back covers, made from leather or wood. Motorola is also continuing its Moto Maker program, which lets customers customize the look of the phone.
But as I mentioned above, you pay for all these extra features and the premium materials.
What should you do?
If you can afford the more expensive Moto X, go for it. I think it's a worthwhile purchase. But if getting a device for around $200 without a contract is most important to you, then I'd limit your choices to the older Moto G with LTE and the brand-new Moto G announced this week.
The latest model of the Moto G is an improvement in many ways over the original. The bigger screen size, improved camera and expandable memory are all really nice upgrades. But I think the lack of 4G LTE could be a deal-breaker. For this reason alone, I'd suggest getting the $219 version of the Moto G.
The other option is you could wait a bit a longer to see if Motorola will introduce an LTE version of the Moto G. Executives from Motorola declined to comment at the press event earlier this week on an LTE version. But as I mentioned earlier, an LTE version was introduced at a slightly higher price point just a few months ago. And as far as I know, Motorola plans to continue selling the older Moto G LTE version of the device as well as the newer Moto G that doesn't include LTE.
I hope this advice was helpful. Good luck!
Ask Maggie is an advice column that answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. If you have a question, I'd love to hear from you. Please send me an e-mail at maggie dot reardon at cbs dot com. And please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header. You can also follow me on Facebook on my Ask Maggie page.