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I miss you, Moto X: Eulogy for a drowned phone

Commentary: It guided me across an ocean, accompanied me to family celebrations and stood by me as I mourned a loved one. Why losing this gadget cut deep.


The Moto X returns to the accident site.

Amanda Kooser/CNET

My Moto X silently flew through the air, my fumbling fingers trying to catch it as it reached my backyard fish pond. I heard a soft "swunk" as it descended below the water's surface, the screen lit up with a notification from my Ring video doorbell. That was the last time I saw my phone fully alive, and three weeks later I still can't stop thinking about my old Moto.

It's not that I lost data. I backed everything up. I'm mourning the hardware for what it represents: our history together. I didn't just dunk my phone. I dunked a piece of my heart.

The phone went to England with me via ship for my honeymoon and saw dolphins swimming in the cold Atlantic water. It weathered the misty rains of the UK, stood with me in glorious green fields and captured grand manors with its lens. It navigated me across the twisting stone walls of the Peak District and helped me pronounce "Derbyshire" right. This was my first journey abroad with a smartphone and I reveled in how it replaced the stack of maps, guide books and handwritten notes I'd carried along on previous trips.  


The Moto X was my traveling companion in England's Peak District.

Amanda Kooser/CNET

The last phone call I ever had with my stepfather was on my Moto X, and the phone was in my pocket when I stood at his deathbed. The next morning, I wrote a tribute to him using its tiny keyboard. On that screen, I revisited his love of Fellini films, his vinyl collection stocked with Warren Zevon and Bob Dylan albums and his passion for mystery novels. 

The phone later gathered pictures at my sister's vibrant, flower-soaked wedding, capturing those under-the-radar moments when she had her long hair painstakingly curled and she and her fiance practiced their first dance to the tune of "Besame Mucho." More than a phone. More than a camera. It was a steady companion through both the delights and laments of my life.

When I tell people I'm a gadget lover, I mean it. I still carry my old iPad 2 around the house like a baby, using it to watch Netflix while I cook or work on jigsaw puzzles. I kept my Wii long after it started making funny noises and stalling out in the middle of games. But those devices didn't ride shotgun with me down Route 66 or capture the moment when I ran my fingers down the back of a fallow deer at the Grand Canyon Deer Farm with a grin on my face.

Me and my Moto

I bought my second-generation Moto X as a used phone on eBay in early 2015, though Motorola first released the gadget in 2014. That qualifies it as elderly in smartphone terms. It was my first big-girl phone, replacing an adequate but unexciting Moto G.

Before my Moto X took a dip, I'd been contemplating a replacement. I wanted the latest Android system and the Moto X couldn't deliver. My phone was working fine and, being budget-conscious, I was still far away from making the change. But most of all, I just really still liked my phone.

As happens with even the closest friends, sometimes it got on my nerves. It delivered an endless string of crappy low-light photos. The battery ran down way too fast and I was always accidentally opening the camera from the lock screen. But I knew its foibles and could live with them.

Then came that fateful day.   

Swimming with fishes

I remember the accident like I'm watching a movie. One moment, the phone was in a shallow pocket on the front of my sweater. The next, it executed a perfect two-flip dive and landed gracefully among the fancy goldfish, who swam up to investigate it for edibility.

My Moto X in its rice bath. I'm still checking it for signs of life. 

Amanda Kooser/CNET

I didn't panic. I calmly plunged my hand into the cold water and grabbed the phone before it could sink to the bottom. For a moment, I thought everything might be fine. But it wasn't. I shook the device off and rushed it inside like a triage patient. As I attempted to turn it off and begin life-saving procedures, the screen flickered, dark lines shot across the display and it went black.

Liquid damage is the culprit behind 35 percent of all smartphone repairs, research firm IDC found in 2016, so I already knew the common tips for saving a cell phone from water exposure.

I dabbed at the phone with paper towels. I googled how to open it up and remove the battery, since it wouldn't turn off. It's possible to do, but not easy. I called a local cell phone repair place, which said it could take days to diagnose the extent of my phone's water damage. And, finally, I said goodbye.

Making a new friend

Later that day, I drove to a local electronics retailer with my SIM card in a baggie in one pocket and my dead Moto X in the other. I strolled in, requested an unlocked Moto G5 Plus in lunar gray with 64GB of storage and walked out with my new (merely "splashproof") phone. My SIM card fired right up, none the worse for wear for having gone swimming.

Armed with a new phone, I tucked my Moto X into a container full of basmati rice and hope. I let it sit there for a week to see if it might rise like Lazarus and find a new purpose as a backup phone. It didn't, at least not yet. I keep checking it in case it does.

I may never feel as attached to the Moto G5 Plus as I did to the Moto X, but I know there will be more joys and sorrows to come. My new phone has already documented a dramatic living-room remodel project. It will travel with me to Phoenix soon for a Nascar race.  

At least one thing is very familiar: the G5 Plus also takes kinda cruddy low-light photos. I find it oddly comforting. I may have upgraded my smartphone, but I will never upgrade the Moto X out of my heart.

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