The battle of potential vs need: Moto X and the Samsung Galaxy S4
Based on the various leaks and inside info that we had gotten over the past couple of months, we basically knew what to expect with the Motorola Moto X. We knew about the customization options, and the color choices. We essentially knew what to expect from the spec sheet. And, we even basically knew what the hardware itself would look like. It took longer for the software features to leak out, but soon enough we knew what to expect there as well.
The overall picture that we were able to build from these various pieces led me to believe that Motorola (and by extension, Google) were truly focusing on the experience of the device rather than the straight out benchmark performance. But, now that Motorola has laid out its plan in its entirety, it seems to be that while that original idea I had was very close, it isn't completely accurate. Motorola and Google are definitely focusing on the experience, but it's hard to argue that HTC wasn't also focusing on the experience with the HTC One. The difference is that the Moto X is focused on what users need rather than what they might potentially want.
If you want to talk about a company that is overly obsessed with what users might potentially want, you have to look no farther than Samsung. Samsung's entire philosophy of hardware is to slap together as many variants of every device, at every size and price point, and assume that someone out there wants each one. On the software side of things, Samsung aims for the same kitchen sink approach, throwing in every feature that anyone could potentially want, and once again hope that at least one person will find use in the options.
Motorola has taken more time to consider the options that are truly important to users, and focus on those aspects, even if it means you have to take away from somewhere else. Spec junkies may complain about the 720p display on the Moto X, but the reality is that very few people can actually see the difference between 720p and 1080p in the fine details, but almost everyone can see the difference the higher-res will make on your battery life and graphics performance, because pushing pixels is tough work on any GPU.
And, looking deeper at the spec sheet, again many benchmark nerds will talk about the Galaxy S4 spec sheet and how it "blows away" the Moto X, and on paper it does. But, as I've said before: devices don't exist on paper, they exist in your hand. The Galaxy S4 spec sheet reads like an exercise in potential: "Wow, that's a great SoC. I hope that someday I find some software that can really take advantage of it..." Whereas the Moto X spec sheet reads like a need/have list: "Okay, I have always-on voice command, so I need a CPU to make that work without killing the battery." And, contrary to popular belief, the Moto X Snapdragon S4 Pro is not "last year's hardware", but far closer to a customized Snapdragon 600. This is still top-shelf hardware, just not bleeding edge. If you are a benchmark elitist, you should keep in mind that the Moto X does beat the S4 on GPU tests and various browser tests.
Similarly, a couple of the multitude of photo options found in the Galaxy S4 may be really useful on a day-to-day basis, but rather than that, Motorola has decided to focus on a much more pressing issue: how quickly you can get your camera app open and ready to go. Now sure, it would have been better for the device to simply have a dedicated camera button that could wake the device straight into the camera, like you can in Windows Phone; but, we understand the desire to find a different (albeit awkward) way to get the camera open quicker.
The same goes for the variations on touchless controls that you'll find in each device. In the Galaxy S4, you have gesture controls which essentially are only useful when your hands are dirty. If your hands are clean, there is literally no good reason to use gesture/hover controls over physically touching your touchscreen device. But, with the Moto X, the use case of touchless controls is suddenly expanded to any time that your hands are busy (or too lazy) to touch the device. And, the actions that you can perform will continue to grow as Google adds more and more voice commands to Google Now. It seems a lot more likely that I'll need to control my device without touching it to initiate a quick search, or set a calendar event, than I will to swipe through pictures.
there can be too much choice; and, Samsung has likely gone over that line. Right now, there are no fewer than eight different variants on the Samsung Galaxy S4 when you factor in the various CPU configurations, radio options, and models (Active, Mini & Zoom). The hardware differences between all of those can be subtle and confusing to customers who don't want to get into benchmarks and GPUs and such. On the other hand, there is one Moto X, but you can change how it looks. Most everyone knows how to choose colors that they like, and pictures that they like, and that's really all you need to know to sort through the over 2000 different options on the Moto X. 2000 sounds like a big number, but the number quickly drops when you rule out various colors that you don't like.
The ultimate goal from Motorola seems to be in designing a device that is as easy to "try-on" as a shirt that you find in a store. If you like it, you buy it; if not, you grab a different color. Overall, I really like the thought process that has gone into the Moto X, because it is often just as important to say "no" to features as it is to say "yes". I'm not sure that Samsung has really learned that lesson; and, Samsung won't learn that lesson unless the market demands it, which doesn't seem likely to happen any time soon. The Moto X may not be the device that spec nerds want, but it could very well be the device that many average users need; and, that's the kind of win that Motorola needs right now.