Motorola would thrive if it created a rival to Google's Pixel 3a

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Motorola would thrive if it created a rival to Google's Pixel 3a
This decade's been a rough one for Motorola. Google purchased the brand in May 2012 following a string of losses and quickly forced it to reduce costs by closing one-third of locations and axing 4,000 employees. The following year, it opened a new factory in Texas to manufacture the highly customizable Moto X flagship that was announced in August 2013. Less than three months later, the budget Moto G series was introduced and the entry-level Moto E series followed in May 2014.

These last two lineups helped turn the company around and led to strong growth in emerging markets. However, by October 2014 Google had chosen offload Motorola to Lenovo and the issues began again. In August 2015, Lenovo started merging its existing smartphone business with Motorola's. Then, in early 2016 it announced plans to scrap the Motorola name in favor of the 'Moto by Lenovo' branding, only to then backtrack just one year later. To make matters worse, devices quickly started becoming generic and offered increasingly less value for money. Sales, rather unsurprisingly, began to tumble.

Fast forward to today and the worst appears to be over. Motorola has finally found its place in the smartphone market and recently posted its first profit in five years in addition to strong growth in the US. But to take things to the next level, I think they’re missing one important thing – a true Google Pixel 3a rival.

Motorola needs to compromise in the same ways as Google


As YouTuber Jon Prosser recently put it, the Pixel 3a has become popular “because the market doesn’t need innovation. It needs compromise.” I completely agree with this, although it’s worth pointing out that Chinese brands compromise all the time. The Pixel 3a has succeeded where others haven’t because Google has compromised in a way that hasn’t been done before, and that’s exactly what Motorola needs to do.

Consumers in emerging markets such as India take spec sheets very seriously, hence the popularity of Chinese brands. But in developed countries such as the US and UK, people quite frankly just don’t care. In fact, when somebody’s buying a phone, chances are they’re looking at the three things the Pixel 3a does well– design, camera, and price.

Let’s compare Google’s Pixel 3a ($479) with Motorola’s Moto Z4 ($499). The small price difference would suggest the latter is the superior phone but, in reality, it isn’t. Unless you’re obsessed with specs or need the 5G Moto Mod, there’s absolutely no reason to buy Motorola’s phone. The Pixel offers flagship-level camera hardware, a larger battery, faster charging, stereo speakers, and much better software support for less. Sure, it doesn’t have quite as much storage and its processor isn’t as fast on paper, but you can get unlimited Google Photos backups for free and most people won’t notice the difference between a Snapdragon 670 and 675.

Now imagine if Motorola switched up its strategy completely. On the one hand, it could add premium camera hardware and software, stereo speakers, and a promise of two years of software updates while also lowering the Moto Z4's price a little. The smartphone would be a much more attractive option for many and Motorola would be able to keep profits up by selecting a slightly less powerful processor, cheaper build materials, reduced storage, and skipping the OLED panel up front. As an alternative option, it could maintain the Moto Z4's current price tag. But rather than implementing the changes mentioned above, the brand could downgrade the storage and processor in favor of a better camera experience. 

A Pixel 3a rival will help Motorola thrive right now, not a flagship


As mentioned in the opening of the article, Motorola has found its place in the smartphone market. It knows that its core market is budget devices priced between $100 and $300 but it’s also aware that there’s demand for models priced between $300 and $500, hence the Motorola One and Moto Z lineups. 

The difference between these segments is that, while Motorola has found significant success with its cheaper offerings, it’s yet to take full advantage of the mid-range market. A Pixel 3a alternative would help with this a lot because there’s clearly a demand for such a device – Google’s phones helped double sales last quarter – and it'd also allow the company to grow quickly, although this will only happen if it acts fast. After all, sooner or later companies such as Samsung and LG are likely to create their own alternatives, therefore making an entry into the segment much harder. 

I read recently that Motorola needs a flagship smartphone to continue growing and I’m sure many people will agree, but I’m afraid I don’t. The original Moto X performed so poorly that Motorola was forced to close its Texas factory after just one year and 2017’s Moto Z2 Force sold less than 150,000 combined units through carriers during its first three months on sale, ultimately leading to massive losses. Consumers have proven time and time again that they aren’t interested in flagship Motorola smartphones no matter what’s thrown at them. That’s why the brand needs to concentrate on what it’s good at. But if it does insist on competing in the premium segment once again, it must be with foldable devices.

There’s no longer any room to grow in the high-end market – the segment is actually shrinking – but foldable devices have huge potential. Don’t get me wrong, it’ll be years before these devices take off, but demand will inevitably grow and if Motorola can get in there before anybody else with a unique design and an iconic name such as Razr, the investment may well pay off within five years. But it's certainly not what's needed at the moment.

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48 Comments

1. Whitedot

Posts: 857; Member since: Sep 26, 2017

Motorola has little to nothing in R&D department to spend and anything they interested brought any tangible advancement. Moto does not have money to invest in camera hardware and software enhancements. Neither it has software engineering budget to maintain it. It seems to me Moto is trying to survive on the big margins provided they are even short of decent. What Google done with Pixel 3a is the way to go from now on for most OEM's. Invest money in couple key phone features that shake even high end market, cut the corners where you can and you got the winner. The way to go from no on.

3. User123456789

Posts: 1084; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

No money for cam hardware? G7+ = imx 519 ( same of OnePlus 6T) Z2 Force = imx386 ( same of mate 10 pro) G5+ = imx362 ( same of Pixel 2 / HTC U11)

19. Whitedot

Posts: 857; Member since: Sep 26, 2017

Yet it probably lags behind all the phones you mentioned. I wonder what penses they use in comparison to OEMs you picked?! Curious.

27. Dadler22

Posts: 242; Member since: Dec 11, 2008

Hardware on par, software for camera is not.

2. User123456789

Posts: 1084; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

Z Play series already dwells this spot. The thing is G series has always been their priority.

17. joshuaswingle

Posts: 644; Member since: Apr 03, 2018

Z Play series is gone now, although Z4 basically takes its place. But when I say Pixel 3a rival I mean one that focuses firmly on the camera experience. Not just a phone that's priced similarly. Loads of companies do that already.

4. oldskool50 unregistered

Is your title forreal? So you want Motorola to make a crappy cheap phone, to compete against a crappy cheap phone that isn't selling well? All Pixel phones suck. They are made like phones from before 2013. The specs are lame. The design is more rugged vs elegant. They have no good features. I rather by a A-series from Samsung. Or better yet, just get an iPhone. The problem with Motorola phones, is the same problem with LG, Sony and every other OEM's who has low phone sales. They all have one thing in common in case you haven't notice. Phone with Vanilla Android, don't sell well. Remember when some carriers like Verizon, offers the developers version of phones? Yeah noticed how that didn't take off? Because a phone with Vanilla Android is like a PC running Windows 3.1. They are cheap for a reason. They don't do nothing. Moto who is already struggling, you trying to just kill them off by saying, make a POS to compete with the POS Pixel 3A. I don't care how good the camera is on the Pixel, when everything else about it sucks.

12. User123456789

Posts: 1084; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

LG UI is far from being close to stock like Motorola and Sony. Motorola is #2 is LATAM, only behind Samsung.

15. joshuaswingle

Posts: 644; Member since: Apr 03, 2018

I don't think the Pixel 3a is a crappy phone. If I had to purchase a device that wasn't a flagship it's undoubtedly the one I'd go for. Liking the Pixel 3a and understanding the value it offers depends on what you look for in a phone.

33. KingSam

Posts: 1492; Member since: Mar 13, 2016

I always buyast years flagship for mid-range price. But if I'm going mid-range it'd be the Redmi K20 or pro.

28. Dadler22

Posts: 242; Member since: Dec 11, 2008

You just hate on pixels, so your comment is not really necessary.

5. Vancetastic

Posts: 1698; Member since: May 17, 2017

They need to keep up with the updates! I’d be interested then.

7. ijuanp03

Posts: 630; Member since: Dec 30, 2014

I got Android Pie with my Moto X4 (not Android One) last December 2018 while all other big brands like Samsung or Huawei haven't even released yet. So not sure what you're talking about.

22. Venom

Posts: 3778; Member since: Dec 14, 2017

Actually their is a version of the X4 that is an Android One phone.

34. ijuanp03

Posts: 630; Member since: Dec 30, 2014

That is why i pointed out my version is non-Android One but still got timely updates. Moto Z3 Play got Pie the following month so technically Motorola is not as slow as Huawei or Samsung :)

44. mootu

Posts: 1537; Member since: Mar 16, 2017

Most Huawei phones got pie last november and december. The days of slow updates on Huawei devices are long gone.

35. Vancetastic

Posts: 1698; Member since: May 17, 2017

That’s not instant like the Pixels.

45. ijuanp03

Posts: 630; Member since: Dec 30, 2014

Of course they are not Google. lol Now that I've pointed out how fast Motorola is faster than Samsung, Huawei, etc.. you still want to be as instant as the company who owns Android? lol people these days.

52. Vancetastic

Posts: 1698; Member since: May 17, 2017

The article compares Motorola to the Pixels. Did you miss that somehow?

6. ijuanp03

Posts: 630; Member since: Dec 30, 2014

I honestly like the Motorola now. it doesn't have to be like Pixel because who would choose a Moto if it has the same exact specs as Google's? Moto G series may not have the best camera but it is so much better than any other Chinese OEMs out there. We all know Pixel devices have the best camera but it's JUST part and parcel of a phone experience.

8. JcHnd

Posts: 284; Member since: Apr 30, 2012

Im quite sure that the closest to a Pixel 3a rival is the Motorola One Vision... Amazon has it for less than $370 and the only thing missing from the pixel 3a is an amoled screen.... it comes with 128gb, an apparently great camera y android one for those 2 years of updates.

9. Guaire

Posts: 892; Member since: Oct 15, 2014

"Now imagine if Motorola added premium camera hardware" Z4 has premium camera hardware, not 3A. Pixel's edge coming from software. With a Gcam port most probably Z4 would beat 3A, even if it hasn't optimized for that hardware. "chances are they’re looking at the three things the Pixel 3a does well– design, camera, and price." Z4 beats 3A at design and price, and their camera has better hardware, and no I don't mean resolution. It has larger sensor, larger pixels and wider aperture. All of these combined means it has capable to catching more light. Which means potentially better results at day and night both. They can't improve the camera software magically. "...lowered the Moto Z4’s price a little" Z4 has more value, since it has offer twice as storage (128GB vs 64GB), premium glass and metal build vs cheap plastic, edge to edge screen beside being significantly larger, not to mention, better chipset and thinner body despite the almost same size battery. If Google had offer same hardware with their software there would be no competition at all. According to Phonearena Motorola already thrives and again according to Phonearena Z4 is even with 3A XL.

13. User123456789

Posts: 1084; Member since: Feb 22, 2019

Google 3a uses 12MP 1.4 micron dual pixel sensor. It has same specs of the sensors used by Apple , HTC, Samsung and Sony. The only difference is Sony/Samsung use DRAM inside their sensors. Most of 2018 flagships use 12MP 1.4m dual pixel.

16. Guaire

Posts: 892; Member since: Oct 15, 2014

On the other hand Z4 uses effectively 1.6 micron pixel size at 12MP mode. Which means 30% more light sensitivity per pixel. That sensor size was flagship sensor at past, not now.

20. ijuanp03

Posts: 630; Member since: Dec 30, 2014

Moto x4, g5+, z3 play etc use 1.4 micron pixels with Dual Pixel technology so I'm not sure why this is an issue in the first place.

14. joshuaswingle

Posts: 644; Member since: Apr 03, 2018

The Moto Z4's camera isn't premium hardware. It's mid-range stuff but looks good on paper, that's why so many companies are using 48MP cameras this year on phones. With Gcam it'd be better but still nowhere near as good as the Pixel 3a. Regarding your comments about design, some people will prefer the Moto Z4 and others the Pixel 3a. Yeah, the latter doesn't use glass, but I don't think a plastic build and 18:9 display means it does design badly. Most people won't care. Everything else you mentioned is basically about specs which, as I pointed out in the article, most consumers in developed markets don't care. The only one they'll look at is probably the storage which with free Google Photos backups isn't an issue for most.

21. Guaire

Posts: 892; Member since: Oct 15, 2014

It just doesn't look good on paper. It produces very good images with mediocre software from plethora of OEMs. Install Gcam on any phone with that sensor and give us a blind camera comparison. Let's see the results. Did you say nowhere near? Moto Z4 is already near with 3A according to your fellow reviewer even without Gcam except Nightsight. Go ahead do some digging of the cost of those two image sensor and see which is more expensive. More silikon area means exponentially more cost. Past year so many companies were using 12MP cameras you know. For years everywhere including this very site non-stop promoted these materials as "premium". Don't you? I didn't say 3A design is bad, just Z4 is much better in that department. Are you not saying in this article magic word "compomise"? Where exactly Google made their compromises? Let me guess build materials, silikon chips and the design. How Motorola supposed to make a phone with better camera? They don't have same level software with Google. Nobody has. Not Samsung, not Apple, not Huawei. What are you suggesting? Adding faster charge, stereo speaker, better camera and longer update guarantee for less money. That sounds awful lot like asking better value for the price. Which is essentially same behavior of the consumers of developing countries. Did you actually suggest where they need compromise other than less powerful processor on your whole article? Seemingly you throw the word compromise yet didn't offer where they should compromise. Let's assume you are suggesting plastic build, smaller screen with large bezels, less storage like the 3A. All in all a Pixel 3A clone without Gcam. How it's supposed to beat the original? Also you are mentioned that Google sold twice as many Pixels, but you are neglected the fact Motorola also sold twice as phones in the USA.

29. joshuaswingle

Posts: 644; Member since: Apr 03, 2018

The only reason I mentioned Google's sales is that it proves there's a gap in the market for phones like the Pixel 3a. Motorola's sales in the USA are irrelevant because I simply think a Pixel 3a rival will take things to the next level. That doesn't mean I think they're doing a bad job now, though. IMO they've finally found their place in the market and are doing very well at the moment. I even purchased a Moto G7 for my brother because it's a great device. I hear what you're saying about not offering enough examples of where Motorola can actually compromise so I've expanded upon that paragraph. This is only my third editorial so I'm still pretty new to this and appreciate the feedback, positive or negative.

51. Vadermando

Posts: 25; Member since: Dec 19, 2011

I cannot agree MORE with you Guaire.

10. inFla

Posts: 165; Member since: Aug 17, 2018

There are other brands I would rather see compete with Pixel 3A.

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