Yesterday, I wrote that low-cost, unsubsidized Android phones could take away the one real growth market for Windows Phone in 2014. Just minutes after publishing that article, I received news that Google's Moto G, previously available at a bargain-basement price of $180 and up, could now be had for just $99.99, the same price as the Nokia Lumia 520. Does this device already fulfill my prediction? Did it really happen that quickly?
Fortunately, no. And though I do feel that it's only a matter of time before Android sweeps away the low-end of the market with an avalanche of cheap devices, the Moto G—at least in its current form—doesn't make the grade.
For a refresher on my argument about the low-end of the smart phone market, please read How Will Major Industry Shifts Impact Windows Phone?. The short version is that Windows Phone, to date, has only seen success with very inexpensive, subsidy-free devices like the Lumia 520 but that Android hardware makers could easily undercut this advantage with their own inexpensive, subsidy-free handsets.
Until very recently, this market was pretty ill-defined in the US. Google has been selling its unsubsidized Nexus devices for a few years, and the latest one, the Nexus 5, is a top-notch smart phone. It costs just $349, which is a fair price for this mid- to high-end device, but also a far cry from the $99 Lumia 520. And Motorola in late 2013 introduced an inexpensive mid-level device, the Moto G. This device was, and still is, retailing for about $180 for the base model. It, too, is/was a good value but is/was again more expensive than the 520.
This week, however, several retailers—Amazon, Best Buy and Verizon Wireless, and perhaps others—began offering the base Moto G for just $99.99. Since that's the magic price point, and the one at which the Lumia 520 has achieved such success, I decided to take a look. I picked up my Moto G at Best Buy last night.
It didn't take long to realize, however, that the Lumia 520 and its siblings have received at least a temporary stay of execution. And that's because the $99.99 version of the Moto G is no bargain at all.
The first hint at this comes in the device's el-cheapo blister pack packaging, the fact that you only have one color choice (black) and that the USB charger is a USB cable hard-wired to a power plug. But looking past the superficial stuff, it boils down to a few key issues.
It's not really contract-free. This $99.99 unsubsidized device is not technically contract-free, which is of course the allure of the Lumia 520, which works wonderfully and seamlessly as a secondary device for which no cellular connection is required. With this version of the Moto G, you must sign up for Verizon service during initial setup, and while I did figure out a way to short-circuit that, it's not obvious, easy, or a normal choice.
It's Verizon-centric. This version of the Moto G is designed specifically for Verizon Wireless only. That means it includes Verizon apps that you cannot uninstall, among other things. With the Lumia 520, you can uninstall any and all of the AT&T apps.
It's not expandable. The $99.99 Moto G comes with just 8 GB of on-board storage, just like the Lumia 520. But it offers no micro-SD expansion, so that's what you're stuck with, and there's just 4.28 GB of 5.52 GB free on the device: With the Lumia 520, you can expand the storage by up to 64 GB of space.
The camera sucks. I've always felt that the quality of a smart phone's camera is among the most important aspects of the device, but I've certainly put up with middling cameras to use devices I preferred. The camera on the Moto G is a joke, and you can actually see the pixilation in the photos it takes, on-screen, right after they're taken. The Lumia 520 camera is no selling point either, but this is a new low.
By the way, I should at least mention that there are some good points to the device. It's solid and well made. It's Android, which a lot of people care about. (Though it's not the very latest version.) The performance is solid. And some of the Motorola-specific features—including a neat Assist app that prevents interruptions while you're asleep or in meetings and an FM radio app—are actually quite nice.
A 16 GB global GSM version of the Moto G is $199.99. That's actually a good deal, assuming you can live with the camera. But it's not in Lumia 520 territory. Crisis averted. For now.