Motorola's smartphones encapsulate everything that's great about the Android platform. They're heavily customizable, relatively cheap, and perform adequately. Their software isn't bloated with unnecessary features, and you don't have to purchase them through a carrier. They're not among the best-selling smartphone models, but they arguably deserve to be.
It's been nearly a year since Alphabet's Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) (NASDAQ: GOOGL) finalized the sale of Motorola Mobility to Lenovo (OTC:LNVGY), but the company's lineup hasn't changed too dramatically. Still, its latest phones are the best the company has ever offered.
The flagship Moto X comes in three (really, two) varieties
The Moto X has been Motorola's flagship smartphone since 2013. That's still the case, but this year, the line has been split into three different models based on price point and geography. In the past, there was simply the Moto X. Now there's the Moto X Play, the Moto X Style, and the Moto X Pure Edition.
The Moto X Pure Edition and the Moto X Style are the same phone. They feature the same screen, camera, body, and internals. The difference is merely branding -- American buyers get a handset called the Moto X Pure Edition, while those living in other countries can purchase the Moto X Style. In both cases, the names highlight two of the phone's unique characteristics. Unlike Android phones offered from rivals such as Samsung, the Moto X uses a version of Android that's nearly identical to the stock Android experience offered on Google's Nexus phones. Using Moto Maker, buyers can customize the look and feel of their Moto X, opting for real wood or leather backs if they so choose, giving it a style that's all their own.
The Moto X Play is quite different. The screen is a bit smaller and less sharp (full HD 5.5-inch vs. qHD 5.7-inch), it has no gyroscope, less RAM, and it's equipped with a slower processor. But it has a battery that's more than 20% larger, and it's less expensive. It won't be sold in the U.S., however.
All three phones sport 21-megapixel rear cameras, but the camera on the Moto X Style and Moto X Pure Edition is better, capable of shooting 4K video. Prior-generation Moto Xs were heavily criticized for their lackluster cameras. The 2015 Moto X may not offer the best camera, but it comes closer to its rivals than its predecessors. This year's Moto X also supports microSD cards, a feature not offered on prior models.
The budget Moto G may be the best cheap smartphone
The 2015 Moto G is simpler, as it is offered in only one variety. It starts at $179 for a phone with 1GB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage, but buyers can pay an extra $40 to double both. It's certainly not a flagship, but among its market segment -- phones under $250 -- it may be the best device available.
Engadget labeled it the best cheap phone available; The Verge called it Motorola's true flagship. It doesn't match up well with Samsung's flagship Galaxy S6 or Motorola's own Moto X, but it perfectly embodies the idea of a "good enough" smartphone, with support for LTE data, enough power to run most apps, an acceptable camera, and an interface that doesn't noticeably lag. In the past, the Moto G has been Motorola's most popular model, and that could continue.
The Moto E is even cheaper
Starting at $119, the Moto E is Motorola's cheapest model, though it's often offered through carriers for much less. It's truly a budget phone, with slow performance and a camera that would suit only the least discerning buyers. Still, it's been a hit in some emerging markets, including India. The second-generation model was released early in 2015.
Two rumored Verizon exclusives
Motorola makes three other smartphones for Verizon. Big Red established the Droid brand in partnership with Motorola back in 2009, and while it has occasionally worked with other Android OEMs, Motorola is now the exclusive provider of Droid phones. Last year, it released the Droid Turbo, a heavily modified version of the 2014 Moto X.
Motorola and Verizon are widely rumored to be working on a follow-up, and it could be announced as early as this month. Recent reports suggest the device will be powered by a high-end Snapdragon 810 processor and 3GB of RAM. It could have an extremely durable display, perhaps one that will be nearly unbreakable. The device could be sold internationally as the Moto X Force.
Motorola might also bring the Moto X Play to the U.S. as a Verizon exclusive, selling it under the Moto Maxx brand. The original Moto Maxx made its debut in 2013, but has not received a follow-up. The Moto X Play, with its mammoth battery, would be a natural fit.
Both phones will sacrifice some of what makes Motorola's handsets unique -- they'll be loaded with Verizon's bloat and locked to a carrier -- but could offer improved internals and should benefit from Verizon's massive marketing budget.