The Moto X Phone: Everything We Think We Know

Here's what we know -- and what we think we know -- about Motorola's next flagship phone.

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Asa Mathat / D: All Things Digital

Walt Mossberg (left) interviews Motorola's Dennis Woodside and Regina Dugan at D11 on May 29, 2013

At the D11 Conference yesterday, Motorola Mobility CEO Dennis Woodside teased the Moto X, possibly the first phone to earn the approval of the company’s overlords at Google.

Google had previously distanced itself from Motorola’s products, despite having purchased the phone maker a year ago. In February, Google CFO Patrick Pichette said Motorola’s devices were not “wow” by the search giant’s standards, referring to them as “18 months of pipeline that we actually have to drain right now.” Ouch.

It sounds like the two companies are finally in sync on the Moto X–formerly known in the rumor mill as the “Motorola X Phone.” Few official details are available, but between Woodside’s comments, a press release that followed, and the dozens of rumors that have been popping up over the last several months, we can piece together a picture of what the Moto X is about. Here’s what we know–and what we think we know–about Motorola’s next flagship phone:

It’s Being Made in America

While it’s not exactly a feature, Motorola says every Moto X phone shipped to the United States will be assembled in Fort Worth, Texas. According to Motorola, building in the U.S. allows the company to “iterate on design much faster, create a leaner supply chain, respond much more quickly to purchasing trends and demands, and deliver devices to people here much more quickly.”

Some components will come from America, but others, including the screen and processor, will come from countries such as Taiwan and Korea. A manufacturing partner, Flextronics, will assemble phones in China and Brazil for shipping outside the United States.

It Will Do Interesting Things with Sensors

Woodside gave a couple of vague examples of how the Moto X would be “contextually aware,” using sensors like the phone’s accelerometer and gyroscope. The phone will know when you’ve taken it out of your pocket, and may turn on the camera after somehow recognizing that you want to take a picture. It can also sense when you’re in a car and provide a different mode designed for safe driving.

Some phones can already sense when they’re in your pocket. The HTC One, for instance, uses this capability to adjust ringtone volume. And I’ve seen plenty of drive-mode apps already, both pre-loaded on Android phones and offered separately through Google Play. We’ll need more details to understand how unique Motorola’s promises really are. (One possibility: Android and Me has claimed that the phone’s predictive intelligence could be based on how you hold the device. A rear touch sensor may help out with that.)

Durability and Battery Life Could Be Key Features

Woodside said that Motorola and Google CEO Larry Page are both interested in solving major consumer problems, including phone durability and battery life. And while he said Motorola won’t be solving those problems by this fall, the Moto X may at least get started on tackling them.

A report by GSM Arena in March claimed that the phone will have a 4,000 mAh battery. That would be huge by today’s standards, but Motorola did manage to pack a 3,300 mAh battery into its Droid Razr HD Maxx while maintaining a fairly slim profile. Woodside also mentioned that the phone will have “two processors” for optimizing battery life.

As for durability, it’s unclear what Motorola will do. The company has reportedly looked into flexible displays, but the technology may not be ready yet. According to GSM Arena, the phone may be water resistant–something we’ve seen in other phones already.

It Won’t Exactly Be a Nexus Device

If Motorola is doing any sort of software-based tweaks, especially related to sensors, the Moto X probably won’t be part of Google’s “Nexus” program, which refers to devices that run an unmodified version of Android.

However, Motorola design chief Jim Wicks told PCMag last month that the company’s phones will run “the unadulterated version of Android,” and talked about being able to release new software faster. My guess is that Motorola’s Android tweaks will be gentle ones, continuing a trend that began with the company’s latest Droid Razr phones.

It Might Be Customizable

In March, Android and Me claimed that users would be able to customize many aspects of the phone, including the RAM and storage capacity. That rumor was later debunked, but the site still maintains that users will still have a huge choice of color options (a claim backed up by Phone Arena) and possibly even materials such as wood, metal and carbon. If true, Motorola may be trying to latch onto the concept of “iPhone case as fashion statement,” but without the added bulk.

Specs Are Still Questionable

So far, there’s too much conflicting information about tech specs to make any confident predictions. Some rumors say the Moto X will have a 4.7-inch display, others say it’ll have a 5-inch screen. It could have a quad-core processor, or an octa-core chip. It could have a 16-megapixel camera, or a 10-megapixel shooter with improved optics. Expect these kinds of details to get clearer over the next couple of months.

Pricing Could Be Interesting

Woodside hinted at a desire to end the idea of $600 unsubsidized smartphone prices, and said Motorola’s underdog position lets the company do things differently with “high-quality, low-cost” devices. “We can attack, and we can do things and challenge the business model that exists now in ways that our competitors can’t,” he said. Whether that mentality will apply to the Moto X, or merely to other phones in the pipeline, is still unclear.

It Won’t Be Motorola’s Only Phone

Woodside said to expect several devices from Motorola later this year, including ones that are priced lower than the Moto X. We may also see Motorola keep pushing against the trend of larger handsets, as the company has done with the 4.3-inch Droid Razr M. As Wick told PCMag last month, “‘just right’ is important, and we’re designing so we don’t disappoint those people.”

It’s Coming This Summer (or Maybe Later)

At the D11 Conference, Woodside said the Moto X would be out by the fall, but Motorola’s press release says it’s coming this summer.

Why the conflict? Here’s one unsettling theory, at least if you’re not on AT&T: Android and Me has claimed that the Moto X will be an AT&T exclusive for three months, starting in August. Woodside may have been referring to broader availability when he mentioned a fall launch.