Motorola returns with a bigger presence and a phone you don’t have to touch

Motorola may have pulled out of Australia for the past year or so, but the company is back, bringing smartphones out that are all about working cleanly without any of the gimmicks other vendors are focusing on.

The company has returned complete with phones that Aussies have missed out on from the launch, and this week, executives from the company sat down with GadgetGuy to talk about the company’s future, and what it plans to bring to the table.

“The consumer has been our strongest sales advocate,” said Magnus Ahlqvist, the Vice President of Motorola in the Asia Pacific region. He’s tall, wears a suit well, and speaks with an accent that is instantly recognisable as Swedish, which is interesting given that Motorola releases phones to Sweden last, even behind Australia.

“If you’re paying a lot of attention to what the consumer likes, if you have more of a dialogue, that will go a long long way,” says Ahlqvist, who tells us that company is more about talking to the customer these days than ever before, because the customer’s experience is the most important part of the equation.

The new phones released in Australia practically scream that, with features designed to simplify the modern mobile experience, dropping the health gimmicks and oversized screens, and instead finding the right formula for a phone with the perfect fit.

Originally launched in the US in August of last year, the Moto X is now finally hitting Australia, with select stores getting the phone in March.

Almost a year late, the handset’s specs don’t scream “future-proof” in the way other phones from manufacturers like HTC, Sony, LG, and Samsung do, but the company isn’t thinking about that. Instead, it’s saying its experience with Google has paid off by letting it work with more data to define a better phone experience.

“We put a lot of smarts into the way we optimised the software,” said Danny Adamopoulos, Motorola’s Director of Product Operations in the Asia Pacific, India, and Middle East regions.

“With the help of Google, we were able to make a very light footprint,” adds Adamopoulos.

The lighter version of Google’s Android operating system is also cleaner, with no real obvious interpretation to Android sitting atop. Instead of Samsung’s TouchWiz or HTC Sense, Motorola is making the Moto X and its other handsets look more like what we see on LG’s Nexus 5, which is considered Google’s own flagship phone.

In both handsets (the Moto X and the LG Nexus 5), you can see Android the way Google envisioned it, without any of the messy extra software companies tend to throw in, which also makes for quicker update roll-outs for the devices.

It’s not just updates and a light OS, though, because customisation is key, and unlike Samsung’s locked dock and locked lockscreen that you can’t change, Motorola’s view is one that customisation is a good thing that should be in the control of people.

“We believe in the native experience,” said Adamopoulos, referring to the use of Google’s operating system where you can change the shortcut dock, lockscreen, and anything else you want, which other manufacturers, such as the aforementioned Samsung, struggle with in Australia specifically.

Try doing this on the Samsung Galaxy S5 (hint: you can't)

As tested this week, you can change the dock, and the lockscreen has some nice changes to it as well, such as being able to see your notifications and who sent them without having to unlock your phone.

That might seem like a minor change, but it plays a big part in conserving battery life, so Motorola has thrown in some unique special sauce technology powering only the middle of the screen, so that your display doesn’t have to totally switch on and you can save some battery life for later.

Given displays are generally the chief factor in killing battery life, it’s an idea that makes a lot of sense.

But then there’s the evolution of the phone, which takes that simplicity you seek to have with a phone, and cuts out that pesky requirement of needing to use your hands to operate it.

Apple’s Siri was one of the first things that stopped us from always touching our phone, and Google’s own “Now” based technology is doing it again. You can find Google Now in pretty much every currently available Android handset, but it’s merely a screen that you can get to, and unlike Siri, isn’t spread across the whole of the handset.

Motorola, though, being a company closely connected with Google (until the Lenovo buyout closes) has connected Google Now a little differently.

For instance, you can wake up the new Motorola handsets simply by talking to it, an action that will skip the Google screen and do the command your voice has told it. You can then make a search query, or call friends, or set an alarm — just like Siri — and you don’t have to touch the phone to make it happen, making it ideal for being in the car where touching your phone while driving is now illegal.

“If I’m in the car, it’ll know that I have momentum, and will wait for me to say a navigation command, or wait for me to call somebody,” said Ahlqvist, confident in the technology.

“You don’t have to touch the product,” he said.

It’s a unique technology, but it’s also one that may find the occasional problem, as our demo showed, because voice technology is only going to get better, and while it’s not exactly in its infancy, it can still have the occasional bug here and there, just like any.

Motorola will, of course, be refining the product over time, and as of the time this was published, has sent hundreds of updates through the Google Play Store, moving beyond the regular long waits people have for up-to-date operating systems.

For what it’s worth, most manufacturers are getting better at this, but it’s clear from our sit down that Motorola wants to be among the best at it, and wants to rebuild its reputation back from when the company left our humble little country.

Motorola’s Moto X and Moto G handsets are available in Australia now. Look for reviews on each shortly.