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Best Motorola phones of all-time

by Justin Herrick | November 11, 2017November 11, 2017 11:00 am EST

We almost lost Motorola in 2013. But here we are in 2017 and the company is still in business. Motorola received a lifeline from Google four years ago because it was bleeding money by releasing way too many devices. Google revived the brand, and then it got passed off to Lenovo. There really hasn’t been a brand in the mobile industry like Motorola that’s underwent several pivots and rebrands. Somehow, though, it’s remained alive despite experiencing the hardest of times. That’s because people recognize the history of what Motorola’s hardware.

Check out our list of the best Motorola phones of all-time.

#5: Motorola Moto G — 2015

For years you could only get a passable experience from an Android device if you spent a lot of money. Motorola changed that with the Moto G in 2013. It was an inexpensive phone sold unlocked around the world. But it still wasn’t exactly a pleasant experience all the time. Then, in 2015, the series really hit a high.

The Moto G (2015) arrived with mid-range specifications but performance that really impressed. Motorola’s software engineers fine-tuned everything to make that Moto G run fast and smooth no matter what you threw its way.

It featured a 5-inch (1280×720) IPS LCD display, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 410 with up to 2GB of RAM, up to 16GB of internal storage, a microSD card slot, a 13MP rear camera, a 5MP front camera, a 2470mAh battery, and Android 5.1.1 Lollipop upgradeable to Android 6.0 Marshmallow.

The Moto G (2015) also felt and looked as good as it performed. A metal-looking plastic was used for the frame, and a rubber back provided above average grip. It was surprising that something so attractive cost just $179. Phones around that price, at the time, were downright awful. Every Android phone that wasn’t a flagship boasted a purely plastic design, a fuzzy and dim display, and a processor that was barely able to check Gmail. Motorola saw an opening to reinvigorate interest in the mid-range segment, and it succeeded.

Now many of the companies in the mobile industry do offer quality phones that aren’t carrying sky-high price tags. You can get a really good phone without spending $700 or more. Motorola is still dominating the sub-$300 field with phones like Moto G5 Plus and Moto E4. Then there are competitors like OnePlus who’ve noticed consumers are happy to have a few compromises to get a flagship for $399 or $499. All of this variety within the mobile industry was born out of the Moto G’s existence.

Motorola deserves credit, but the shift from flooding the market to focusing on a handful of devices was made by Google. The Mountain View-based company canned everything in Motorola’s pipeline and went back to the basics. So let’s not pat former Motorola executives or Lenovo’s mobile division on the back for the rise of the mid-range segment. We have Google to thank.

#4: Google Nexus 6 — 2014

Only one attempt has ever been given to Motorola to create a Nexus device. The Nexus 6, appropriately known internally as Shamu, rattled consumers. Previous phones and tablets belonging to Google’s brand were affordable, but the Nexus 6 barged in with price you’d expect from Apple or Samsung. Google sold the phone starting at $699.

Waves were noticeably felt from that whale-sized device’s price.

It featured a 5.96-inch Quad HD (2560×1440) AMOLED display, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 805 with 3GB of RAM, up to 64GB of internal storage, a 13MP rear camera, a 2MP front camera, a 3220mAh battery, and Android 5.0 Lollipop upgradeable to Android 7.1.1 Nougat.

The difference between this and the Nexus phones before it were the design and specifications. Google normally forced its partners to make concessions in certain areas. But the Nexus 6 turned out to be a true flagship. There didn’t appear to be any areas that the phone was severely lacking. Motorola used metal rather than plastic for the frame, Quad HD rather than Full HD for the screen’s resolution, and a massive battery rather than one that couldn’t last throughout the day. Consumers were long complaining about where Google’s phones were lacking, so Motorola shut them up with high-end specifications.

The Nexus 6 set Google on a path to compete. Prior to its launch, the iPhone and latest Galaxy could run circles around Google’s Nexus phones. And, after the Nexus 6, the Nexus program had one year of life left before the Pixel was introduced. Because of that change from Nexus to Pixel, it seems the Motorola-made Nexus device made Google understand it could compete in the high-end segment among the best of the best. Today, that’s very true. The Pixel was a top choice for 2016, and its successor released in 2017 is no slouch either.

We’ll always wonder what would’ve happened if Motorola was asked to create a second device for Google.

#3: Motorola Moto Z Play — 2016

Lenovo deserves to be recognized for the outstanding job it did in 2016. The Moto Z felt too expensive for most; however, the Moto Z Play presented itself as an affordable alternative.

It featured a 5.5-inch Full HD (1920×1080) Super AMOLED display, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 625 with 3GB of RAM, 32GB of internal storage, a microSD card slot, a 3510mAh battery, a fingerprint scanner, and Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow upgradeable to Android 7.1.1 Nougat.

Motorola nailed the essentials with the Moto Z Play. Did the display look good? Yes. Was the processor able to maintain itself under pressure? Of course, because the Snapdragon 600 series is built for efficiency. Could it last an entire day on a single charge? You could get well over a day out of the Moto Z Play’s battery. The Moto Z Play mastered the core areas of a phone. That doesn’t mean it went above and beyond, but the phone wasn’t falling short and disappointing people. A ton of consumers were fine missing a Quad HD display and a Snapdragon 800 series-based processor to get unrivaled battery life.

Lenovo carved out a blissful place between the high-end and mid-range segments. The Moto Z Play’s praise from critics and consumers brought us the Moto Z2 Play, which is another phone sitting cozy with respectable specifications but priced around $400. It doesn’t beat the original, though.

In 2016, Motorola showed us what it’s like to have a beautiful phone that could breeze through daily activities and last more than a day all without forcing us to pay too much money.

#2: Motorola Moto X — 2013

The Moto X represented the rebirth of Motorola. Google didn’t want to see one of the earliest Android partners disappear, so the company paid $12.5 billion to overhaul the brand’s strategy. Motorola could no longer act like Samsung or HTC. Rather releasing a new phone every few weeks or months, Motorola would start with one device and slowly expand its portfolio to serve different needs. The first device developed and released under Google’s watch changed Motorola for the better.

It featured a 4.7-inch (1280×720) AMOLED display, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon S4 Pro with 2GB of RAM, up to 64GB of internal storage, a 10MP rear camera, a 2MP front camera, a 2200mAh battery, and Android 4.2 Jelly Bean upgradeable to Android 5.1 Lollipop.

Motorola didn’t showcase the flashiest components, but Google did an incredible job highlighting what made the Moto X a smart purchase. The Moto X shipped with stock Android. With that, it included a custom processor to enable always-listening. Remember that digital assistants were very basic up until recently. Google Assistant, known as Google Now at the time, and Apple’s Siri couldn’t hear you automatically. They required manual activation. The Moto X, through its custom processor and Google-built software, was able to be respond hands-free immediately. What started with the Moto X is now common across all current Android and iOS devices.

Another thing that people forget is Moto Maker. Google rolled the dice on this. People often say products made in their home country are more appealing; therefore, Google thought to release a phone with heavy ties to the United States. One of the very advertisements for the Moto X came before the phone was announced. Google ran full-page ads in multiple major newspapers pointing out the Moto X would be designed, engineered, and assembled in the United States.

Although Moto Maker turned out to be very costly for Google (and then Lenovo), Motorola earned applause for the ambitious idea. Those who did buy a Moto X were thrilled to customize their phones. Other companies, even today, have been far too strict on the colors their products come in. Change is underway, though. Look at Apple and Samsung. Both companies have started expanding choices, especially for smartwatches.

Motorola’s Moto X gets ranked highly on this list because, frankly, it was ahead of its time. Digital assistants that know more about your life than you do are popping up on every device we own, and customization has become an expectation from premium products. The Moto X was the first phone to let you freely talk to it and look unique while answering.

#1: Motorola DROID — 2009

Apple’s iPhone had AT&T. Motorola’s DROID had Verizon. In 2008, the HTC Dream (or the G1, depending where you’re from) didn’t gain traction to raise Android’s profile. Google watched as the world’s first Android phone struggled to make a name for the platform because the G1 was sold exclusively through T-Mobile. The magenta-colored network didn’t serve nearly as many people as it does today, which explains why Android never stood a chance at reaching iPhone-like levels early on.

Google eventually realized it chose the wrong hardware manufacturer and the wrong carrier to elevate Android and get the platform growing.

The DROID, which was sold exclusively through Verizon, was revolutionary. Since the iPhone could only be purchased by AT&T customers, Google thought it’d be wise to bring an Android-based flagship to the nation’s largest carrier. Motorola signed an agreement to co-develop the DROID with Google and the phone was released on Verizon’s network in November 2009.

It featured a 3.7-inch (854×480) TFT display, Texas Instruments’ OMAP 3430 with 256MB of RAM, 133MB of internal storage, a 5MP rear camera, a 1400mAh battery, a physical slide-out keyboard, and Android 2.1 Eclair upgradeable to Android 2.2 Froyo.

No one can forget the ads for the DROID. Verizon would constantly point out ‘iDont’ for Apple’s iPhone and ‘DROID Does’ for Motorola’s DROID. Motorola, Google, and Verizon invested heavily in promoting the DROID across all platforms. Everywhere you would go, there was an ad for the DROID, and you’d hear that classic “DROIIIID” voice or see the robot’s red-colored eye glowing. Consumers were still getting a feel for smartphones, and they had only ever known the iPhone. The ad campaign built for the DROID made them realize there’s more than the AT&T-sold iPhone on the market to unlock groundbreaking features.

Let’s be clear: Android needed the Motorola DROID. Had it never existed, Google’s mobile operating system probably wouldn’t have reached more than 2 billion active in less than a decade.

Justin Herrick

Justin is easily attracted to power buttons. His interest in technology started as a child in the 1990s with the original PlayStation, and two...