Motorola's getting back in the game with a series of sleek new Android phones -- and this time, it has a new secret weapon.
As you've probably heard, Moto announced three new devices at a press event in New York on Wednesday: the Droid Razr HD, Droid Razr Maxx HD, and Droid Razr M. All three are updated takes on the company's original Droid Razr model, released a year ago this fall.
So what's different this go-round? Oh, right: Motorola is now owned by Google. And that has a lot of people wondering what's up with these new phones and their lack of outwardly obvious Google-like qualities. The phones, for example, are set to ship with the already-dated Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich OS instead of the current Android 4.1 Jelly Bean release, and they utilize a modified version of Android with Motorola's custom interface instead of the pure Google experience.
Here's the thing to remember: Even though these devices are being pegged as the "first phones of Motorola's Google era," they've likely been under development for many months now -- probably since long before Google came into the picture. Google's acquisition of Motorola only closed in late May. What we're seeing now is just the tip of the iceberg.
And to be sure, we are starting to see some signs of Google's influence on Moto. Just look at this week's Droid Razr launch event or the new Motorola Razr website: The company's marketing efforts now revolve around the phones' hardware -- the screen-to-surface ratios, build quality, and battery life -- instead of relying on gimmicky software elements as key differentiators. Yes, some of those software elements are still present in these phones, but Motorola barely mentions them at all; most of its software focus is instead on core OS elements like Google Maps, YouTube, and the Chrome Android browser. That's a distinct change from what we saw with Moto one year ago.
The company is also planning to release developer-friendly editions of its new devices, and it's starting a program in which it's promising to deliver Jelly Bean upgrades "very soon" for "most" phones launched since 2011 and to offer a $100 credit for anyone whose device can't be upgraded. (Moto says only a "few" of its recent devices will fall into that category.) That's certainly a step in the right direction -- provided, of course, that "very soon" doesn't end up meaning "six to 12 months from now."
Remember, too, that the Google-owned Motorola is not meant to be some sort of official Android-connected company. From the start, Google said it would operate Motorola as a separate business. Android chief Andy Rubin has said numerous times that the company "built a firewall" between his Android team and the Motorola crew. In other words, Motorola may now be part of Google, but it is not part of Android itself; while Nexus phones are extensions of Rubin and his team's vision, Motorola devices are not.
So yes, launching a device without Jelly Bean is a bit embarrassing at this point, and the UI meddling, while relatively mild, will be annoying to some users -- but in all likelihood, those things are simply carryover qualities from the old Motorola machine. Google has barely dipped its toes into the waters, and the full result of its involvement is something that'll take time to appear.
All that said, the new Droid Razr phones do have a lot of good things going for 'em. I'll be spending the next few days using the new Droid Razr M and will share some thoughts on the device once I've had a chance to get to know it better. (The new Razr HD and Razr Maxx HD aren't yet available for reviewing, but I'll visit them in depth once they are.)
With all the new Android products making landings this month, Motorola's new Droid Razr devices promise to be among the most memorable -- and Google's involvement with the company promises to bring us some interesting twists and turns in the months ahead. Just remember that what we're looking at right now are Motorola-made devices with but a hint of Google essence at their core.