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It doesn't matter what the new Moto X looks like

It doesn't matter what the new Moto X looks like


The most important Moto X pictures will come from its own cameras

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This month, we’ve said a premature "Hello, Moto!" to the new flagship phone from Motorola, 2015’s Moto X. Since all we can glean from a few still images are cosmetic differences, that's what's being talked about now, however aesthetics won't be the thing that determines the quality of the new Moto X. Motorola knows how to build good phones, but to make them great, it needs to start putting better cameras in them — because what a phone sees is more important than what it looks like.

The 2014 Moto X is already a very capable device. Hell, even the 2013 Moto X is still perfectly usable. Both have earned plaudits for their restrained implementation of near-stock Android, which has helped Motorola deliver reliably speedy software updates. The earlier iterations of the Moto X are also well built and can be personalized with a wide choice of colors, materials, and finishes to produce a truly custom look. They offer reasonable battery life coupled with the performance to handle any Android app. They are very good smartphones. But their cameras are terrible.

If everyone knows cameras matter, why aren't all cameras great?

Every single smartphone manufacturer knows how important cameras are in today’s world. Financial executives dream of the glorious revenues that a great cameraphone can unlock, while hardware engineers have nightmares about trying to fit that sort of imaging equipment within the extremely thin confines of a modern handset. It’s a chronic problem for every mobile device maker, and it’s the most salient question that Motorola has to answer next week:

Can you make a good cameraphone?

Korean giants LG and Samsung have taken on this challenge directly with their 2015 flagship phones — the G4 and Galaxy S6 — and both have offered compelling answers. Neither is perfect, of course, but these new Android handsets have the image quality and ease of use to compete with the iPhone. Those are the things that Motorola, at least up to this point, has never had. The original Droid did things the iPhone couldn’t, and phones like the RAZR Maxx have provided extraordinary battery life, but Moto has consistently been dodging raindrops by trying to get away with only so-so cameras.

Moto has the opportunity to be a champion for Android

On Tuesday, when it unveils its full range of new Android handsets, Motorola will be sure to speak enthusiastically about its cameras. It will probably tell us about all the big steps it’s taking to make selfies easier and mobile photography as painless as possible. But those words have to be backed up with actions. HTC spent Mobile World Congress this year proclaiming its new One M9 to be an amazing cameraphone, only to be proven upsettingly wrong by the device's mediocre reality. Motorola should learn from HTC’s mistake. The M9 was disappointing not because it looked similar to previous HTC flagship phones, but because it failed to live up to its own promises of better performance.

Nobody is truly waiting for a better-looking Motorola phone. That’s just not a problem for Moto. The company's designs tend to have a universal, minimalist appeal, which is only enhanced by the endless personalization offered by the design-your-own Moto Maker service. But how about a Motorola handset with a great camera?

The awesomeness of an undiluted Android experience without compromise on image quality has been the dream scenario for Android fans for way too long. Photography is the one missing piece from Moto’s smartphone puzzle, with everything else — whether it be design, specs, or software support after a device is sold — seemingly already to be in place. All the new Moto X needs to be great is a great camera.