Katherine Boehret

Moto X Stands Out in Sea of Phone Sameness

No matter how many features come loaded on a phone, people always ask: Does it come in different colors?

It’s no wonder people are trying to differentiate. They carry these gadgets with them all day, every day, and their smartphones look almost exactly like the ones held by everyone else around them.

Moto X, the $200 phone coming soon from Google-owned Motorola Mobility, aims to change that by using personalization as one of its key components. When buying a Moto X, you are encouraged to walk through steps on MotoMaker.com, an online studio where each phone can be uniquely designed to look exactly how you’d like it to look. And the phone personalization is free. (Read Walt’s review for more on the Moto X.)

This includes choosing from one of 18 back colors, seven accent colors and two front colors. The phone can be inscribed with a custom message on the back. You can choose a black or white charger. And you can preset the phone with your Google ID, one of 16 wallpapers (suggested to match your phone’s colors) and a custom message that appears when you turn the phone on. It can be sent to you loaded with 16 gigabytes or 32GB of storage (a 32GB device costs $50 more).

Motorola Mobility is exploring adding four wooden-back options (teak, rosewood, bamboo and ebony) to Moto Maker by the end of this year and these will cost extra. You can also select accessories, like a matching set of headphones or a case in one of nine colors, also at extra cost.

Moto X will launch on AT&T with all the customization options of Moto Maker. Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile and US Cellular will only have black or white phones, at least to start. AT&T will retain the exclusive rights to Moto Maker for an unspecified period, though Verizon announced that it will offer use of Moto Maker to its customers by the end of the year.

I used Moto Maker to make a phone with a spearmint-green back, metallic-yellow accents and a black front. I chose a white wall charger to match the floorboards in my bedroom where I plug in my phone each night, and chose spearmint in-ear headphones that would match the phone when I used them. I set it up with my name inscribed on the back and my Google account information, so it would arrive feeling like mine, out of the box.

The online studio where phones are built is a delight to use. It breaks down the personalization steps into four categories labeled “Make It Yours,” and lets you skip forward or back throughout the creation process to quickly change your mind as you go. Every screen clearly displays how much the phone will cost and how long it will take to ship to you.

Motorola Mobility vows to ship your phone to you in four days or less, from the minute you submit your order to when you see the package arrive at your door. The company is able to do this because it is assembling phones in Fort Worth, Texas, rather than Asia, though plenty of the phone’s parts come from Asian countries.

People who want to try Moto Maker will have to wait until the Moto X phone is available in late August or early September, and they must be AT&T customers, at least until other carriers get access to this design studio.

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Turquoise, with neon-yellow accent around the camera lens, is one of the color options buyers can find at the Moto Maker online studio.

If you’re curious about how the Moto X colors look in person, AT&T stores stock samples. There, you can buy a Moto X redemption card, which you’ll pay for in the store after selecting the phone’s 16GB or 32GB storage size and setting up a monthly plan. The card has a scratch-off PIN, which you’ll enter at Motorola.com/designit. If you receive the phone and don’t like its looks, you can return it free within 14 days.

If you get to the store and find that you like a plainer black or white design, those will be available for purchase on the spot, without any inscription on the back or personalized colors.

To avoid the store altogether, MotoMaker.com will walk you through steps to select a cellular plan or ask you to enter details about your existing plan, and then prompt you to enter billing information.

Certain aspects of the phone’s software, which is Android Jelly Bean 4.2 — not the newest 4.3 flavor — can be personalized to your specifications, too. For example, its Touchless Control uses voice activation to perform tasks, but only responds to your voice after an initial training session. This means that if someone else picks up your phone and tries to use voice-controlled commands, it won’t respond. Another feature on the Moto X that adds a personal touch is Motorola Assist, which lets you tell the phone when you want notifications to come through or not, like keeping the phone silent when you’re in a meeting except for calls from your spouse.

Moto Maker is a draw for people who want a stylish phone that will stand out in the sea of smartphone sameness. It’s a breath of fresh air, and it makes buying a smartphone fun for the first time in a long time.

Write to Katie at katie.boehret@wsj.com.


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