Motorola has been doing its best to build some buzz around the Moto X, which launched this week. As a smartphone, the X is decidedly middle-of-the-road. It boasts specs and a design similar to the Droid models Motorola announced last week. Available later this month at $199 on-contract from most major US carriers, the X's biggest claim to fame -- other than swappable backplates, including one made of wood -- is the fact that it's assembled in the US, in a 500,000-square-foot factory in Fort Worth, Texas. Yes, that's "assembled." Despite widespread reports that the X is being made in the US, most of its components, from its display to those backplates, are produced in factories around the world, and workers in Texas will assemble the phones.
Does it really matter where your smartphone is made? If your main concern is domestic job creation, it might. A 2012 survey by Boston Consulting Group found that over 80 percent of Americans are willing to pay more for products that are made in the US instead of China, mainly because they want to keep jobs in the country. Interestingly, the same survey found that 60 percent of Chinese consumers would pay a premium for US-made products, apparently based on the belief that the US produces higher-quality products. When it comes to smartphones, that's an idea that's difficult to put to the test; there are none currently manufactured in the United States, and that's not about to change with the launch of the X.
For those looking for a truly "Made in the USA" smartphone experience, however, there is one place to look: operating systems. As pointed out in a recent report from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, US-developed mobile OSes -- iOS, Android, Windows Phone -- now power 88 percent of smartphones. That's up from just 5 percent six years ago, when the dominant players were Finland's Nokia and Canada's RIM.
In this week's Distro, Ben Gilbert reviews the NVIDIA Shield, which he declares a "truly strange device." At Engadget, we see more than our share of unusual gadgets, so for us to declare something "strange," it had better be seriously bizarre. Or at least a clever reinvention that subverts conventional norms and forces you to rethink how you interact with technology. The Shield, which looks like (and, basically, is) a gaming controller merged with an Android tablet, fits solidly in the latter camp. It lets you stream games from your PC to its 5-inch screen. It runs Android games. And it's a fast, sturdy Android tablet, making it a handy choice for streaming media on the go. As Ben puts it, the Shield is "an excellent tablet replacement" and worth considering for "hardcore PC gamers and Netflix junkies alike."
This week, we also took closer looks at Google's latest launches, the Chromecast and the second-gen Nexus 7 tablet. Not surprisingly, given its heritage, Brad Molen found that the $230 Nexus 7 provides the "best bang for the buck" among small tablets, thanks to its "simply beautiful" display and solid performance. The Chromecast may be the anti-Nexus Q; the simple, small media streamer puts Netflix and pretty much anything you can load in a browser on your TV for just $35. Michael Gorman calls it a "bona fide steal." Not surprisingly, it's sold out at retail and there's a three- to four-week wait in the Google Play store.
One product you won't have to get on a waiting list to buy is the Wii U, which continues to gather dust on store shelves around the world. Nintendo's latest quarterly earnings report shows sales of just 160,000 Wii U consoles in the most recent quarter. That's worldwide. During the same period, Microsoft sold about a million Xbox 360s. The Wii U was even smoked by the original Wii -- at least in relative terms. Nintendo sold 210,000 of the older model this quarter.
Speaking of console sales, after initially selling out on Amazon and GameStop, the $99 OUYA console is now more widely available. While OUYA doesn't disclose sales figures, CEO Julie Uhrman recently commented that, after the early sellouts, the company is "still chasing demand." Don't miss Uhrman's answers to the Engadget Questionnaire, in this week's Distro.
This piece originally appeared in Distro #101.
Motorola Moto X 2nd-gen
ASUS Nexus 7 2nd-gen