Motorola looks to sink the flagships with Moto G

Plus, CyanogenMod steps up to the big leagues with Play Store move, the sequel to last year's critically applauded, undersold HTC One, sad-faces as emoji crash the new Hangouts app, and – yes – Lionel Messi.

Understandably, the most-discussed phones in these Android roundups – which, I’m a bit staggered to realize, have now been going for about 16 months – have generally been the ones at the cutting edge, with the latest technology and the coolest new features.

This week, however, it’s the low-cost Moto G that made headlines, given that it represents a canny play by Motorola to dominate the smartphone market through different tactics than its chief competitors. By offering modest but competitive hardware at a bargain-basement price, Motorola is emulating OEMs like ZTE and Lenovo in appealing to lower-income consumers – a smartphone market that is, critically, much less saturated than the one for top-shelf ultra-gizmos.

[MORE MOBILE: Verizon: LTE service didn't keep up with demand]

Seriously – for a device that starts at less than $180, off-contract, the quad-core processor and 720p screen are very impressive. It delivers what I suspect are the essentials of most people’s modern smartphone experience at a price that could open up big new bases of potential customers. The Moto G appears to have retained the near-vanilla Android experience present on the Moto X, and Motorola has promised an update to Android 4.4 KitKat by the beginning of 2014.

If you’re in Brazil – precisely the type of developing market that the Moto G is designed for – or some parts of Europe, you can pick one up today. The rest of Europe, Canada, and parts of Asia will get the device “within the next few weeks,” followed by the U.S., India and the Middle East in early 2014.

U.S. sales of the device will be interesting to track, mostly because I’m dying to see what American carrier price breaks look like for the Moto G. Given that you can get $600+ handsets for $200 with a new contract, will someone step up and simply offer it for free with a new deal? I mean, Motorola’s going to sell unlocked Moto Gs directly for full price to the U.S. market – in addition to through vendors and the networks – so one would think carriers would have to offer a substantial discount to entice new subscribers.

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Having fooled around with rooting and custom ROMs back in the days when I owned an original Moto Droid, and again later when I had a Nexus S, I’d promised myself that I was done – all those improvements and customizations just weren’t worth all the work it took to make them happen.

I was foolishly tempted back into the world of ROMs, however, by the news that uber-modders Cyanogenmod have released the first rooting and re-flashing tool for non-experts, now available in the Play Store. Since my HTC One was on the approved devices list, I thought I’d give it a try – after all, I have some experience and this is supposed to be the easy way, right?

Yeah, about that – it’s not actually as simple as downloading an app and running it. You have to download a Windows-only companion app, as well, which does the work of rooting your Android phone and installing Cyanogenmod’s operating system via USB sideloading. Nor was the process particularly smooth for me – I got repeated error messages, and none of Google’s main services worked until I manually added them the old-fashioned way, i.e. flashing a .zip file from recovery.

Still, I’m up and running on Cyanogenmod again, though I honestly can’t recommend this for the casual Android user – I applaud Cyanogenmod for their effort to break into the mainstream, and but if my experience is any indication, they have a substantial amount of ground to cover before the process is genuinely accessible to the layperson.

Your mileage may vary, obviously, and I’ll freely admit that the rooting process, especially, was a lot simpler than it used to be – but unless you really know what you’re doing, I’d pass for now.

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And the cycle begins anew – HTC is already preparing to launch the successor to the critically acclaimed but commercially underwhelming One in the first quarter of 2014, according to the redoubtable EVLeaks Twitter account.

Blurry pics of the purported “HTC M8,” have leaked via Chinese site VRZone, complete with a strange third-eye type of thing atop the rear of the phone in one picture.

Personally, I just hope they don’t name it the “HTC One Two” or something, but given HTC’s lamentable history of naming things, I’m not holding my breath.

(H/T: PhonesReview.co.uk)

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A Reddit user, Recon0212, was apparently the first to discover that excessive use of emoji can actually crash Google’s new Hangouts app for Android, in addition to making you look really childish. When the bug is triggered by emoji spam, the app crashes, and then hangs when you try to get back into it. The only fix is to log into Hangouts on a PC and exit the offending group manually.

That’s irritating for most Android users, to be sure, but Recon0212 also pointed out that the new Nexus 5 handles SMS messaging through Hangouts only, making it much, much more annoying for owners of Google’s latest Nexus phone.

(H/T: Android Police)

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The best soccer player in the world, Argentinian Lionel Messi, is the subject of this unsurprisingly weird new ad from Samsung: Samsung has apparently already been doing little viral stunts, like sending these guys to Stamford Bridge, home of Chelsea FC, in southwest London. (Chelsea beat visitors Manchester City 2-1, thanks in large part to a crucial mistake by City goalkeeper Joe Hart – alien mojo at work?)

So yes, expect more soccer -- and alien-related viral marketing shenanigans from Samsung in the coming months. Funny coincidence, this happening with the World Cup coming next summer and everything…

Email Jon Gold at jgold@nww.com and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.

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