Moto X Developer Edition vs. the carrier models: Which should you get?

Moto X Developer Edition

It may have taken a little longer than we had hoped, but starting this week, you can officially get yourself an unlocked developer edition of Motorola's well-received Moto X phone.

Moto has just announced availability of two Moto X Developer Edition models: an unlocked GSM model, which will work on both AT&T and T-Mobile in the U.S., and a Verizon-specific model. The Verizon model is available now for $650 (off-contract); the GSM model is expected to go on sale starting this Friday.

So how exactly does the Moto X Developer Edition compare to the regular carrier models, and which setup is right for you? Here are some points to consider:

1. Bootloaders

The Moto X Developer Editions have unlocked bootloaders. That matters to folks who like getting under the hood and tinkering with kernels, ROMs, and all that fun stuff.

The distinction is relevant mainly to users on AT&T and Verizon, as the Moto X phones sold by those carriers ship with locked bootloaders. The T-Mobile, Sprint and U.S. Cellular versions of the phone, meanwhile, already come with unlocked bootloaders.

(If all of that sounds like Greek to you, then keep reading; an unlocked bootloader probably isn't something you need.)

2. Upgrades

When it comes to software upgrades, carriers can cause annoying extra delays -- adding anywhere from weeks to months onto the rollout process (just ask anyone who's owned a Verizon Galaxy Nexus). The GSM Moto X Developer Edition eliminates that middle man and should theoretically result in speedier upgrades as a result, since it's an unlocked phone and not tied to any particular carrier.

Again, that's the GSM Developer Edition we're talking about here. Verizon's still Verizon; the network tends to maintain tight control on its upgrades, and I can't imagine the Verizon Developer Edition -- which is still very much a Verizon phone -- will be any different.

Hey, them's the breaks. If you don't like it, well, you know what you can do.

3. Bloatware and branding

The Moto X is far less junked up than many other phones, but most carrier-connected models of the device do have extra branding on the outside and baked-in bloatware on the inside. The GSM Developer Edition isn't linked to any particular carrier and should be clean and bloat-free as a result.

(Again, I wouldn't make any such assumptions about the Verizon Developer Edition. The outside of the phone definitely has VZW branding and I wouldn't be surprised if it had a certain amount of VZW crapware inside as well.)

4. The look of the phone

The Moto X Developer Edition has a black front and woven white back with the words "Developer Edition" printed on the bottom. As of now, that's your only design option.

Carrier models of the phone, meanwhile, come in a choice of woven white or woven black backs. The AT&T model also gives you the ability to pick from a variety of front, back, and accent color combinations via Motorola's Moto Maker customization tool.

Motorola has strongly hinted that the option for Moto Maker customization will be coming to other carriers soon, but it's not yet clear exactly when that'll happen.

5. Storage

The Moto X Developer Edition comes with 32GB of internal storage. Most carrier models, in contrast, have 16GB; the exception is AT&T, which offers both a 16GB and 32GB model.

6. Price

The Moto X Developer Edition costs $650 -- period. You buy the phone outright and have it to use with whatever plan you want (including a variety of inexpensive prepaid plans, if you go the GSM route). No contracts, no commitments.

The carrier models of the phone may be cheaper up front, but you're typically buying them along with a commitment to pay the carrier's inflated monthly rates for a full two years. Generally speaking, it's really a far worse deal than it seems -- one that benefits the carrier much more than you in the long run.

That said, you can buy a Moto X carrier model at full price without a contract; the T-Mobile edition is sold exclusively in that manner, for $600 (16GB), while the AT&T edition can optionally be purchased off-contract for $580 (16GB) or $630 (32GB).

So...which to get?

Here's the bottom line:

• If you want an unlocked bootloader on AT&T or Verizon, get the Developer Edition.

• If you want to get future upgrades without carrier interference and/or want a device free from all carrier branding and bloatware, get the Developer Edition -- specifically, the GSM model.

• If you don't care about any of that stuff and are planning to buy the phone off-contract from AT&T or T-Mobile anyway, go ahead and get the carrier version. You'll pay a little less, and if the benefits of the Dev Edition don't matter to you, there's really no reason to pony up the extra cash.

• If you like buying phones on-contract, buy a carrier version. Simple enough.

• If you want any color other than woven white, get a carrier model. Right now, AT&T's setup will give you the most flexibility with Moto Maker customization; if you wait a while, you should be able to get that on other carriers soon, too (and don't forget about the option for a wooden back expected to arrive later this year).

That's the lowdown, folks. You'll have to figure out your own priorities and decide which factors are most important to you.

One more thing...

If you're wondering about a Google Play Edition of the Moto X, remember: Motorola has never actually indicated such a product will exist. The rumors about that stem from a single unsubstantiated report published in August.

Who knows? Maybe there will one day be a Google Play Edition Moto X. Maybe there won't. At this point, it's anything but certain. And considering that the Moto X already has a near-stock UI, with largely function-related changes that serve only to improve the user experience, I'm not entirely sure what the benefit or raison d'être of such an option would even be.

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Remember, too, that other Google Play Edition phones cost $600 to $650. Almost all high-end phones are priced in that range -- or higher -- when sold off-contract. The dirt-cheap Nexus-style pricing that's spoiled many of us has been limited to Nexus devices, which Google sells in a unique self-subsidized arrangement.

Decisions, decisions -- never a dull moment in the life of an Android fan.

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