Lenovo’s Motorola smartphone unit on Tuesday took the wraps off its latest flagship model, dubbed the Moto Z2 Force Edition, but the real news may have been buried at the very bottom of the company’s press release.
The new handset is super thin, can connect to mobile networks at up to gigabit-per-second speeds, and is compatible with Motorola’s innovative line of snap-on batteries, cameras, and other modular add-ons. But none of those features will help Motorola sell more phones as much as a less touted announcement about distribution of the Moto Z2.
Instead of having only one major carrier stock the phone, like last year, Motorola said all four of the largest carriers—Verizon, AT&T (T), T-Mobile, and Sprint—will sell the phone directly in their stores. That gives the phone, which also will be sold at Best Buy (BBY) and on Motorola’s web site, considerably wider distribution than last year’s model and will expose many more potential buyers to the unique modular add-on features.
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Last year’s exclusive deal with Verizon worked, but broader distribution will be essential, according to Avi Greengart, research director for consumer platforms and devices at GlobalData. “If Lenovo wants to grow the Motorola brand in the U.S., it needs consumers at other carriers to be able to buy its highest margin phones,” Greengart says. “T-Mobile is an especially important win, as the carrier is growing subscribers quickly.”
The original Moto Z sold almost 3 million units, mostly in the United States, says Neil Shah, partner at Counterpoint Research. “With four carriers this is a good win and should help fill the gap left by likes of HTC and (as an) alternative to Samsung in the Android camp,” Shah says.
Getting all four carriers “definitely feels like a big deal,” adds Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research. With the modular add-ons, the phone looks like “one of the most differentiated flagships out there,” but given the modest sales of the original, the Z2 “would need to grow significantly from there to be a meaningful player in the market,” he says.
The new Z2 Force Edition went on sale for pre-order on Tuesday and will be delivered on August 10. The Android phone has a 5.5-inch AMOLED screen, an aluminum body, and dual camera lens on the back, like the iPhone 7. It is compatible with the line of add-ons, called Moto Mods, that came out starting last year with the original Moto Z.
The carriers were already in full gear promoting the new phone on Tuesday. Sprint (S) CEO Marcelo Claure tweeted that the Z2 Force Edition would be the first gigabit speed phone on its network. The carrier offered pre-ordering customers a deal to lease two Z2 phones for the price of one. The 18-month lease costs $33 a month.
T-Mobile (TMUS) offered a “buy one, get one free” deal on the new phone. Customers get two phones and pay $750, or $30 a month for 24 months.
Verizon (VZ) said it would sell the phone on pre-order for only $15 a month for 24 months, or $360 in total, for customers using it on an unlimited data plan. The carrier also said it would have an exclusive on two new modular add-ons, the Moto GamePad and a red-colored version of the JBL SoundBoost 2 speaker.
AT&T said it would start pre-orders on Wednesday for delivery on August 11. The Z2 Force Edition will be $27 a month for 30 months, or a total of $810, on AT&T’s Next plan. Customers who order before October 6 will get a free Insta-Share Projector add-on, which normally sells for $300.
Still,the wider distribution will go only so far and Lenovo’s Motorola’s phone sales are dwarfed by Apple (AAPL) and Samsung. The Chinese tech giant has struggled to keep phone sales growing since it bought Motorola from Google (GOOGL) in 2014. Last year it ranked eighth in global smartphone shipments.