Moto G $130 on Boost Mobile Jan. 20, Moto X $399 Everywhere

Motorola, like nearly all its peers, is trying to figure out how to sell devices in a Samsung- and Apple-dominated world. 

Motorola continues to sweeten the deals around the Moto X and the Moto G, the two phones it has released since being purchased by Google in mid-2011.

On New Year's Day, Motorola announced that it has permanently lowered the price of the Moto X to $399 without a contract. The Moto X is the first device that buyers can customize online—choosing from various colors and materials, assigning a personal greeting and, among other small tweaks, requesting custom engraving, from names and initials to little phrases. The new price even applies to custom orders, said Motorola.

"We've been hearing a lot recently from people who want a new premium smartphone at a reasonable price without having to wait for a contract upgrade. That came through especially loud and clear during our holiday flash sales," Rick Osterloh, senior vice president of Product Management, wrote in the post.

The deal, he added, applies on every major U.S. carrier, without a contract, and Motorola will even help finance the purchase "so you pay monthly for your contract-free Moto X," wrote Osterloah. "You should have the freedom to buy a great device when you want, without chaining yourself down."

Motorola first tried out the you-deserve-a-good-but-cheap-phone message when it introduced the Moto G Nov. 13, 2013. Priced at $179, before subsidies and without a contract, the Moto G has a 4.5-inch display with a resolution said to outperform that of the Apple iPhone 5S, a quad-core processor so speedy it can reportedly outperform the Samsung Galaxy S 4 in some tasks and a battery that can last 24 hours.

Introducing the phone at a New York City event, Motorola CEO Dennis Woodside said it "wasn't fair" that people who want to spend less than $200 for a smartphone have had to settle for an "old or underpowered phone."

Thanks to Motorola, the marketing goes, they no longer have to.

Prepaid, no-contract carrier Boost Mobile has lowered the price of the Moto G still further, announcing Jan. 2 that it will begin selling the phone Jan.14 for just $129.99—plus the promise of an OS upgrade from Android Jelly Bean to KitKat in February. (Motorola announced Dec. 19 that it had begun rolling out the update to Moto G handsets and, as a bonus, it was including the new KitKat camera features in the Moto X with the Moto G.)

Verizon may soon do one better. If reportedly leaked documents hold up, Verizon will begin selling the Moto G Jan. 9 for $100, contract-free, according to a Dec. 30 report from Droid Life.

Samsung vs. All Others

While Google makes the software that runs on the smartphones that Samsung sells dramatically more of than any other device maker, Google, via Motorola, is struggling along with its peers to sell phones in an industry in which Samsung claims more than one-third of the global market share pie and even the third-best-selling company has only a single-digit share.

By all estimates, sales of the Moto X have been modest. Research firm Strategy Analytics estimated that during its third quarter, Motorola sold around 500,000 phones—a blip beside the 9 million phones Apple sold during the iPhone 5S' opening weekend alone. (During the third quarter of 2013, even Apple's market share, at 12 percent, was just a sliver of Samsung's, according to Gartner figures.)

In addition to the more-phone-for-less-money angle, Google and Motorola have announced that they're exploring a constantly upgradable model of phone design. Their Project Ara is a Lego-like concept, much like an earlier-introduced Phonebloks concept, that imagines swapping out features instead of upgrading to an entirely new device.

Strategy Analytics, in an October blog post following the announcement of Ara, applauded Google for using its acquisition of Motorola to "drive smartphone innovation" and potentially encouraging "lateral-thinking in all parts of the smartphone design and manufacturing chain."

Still, while Project Ara has potential to offer users great cost savings over the long term, in addition to having an ecological impact, there's still much to figure out and numerous questions to answer.

"For the mid-term future, we see Project Ara as just that—a project—with niche commercial appeal," wrote analyst Scott Bicheno.

If it doesn't come up with a bestseller soon, people might start saying the same about Motorola.