Now owned by Lenovo, Motorola on Monday officially returned to one of the world’s most competitive smartphone markets with the unveiling of three phones to be sold in China.

“This is a day of rebirth,” said Liu Jun, Lenovo’s executive vice president, onstage at a Beijing conference center to unveil models for China.

In a crowded market, Motorola is trying to set itself apart by allowing buyers of its flagship Moto X to customize their phones.

Buyers can pick colors, features and exterior materials that include leather and wood, said Rick Osterloh, president of Motorola. The 16 gigabyte version will start at 3,299 yuan ($540).

The Moto X Pro will have a more powerful processor, bigger screen and other features. The third model, the Moto G, will start at 1,299 yuan ($212) for an 8GB model, competing with low-priced Chinese brands including rising star Xiaomi. All three models will run Google’s Android operating system.

The company also unveiled an earpiece, the Moto Hint, to go on sale later.

“We’re eager to build a direct relationship with Chinese consumers and empower them by bringing the mobile Internet to millions of people. With the new Moto X, new Moto X Pro and new Moto G with 4G LTE, the people of China will have the power to choose,” Motorola said in a recent blog.

But will they?

Stiff competition

Motorola and parent Lenovo, which operates headquarters in Beijing and Morrisville, face stiff competition from China-based startup Xiaomi, which focuses on cheaper phone models, as well as global leaders Samsung and Apple. Xiaomi recently unveiled its own high-end smartphones.

Lenovo is No. 3 behind Samsung and Apple after closing on the Motorola deal, but Xiaomi is right behind.

Mobile phone sales in China rose 24.4 percent to 112 million handsets, including 103 million smartphones, in the second quarter of last year, according to Analysys International, a research firm in Beijing.

The $2.9 billion purchase of Motorola Mobility was one of a flurry of acquisitions by Lenovo, which wants to grow faster outside its traditional personal computer business. The company also bought IBM Corp.’s low-end server business for $2.1 billion.

Motorola and Lenovo say their combined sales would make them the world’s No. 3 smartphone producer behind Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co.

As it tries to re-establish itself in China, Motorola faces intense competition from Apple and Samsung as well as ambitious local brands that include Xiaomi, Huawei and Vivo. Xiaomi, known for ultra-low-price handsets that cost as little as 699 yuan ($114), passed Samsung last year as the country’s most popular smartphone brand by number of units sold.

Motorola needs to stake out a clear position in a market that ranges from premium models to ultra-low-price handsets, said industry analyst Zhu Dalin of Analysys International.

“Motorola has just released three mobile phones that cover the whole price range of the market,” said Zhu. “But it has not made clear what its market position will be.”

Motorola said a Chinese version of its Moto Maker website that allows buyers to pick features for phones will be operating by the end of May.
The company will face challenges in expanding Internet-based sales, an increasingly popular strategy in China that allows brands to hold down costs, said Zhu.

“It is difficult to open a channel by relying on Lenovo, which doesn’t have the upper hand in e-commerce,” said Zhu.

The products

“Motorola has a long history in China and we are pleased that smartphone fans there continue to be passionate about our brand and products. Chinese consumers have long been at the leading edge of smartphone use, blazing trails in mobile messaging, media and more. Motorola’s pure Android based devices will give them new choices in how they connect to the world,” Motorola noted.

The three models as Motorola described them in a blog:

  • Moto X: Choose how it works. Choose how it looks. (Available early February)

Widely hailed by reviewers around the world as one of the best Android smartphones on the market, Moto X features a stylish design with a refined metal frame and a vivid 5.2” HD display, as well as backs made using authentic materials such as FSC® certified woods and genuine Horween® leather.

Starting in early February, just in time for Spring Festival, Moto X will be available to purchase in several different designs. In the spirit of choice, we want the people of China to vote on what colors and materials they would like to see featured first. Visit motorola.com.cn on January 7, Beijing time, to learn more and to let your voice be heard! After Spring Festival, people will be able to design their own Moto X through our Moto Maker design tool.

  • Moto X Pro: Choose to go big. (Available after Spring Festival)

Designed by Motorola and providing the latest Android, Moto X Pro gives you bigger images and better sound with a 6-inch Quad HD display and front-facing stereo speakers for immersive sound. A 13-megapixel camera with optical image stabilization takes high-quality photos in all lighting. Top it off with the latest 2.7GHz Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 805 processor and a 3220 mAh battery that delivers more than 24 hours of power.

  • Moto G: Choose a phone that keeps up with you. (Available after Spring Festival)

Moto G was designed with you in mind, focusing on what you’ve said you value most. The curved design fits comfortably in your hand and nicely in your pocket, with colorful Motorola Shells included so you can switch to match your style. Surf the Internet quickly and multitask with ease as Moto G offers 4G LTE and quad-core processing speed, incredible call quality, dual-SIM capability, a brilliant 5” HD display and stereo sound.