Moto X

Motorola has introduced a “try then buy” program allowing consumers to customize and order a Moto X smartphone, use it for two weeks, and then decide if they wish to keep or return it. If they decide to keep it they’ll pay the full $350 no-contract price for the device; if they decide to return it they can use a prepaid shipping label and part with just a single penny for the trial.

More smartphones  – and consumer electronics products in general – should be sold this way. While most carriers will allow their customers to return a phone up to two weeks after its purchase, there isn’t a decent way to test no-contract devices without spending a few hundred dollars upfront for a product that might not work as expected. For something as varied and expensive as a smartphone, that’s just not acceptable.

It’s easy to love a smartphone in theory and loathe it in practice. I learned this with the HTC One, which was a damned good product but was marred by problems with many applications I have to use every day. I couldn’t have learned that by spending a few minutes with the device in a carrier’s store or reading online reviews and checking its product page. It required some real time with the device, and unfortunately the only way to get that was to buy it outright.

Allowing people to use a smartphone for two weeks and then decide if they wish to keep it is a good alternative. It would allow them to install the applications they need, experiment with new features, and see if a device works for the in practice, rather than simply in theory. And other than shipping and restocking costs, Motorola has little to lose, and it might have everything to gain.

The company is closing its United States factory – which was meant to prove that smartphones don’t have to be manufactured in Asia – because the Moto X has failed to sell as anticipated. The product that was supposed to show the world that Motorola had some relevance beyond its patent portfolio was a flop, despite Google’s attempts to shove the uber-customizable device down our throats. If bearing the costs of shipping and allowing people to use the phone before summarily dismissing it like they have in the past can help Motorola, why not experiment with this promotion?

Smartphones are intensely personal. Allowing consumers to use them before committing to a high-priced purchase might not help companies that sell subpar products, but it should certainly help companies making great products find an audience that they otherwise wouldn’t have.