Software on the Moto X, much as it was with the previous model, is simultaneously boring and exciting. For one, we're looking and what on the surface is a standard Android 4.4.4 build. No skinning or theming, just Android as Google intended. That's good for the purists out there, and it also means you don't have to spend time learning where things are, or sifting through a million features you might not actually use.
It's worth a reminder, though, that for as pure as Motorola's kept the Google experience on the new Moto X, the carriers that sell the phone have no such pretensions. AT&T's got its usual suite of bloatware on board, as does Verizon. If you want to avoid that, Motorola is selling an unlocked "Pure Edition" based off the T-Mobile SKU. Looking at the official specs, it's actually got the same radio bands as the AT&T version — it comes without all that carrier app nonsense.
The Moto X comes with the Google Now Launcher installed, but you can put anything you want on top of that without worry.
The biggest change on the software front is that Motorola has consolidated all of its major services under a single "Moto" app. Within it you'll find:
For setting the do-not-disturb sleep mode, driving mode (automatically read back texts and incoming calls), home mode (same sort of thing, so you don't have to always have your phone in your pocket or have to run to see who's calling), and a meeting mode that ties into your calendar so your phone won't bug you when you're busy.
This uses the four IR ports on the front of the phone. You can wave to silence calls and alarms, and it looks for your approaching hand (or face or whatever) to turn on the display peek so you can see time and notifications without waking the entire phone.
The old "OK, Moto X" voice command prompt still works, but now you can get cute with it. "OK, NeckBeard" is absolutely an option.
Actions also controls the wrist-flick action for launching the camera app, a feature you don't realize how much you missed until you start using other phones without it.
Motorola made talking to your phone cool with the original Moto X. And it's gotten better. You now can official set your own launch phrase. The old "OK, Moto X" still works just fine, but now you can get cute with it. "OK, NeckBeard" is absolutely an option. And like before, you can utter your launch phrase at any time — the phone doesn't actually have to be awake.
You also can now speak your PIN to unlock the phone, if that's what you're using (though Trusted Bluetooth devices are back, and we highly recommend that if you have a Bluetooth device nearby), and you can choose with voice commands work while the phone is locked.
This is the renamed Active Display. It's what lets you peek at the clock and notifications without having to hit the power button, and it's controlled form within the umbrella Moto app. You can chose whether you want to use it in the first place (it's on by default), choose which apps you want to appear in Moto Display (maybe it's not the best idea to have a Tinder notification show up while you're sitting next to the boss), and you can chose to hide notification details if you're using a screen lock.
Again, one of the important things here is that each of those features is able to be updated independently from the operating system. That means Motorola — and not the carriers — controls those updates.
Other software features of note
And that's not all, folks. There's also the aforementioned Trusted Bluetooth feature, which also made its debut on the 2013 Moto X. It lets you set some actual security on the lock screen, but bypass it so long as you have a designated Bluetooth device connected.
For instance: I have a PIN code on my phone. But if my Moto 360 is connected, I don't have to enter the PIN to unlock the phone. But as soon as the phone is separated from the watch — whether it's lost or stolen or whatever — I'll have to enter that PIN to unlock the phone. It's changed the way I secure my phones (meaning that I actually do it now), and it'll be built in standard to the Android L update later this year.
New this time around is "Attentive Display." It uses those IR ports to keep the phone lit up longer while you're actually looking at it, and to go to sleep sooner when you're not.
We also have Motorola Connect, which has grown up a bit since its early days as a way to get texts and calls on your computer via a Chrome extension. It now also will manage your Moto 360 Android Wear lands alongside the Android L release), and it'll show you the last known location of your Bluetooth device.
OK, so that's actually quite a lot going on with software on the Moto X. But the thing is that none of it is too in-your-face. It's almost all useful — Connect may be the only dubious entry, as it currently requires a Moto 360 or the Power Pack Micro for the Bluetooth features or a connected computer for the Chrome extension — easy to use, and absolutely worth a look should you pick up a Moto X.