It's easy to overthink Active Display on the Moto X. It's also easy to underestimate its impact. What we've got here is a quick and easy way to get information onto your display without having to hit the power button and firing up the whole screen. From there you can decide whether the notification is important enough to act on — Oh, no! Timmy's stuck in a well! — or or whether it can wait till later — Yes, I'll take out the trash. Later.
Think about that for a minute. How many times a day do you pull your phone out of your pocket to check the time? Or to check for a notification? Each time you're hitting the power button. On LCD displays, that's what you're stuck with. AMOLED displays let you fire up individual pixels, and that's what Motorola's doing here. And it's done it pretty well.
How Active Display works on the Moto X
As far as the end user — that's us — is concerned, Active Display lives above the lock screen, and above the lock screen widgets. Save for the clock, the only other thing you get is notifications. But you're not stuck with just a few notifications. Practically any app that can spew notifications can ping Active Display.
Active Display is enabled by default. You'll start to see it work, well, immediately. As soon as your phone is sleeping, you'll see the white digital clock flash onto the screen. Then off. Then on again. Motorola calls that "breathing." And Moto X is pretty smart about it, showing the clock when you take the phone out of your pocket, or by picking it up if it's left face-down. Need to see what time it is, or if you have a notification waiting? Just look at the phone. Don't press the power button.
It's handy as hell. And it's good on battery life. (That's something to remember before you start yelling for a certain editor to show his screen-on time. Less is better, by design.)
To see notifications, all you have to do is tap on the symbol in the middle of the screen. Depending on how many notifications are waiting on you, you might see some at the top and the bottom. Swipe up to go straight to the app that's notifying you. Swipe down to unlock the phone. Swipe right from the middle to clear all the active notifications and start fresh.
You don't actually see the detail of a notification until you tap the screen, so you don't have to worry about prying eyes.
What about my usual lockscreen widgets?
The Moto X runs Android 4.2, and that means it's got lockscreen widgets. To use them, just hit the power button to wake the phone and skip all this Active Display stuff. From there you're good to go.
What if I have lockscreen security turned on?
Couple options here. There's an option in the Active Display settings that'll either show or hide notifications if you have a lockscreen password turned on. Your call. (We're not sure yet what corporate security policies might do to that. We'll update when we find out.) If you chose not to see notifications, the clock will still work, as will the notification icons. You'll just not see previews.
Do I have to use Active Display? What other settings are there?
Active Display is on by default, but, no, you don't have to use it. Active Display is prominently displayed in the settings menu. From there you can turn it off, choose which apps you want to display notifications — hint: fewer is better, but by default any newly downloaded app will be added to the list — choose whether you want to hide notification previews when you have a PIN or password lock, or whether (and when) you want to see Active Display at night.