Inside the new Moto app, home to most of the cool Moto X features

All of your favorite features are back on the Moto X, this time housed in a single app

On one level, not too much has changed in the 2014, insofar as the software is concerned. You still have the hotword voice actions, you still have the peeking notifications, and Motorola Assist is still on board, with its bevy of cool features.

New with the 2014 Moto X is that they've all been moved under a single umbrella app, simply called "Moto."

Let's take a quick walk around the new space to get our bearings.

Moto app 2014

Pretty much all the cool custom features that are in the Moto X live in the Moto app. This is where you'll come to set them up, and it's where you'll go if you want to change something. Here's what you'll be working with:

  • Moto Assist
  • Moto Actions
  • Moto Voice
  • Moto Display

What's more is that each of these features is independently updatable. (In fact, on the review unit Moto X we're using, most everything has been updated already. You might well have to do the same with your Moto X when you first get it.) Motorola can update Assist without having to update Display at the same time. Or it can update Voice without having to update Actions. You get the drift. These basically are all separate apps that also live within a single "Moto" app.

One trick here: To get to all of these things, you'll need to hit the settings gear in the top right once you launch the Moto app. That just feels a bit off, but for now it's the way it is.

Let's run through them, one by one:

Moto Assist

Moto Assist

This is probably one of the best apps of the past year. It's home to four indispensable features, which we'll break down thusly:

  • Sleeping: This perhaps is still the best do-not-disturb implementation we've seen. It's pretty standard on most phones now, but Motorola makes it simple. In fact, it's turned on by default, turning off the display's "breathing" feature (wherein it flashes the time and notifications periodically) between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. You can change the hours to whatever you want. You also can opt to silence the phone while DnD is active, but you can tell the Moto X to still let your favorite contacts come through, or if someone calls twice within five minutes.
  • Driving: This one's meant to help you keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel. There are two options here: Read text messages and incoming calls aloud, and to automatically fire up your music player of choice. The Moto X automatically kicks on Driving mode when it thinks you're driving, using the car's motion as well as the ambient sound. (It also works when you're in an airplane, taxiing to the runway.)
  • Home: This is one of the newer features, and basically it's the same as drive mode. When the Moto X sees that you're at home — you have to supply the address — it'll read incoming text messages aloud, as well as announce incoming callers. The idea is that you won't have to always have your phone in your pocket. On the other hand, there might be times you don't want your text messages announced to anyone within earshot. User beware.
  • Meeting: This feature hooks into your calendar — and you get to pick which ones it uses — and then silences your phone during meeting times. It also can auto reply to missed calls from your favorites. And you can customize those replies. "Hi, I'm going over my TPS reports. See you on Saturday, OK?"

Moto Actions

Moto Actions

Action combines a handy trick from last year's model and adds a couple new features. They're all turned on by default, so if you use them you don't actually ever have to venture into this part of the Moto app. But there also are some handy tutorials here.

First is the new "Wave to silence." The new Moto X has four infrared sensors on the front of the phone. If you get a call you don't want to take, or if your alarm goes off, all you have to do is wave your hand over the phone to silence it. Motorola recommends keeping your hand about 6 inches above the display, and in our use this has worked pretty well. (We also might occasionally mutter to ourselves "You will be quiet now.")

Then there's the old wrist double twist to launch the camera app. Turn your hand twice as if you were turning a doorknob, and your camera app launches. It's a really handy (sorry!) way launch the camera as you're pulling the phone out of your pocket. It also works from within an app.

And then there's the "Approach" option. This uses those IR sensors to detect when your hand (or face, or whatever) is coming toward the phone, it'll automatically flash the clock and any notifications that are waiting. Previously you'd have to jostle the phone a bit. This is a great addition.

Moto Voice

Moto Voice

This is the setup process for the expanded voice actions — previously called "Touchless Control" in the new Moto X. In last year's model, you could only officially have the phone wake up if you said "OK, Google Now." That wasn't a whole lot of fun, and it got to be a little confusing because Google basically adopted that same phrase for its hotword. Now you can pretty much use any phrase you can think of. (Yes, that means you can call your phone dirty names and have it do your bidding. We've tried.) And it's not just "OK, whatever." You can change up the phrasing a bit. The phone will tell you if your phrasing is too short — "Yo, Phone!" doesn't work too well, for example — and help guide you through the process. It's a fun little way to customize things.

Moto Display

Moto Display

This is the new name for last year's "Active Display," and it refers to the flashing clock and notifications you'll get on the screen without actually having to touch the power button or anything.

You've got a few options here. You can choose to turn it off altogether, if you want. You also can choose which apps you want to show notifications here. Or you can choose to have Display hide notification details while you're using a screen lock. And finally you can choose to have the phone vibrate when you touch a notification to expand it. (That's turned on by default.)

One last thing ...

Finally there are settings for the Moto app itself. You can choose to have it show the current activity in the status bar, as well as let the phone learn your habits — say, when you stop using it and go to sleep for Sleeping mode — and you can chose to opt back out of Motorola's privacy policy (which you would have had to approve to have gotten this far) and reset all of this back to stock.

All in all, very nice updates and additions to some of our favorite features of the past year.

One more last thing ...

Note that if you're using the 2014 Moto G, Moto Assist is still its own application. But you do have Drive Mode now, which is a big thing.

Phil Nickinson