Motorola's hands-free controls may be the best thing that ever happened to mobile

I hear you. I wasn't a believer at first, either. I've tried Siri. I use Google Now. Using your voice to control your phone isn't all that it is wrapped up to be, because there was always something missing. The other night I realized Motorola found it, added it, and may have delivered the best feature set to mobile devices ever.

Talking to my phone isn't something I'm going to do every day. I'll do it if my hands really are full, I'll do it to play with the features, and I'll do it to demonstrate it for someone who hasn't seen it before, but for the most part I just pick up my phone and use my fingers to do what I want to do — even while driving, which I finally decided had to stop. That's another story about three deer and a malfunctioning master cylinder in my old truck, but you get the gist of it.

But I have a new found respect for it now, and it all started in the clearance bin at Target.

A week or so ago I got rid of my old truck and bought a less-old truck to replace it. It didn't come with factory Bluetooth, so I started looking at other options. I ran across a Motorola SonicRider speakerphone with a torn box in one of those carts filled with clearance stuff at Target. After confirming that I could carry it back in for a refund if it didn't work, I bought it as the first step to keeping my hands off my phone while I'm driving. It works really well in my opinion, and even if you can't find one in a ripped box on sale it's worth the $50 or so to buy it online if you're in the market for one.

Enough gushing over my cheap score on a Bluetooth speaker, because I imagine any modern BT speaker will work the same with Motorola's Touchless Control and Moto Assist app. I've seen the commercials that tell me how powerful these are, and fooled around with them a little bit before, but it all fell into place the other night.

I was driving home from a great dinner — surf and turf at a local semi-swanky restaurant for those curious — and my Bluetooth speaker lets me know that Phil Nickinson has sent me a text. Do I want to hear it? It did this automatically, because I took the time to check a single box in the Moto Assist app to enable driving mode when my phone senses I'm moving too fast to be walking. There's also a choice to send back a quick reply to let the sender know you're driving and won't be responding for a while.

Anyhoo, Phil's text told me to have a peek at all this Nexus stuff that happened — as it often does — on my day off. So my speaker reads me Phil's text and I have to look. I know I should be watching the road, but I just had to look. It's the Nexus, and there was no way that was going to wait until I got home. I tapped the "call" button on my speaker. On the new Moto phones with the fancy-smancy X8 stuff inside, this triggers Touchless Control. I said — show me pictures of the Nexus 5. Because Google knows what sites I look at the most, and this part of Touchless Control is tied into Google Now, I instantly saw the render of the Nexus with a link to our post about it. The headline and the picture told me what I had to know right then — Google Play, $349. So I tapped the call button again and told my phone to play some Black Crowes (opens in new tab), knowing that I'd be alerted if something else came up — all without any fiddling around with anything more than one tap.

Here's where someone is bound to say, "My phone has always been able to do this. I just had to enable this, set up that, adjust this other thing, and set things up to automatically run in the background. I fixed all the battery drain this causes by running Amazeballs kernel nightly 66b." Stop. Motorola asks you once if you want this to happen while you're driving. If you say yes, you're done and it just does it. Not everyone wants to fiddle with settings and obscure, but powerful apps. If you do (and I'll admit, sometimes I do as well) that's cool — you can do some amazing stuff that way — but you're not the normal user. Moto getting this right and making it easy is the key.

Even I laughed a little at the X8 processing "system" when it was announced. It sounded like yet another gimmick on yet another Android phone trying to be different. Nobody is laughing now. In fact, Apple announced the same sort of low-power "smart" processor(s) in the newest iPhones. Doing all this without killing the battery is just as important as doing it all this easily.

Google gives us some great services on our Androids. Motorola has found a way to integrate them with very little set up, and great results. I love useful features, and these sort of things need to be added on top of Android as it is today. With a new version of Android right around the corner, and Motorola being a Google company, here's hoping these features make their way into the OS itself when we finally see a new Nexus. 

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

  • The Future is Here...
    And that's a Wonderful Thing.
  • I have the droid maxx and this feature rocks. I work in the safety department for a public transit company and we are always preaching no texting or talking while driving. I love the text part of the Maxx just say listen and BOOM you got it. I came from a BB10 so this is awesome and a super safety feature.
  • Need help.I have a Droid Ultra and have driver adsit.But how do you actually get text messages read to you?
  • "Here's where someone is bound to say, 'My phone has always been able to do this. I just had to enable this, set up that, adjust this other thing, and set things up to automatically run in the background. I fixed all the battery drain this causes by running Amazeballs kernel nightly 66b.' Stop. Motorola asks you once if you want this to happen while you're driving. If you say yes, you're done and it just does it. Not everyone wants to fiddle with settings and obscure, but powerful apps." THE TRUTH Yes, I've done that before, and I'm tired of fiddling around like that.
  • I hear you bro. I had all types of ROMs and kernels on my HTC Hero, Nexus 1 and Galaxy S2. But since the Galaxy Nexus and Nexus 4.... f_ck this!! Stock ROM, stock kernel, updates from Google and be happy.
  • This. Posted via Android Central App
  • spot on!
  • I feel you. I got my Moto X just so that I don't need to screw around with it to make it great. It comes great out of the box. Fantastic battery life and all the Moto add ons are amazing. Damn near the perfect phone in my opinion. Sent via my AEG 4015C car phone
  • I have a ford with sync Bluetooth and it doesn't seem to work (moto assist) In meetings should all notifications cease (twitter Facebook etc..)
  • +1
  • Nice write up! I sure hope at least some of these "always listening" features come to the new nexus with kit kat (without needing to have Google now launched I mean). Also, right after the link to the nexus news you referenced, "if" should be "it"... Posted via Android Central App
  • Well crap Jerry you stole all my thunder ----------------------------------------------------
    My S-Pen went through hell to deliver this important message to you
  • Had an X, sold it. The voice control is not all that great, honestly. I set up and re-set up "Ok Google Now" through the voice training and it always had trouble hearing me. I'd scream it while driving, nothing (worked maybe 30% of the time). No the phone was not defective. It just didn't work all that magically. Honestly it would be easier if you could set your own voice trigger. Ok Google Now is too long and a bit too geeky for me in public. I guess it's Google's trojan horse advertising so everyone within earshot hears the branding when people wake their phone....kind of like how Apple locked it's ringtones for so long so everyone learned the chimes/rings and instantly recognized them as an iPhone. Clever idea, just not a revolutionary as it looks on the surface.
  • I like the phrase just "OK Google" that they added to Google Now. Simply saying "Google" would be hit or miss sometimes but adding the "OK" before it makes it more than 95% accurate in my use to pick up my voice. And that's just with G Now. I've seen the X work countless times with the voice command, sorry yours didn't. Everyone else's seems to be fine. Pretty sure you're in the minority here. Posted via Android Central App
  • I've discovered that I do not enunciate adequately for voice commands no matter the system.
  • But at least you knew the correct word was enunciate! lOL
  • There is yet hope... Sent via my AEG 4015C car phone
  • 100% user error. If u had a consistency of numerous people complaining similarly then yes its the phone. But no one has complained and if they did they know they admitted they were doing something wrong. Posted via Android Central App
  • +1. People think they have to shout at it, and speak to it like it was a deaf child. Start out that way, and it will only work that way. But the more you use voice control the better it gets. Stop shouting at the phone, and just speak to it. My wife checks baseball scores from across the room. She calls people without even touching the phone. I could never get her to use Google Now on her old phone, but this always listening feature has created a believer out of her. It becomes less useful if you keep the phone locked, so she added a Wifi and Blutooth unlocker from the market. That is the only thing Moto could have thrown in for free.
  • What is this "...Wifi and Blutooth unlocker..." you speak of?
  • Its in the market under that name. I'd post a link but I'm tired of getting b1tchslapped by the AC Death Sentence Bot.
  • Um, they did. Under security, check out the trusted devices section. :-)
  • Its too crippled. (They missed it by "That" much. It only works with bluetooth.
    Great for the car, but when at home she doesn't want the lock while connected to home wifi.
  • Look for Safe Areas. You might also want to get Smart Wi-Fi Toggler, to automatically enable and disable Wi-Fi. I'm not sure how well these work together, I've just found them on the Play Store.
  • I recommend Delayed Lock. Works like a charm and it has plugins for WiFi, Bluetooth and location (GPS).
  • +1 Posted via Android Central App
  • Your car's bluetooth might be too noisy. I know mine is, and I can't dictate voice commands over my car's microphone. My car is also not the quietest inside thanks to frameless windows and a boxer flat four. If the phone uses its internal mic and I have it close to me, voice commands are recognized properly, but they can still be hit or miss. Did it also fail to work when not in the car?
  • I totally agree- they should let you make your own trigger phrase, or at LEAST choose between several existing ones. "OK Google now" is about as goofy and obviously advertising related as I can imagine and would feel really stupid saying around other people. Plus it doesn't sound good or flow well. Since it is bound to be just software, maybe it will change/evolve with updates, though.
  • I'd have to say it didn't work because the operator is a goon. I can get mine to work from across the room without yelling. In fact I got it to work in the theater the other night on a near whisper. In the car driving on freeway is the only time I have to raise my voice to get it to work. Definitely the user not the phone. Posted via Android Central App
  • +1. I tend to mumble and voice recognition is still at least 95% accurate for me. I also don't speak any less natural than when I'm not talking to my phone. Posted via my Nexus 6 running 4.5 Lima Bean
  • And there's the key right there. Speaking natural. When you train it, just do it in the same tone and voice, even in a non quiet background. Don't shout, don't speak to it like its a Chinese deaf child or something. (Its an unfortunate American tendency to Speak Louder and revert to E Nun CEE ATE ING grotesquely when speaking to foreigners or dogs or machines. Don't do that.
  • It used to be required in the case of machines as they were based on very rudimentary sounds.
  • Or, you know, any deaf child at all?
  • Babies and old people too Posted via Android Central App
  • There had to be something wrong with your device. I have the Moto X and the voice commands easily work at least 90% of the time. I've even sat in my car and turned the radio all the way up and it was still able to pick up my voice. Even if its in another room at my condo it still works. The only place I find it has issues is in the bathroom because of the echo, besides that it virtually always works for me. Posted via Android Central App
  • I have a friend who was practically given a Moto X to him by his cousin, who lives in Alabama. He too complained that voice control was useless. my friend was just going to sell it but decided to give it a try & likes it so much that he now has sold all his other phones. He says it's the slicked thing since grits & butter. My point is that if you come from a region of the USA where you naturally don't speak clean english or from a country where you speak fast or your english is greatly influences your enunciation of some words Moto X is going to have issues. Heck, I love Google voice on my Nexus but if I speak to quick or if there's a lot of background noise Google comes up with some inaccurate responses. It's to bad that the Moto X capabilities doesn't work as it should for some people but I find it hard to blame it on the phone. I'm getting one as soon as it hits Google Play. To bad the Nexus 5 won't have the X8 chip.
  • I have the X and love it, but I somewhat agree. The voice control (for any phone with Google's voice commands, not just the Moto X) is a lot of fun, but it's not ready for prime time. Touchless Control is just an extension of that, and again while fun it's not yet dependable. Examples (in the car)... Me: OK Google Now
    Phone: *silence*
    Phone: *silence* (KitKat update adds a response tone... in the meantime I notice the screen turn black as it recognizes my voice)
    Me: Navigate home
    Phone: Navigating to home. In a quarter mile, blah blah blah
    Me: Cancel navigation
    Phone: Turn left at blah
    (There's no voice command to cancel navigation, so you are stuck with it.) Me: OK Google Now. Open Pandora.
    Phone: Opening Pandora (music plays)
    Me: Pause
    Phone: *silence* (music continues to play)
    Me: Close Pandora
    Phone: *silence* (music continues to play)
    (You can't pause music or close apps.) Me: Text [my wife]
    Phone: What's the message?
    Me: I'm on my way home
    Phone: Is this correct? (expects me to read a text message while I'm driving)
    Me: Read it back to me
    Phone: *silence*
    (It doesn't read outgoing texts and emails back to you. This is kind of important in a car.) This is all not counting the times when it just plain bugs out and won't respond to you at all. Side note, I installed a Motorola Roadster (similar to the device in the article) to make calls easier to hear and to play music through my car speakers. By far the clumsiest feature is the button to initiate Touchless Control. It just doesn't work consistently. I'm not sure if it's the result of a log jam of unrecognized commands or what, but it has gotten overwhelmed on a few occasions and responds with an absurd delay, or won't respond at all. I had to start turning stuff off and on again. I expect great things from Google's voice commands in the future, but at this particular moment it just isn't feature-complete and isn't dependable. It's great when it works, but it's no R2D2.
  • I just make people wait for replies when I'm driving.
  • This. ^^^
  • Yep. They will have to get over it.
  • What mount kit is that in the picture? Thanks.
  • +1....please do tell Posted via Android Central App
  • Some $4 POS from 5-Below.  I've got some other things to add and wire into the dash before i get something more permanent. I may end up getting one fabbed out of aluminum that holds both a phone and the Nexus 7. If I do, there will be pics.
  • LOL, even Jerry doesn't shop from
  • I got one of these from GTAcarkits for my Droid Maxx and love it! The touchless controls and auto-reading of texts are magical too I agree, just wish they would have built it out further to let you also REPLY with your voice after it reads the message; probably by design to keep you from mucking with making sure it's voice-typed correctly while driving, but one can hope for a future version of Assist that does.
  • What do the controls do for an Android phone?
  • Much slicker looking mount - and really love the magnetic mounting.
  • Jerry I felt the same way during my time with my Moto X review unit. Once I saw it in action and used it in the way you described, it was exciting to use. I really am torn between it and the Nexus 5 to replace the Nexus 4 as my main device. Really hope it becomes a stand alone service soon so people are not forced to use Motorola devices. But then again, the Moto X and Droid Maxx are sweet devices.
  • I have to admit it is sweet! My Moto X 16GB is on SWAPPA so I can decide on the Nexus 5 or 32 GB version of the Moto X. I wonder how long before it is exported to other phones.
  • Well, I have a Motorola Roadster2 and HAD a Motorola Photon 4G and they refused to play nice together so, maybe it's the fact that you have a new phone that makes the difference. At this point, Dragon and my Galaxy S4 work just great with the Roadster2 but it sure was disappointing when part of the reason I'd bought the speaker in the first place was because the phone was a Motorola.
  • Why do you tap the call button when all you have to say is "OK Google"?
  • I'm wondering this same thing...?
  • I can say OK Google Now, then watch the phone so i know when to speak the command, or I can just tap the button and talk. Using the button, I don't have to watch the phone.
  • When I say "OK Google", I can usually speak my command right after - maybe a second after at most. But either way works I suppose.
  • Ok Google Now, (half second pause) then command. You don't have to watch the phone, its listening all the time, and it will pick up the full command. Try it.
  • I just re-read the post and realized I left out the part explaining that tapping the button pauses the music so you can talk. Sorry.  And here I tried about 100 times to get it to put me in voice command without a 5-15 second pause by saying OK Google Now, because I thought you all were telling me yours was instant like when the phone was idle. Derp on me.
  • Excellent post Jerry. I'm a few weeks in with my own Moto X and this thing is damn near perfect.
  • I feel the same way. There have been very little problems with mine. Coming from a Galaxy Nexus, the battery life on my Moto X is amazing. It's not an exaggeration to say that it's damn near perfect in every way. Sent via my AEG 4015C car phone
  • This is one of the big reasons I went with the Droid Maxx. The S4 and G2 both seem to be good phones, but this and the new notification system sold me on the Maxx. My company is getting very strict on cell phone use in company vehicles and are even starting to install cameras in vehicles to help curb this. The company car I drive has the roadster 2 and it works good, but there were still some things you have to grab you're phone to do. Not with the Maxx though.
  • Unfortunately the Moto Assist driving profile doesn't play well with my bluetooth setup:( It was one of the main things I was looking forward to with my new Moto X but it just doesn't work when I'm paired up. When the kind lady comes on to say someone texted me, it cuts my bluetooth out and plays through the phone speaker instead of my car speaker. I could deal with that but the other thing is when I say "listen" it just sits there and then closes the app and proceeds to do absolutely nothing. When I'm not paired up, it works like a charm. Idk if it's my car or the phone...
  • What Jerry said...
    The Moto X works perfect in my car.
    I left the iPhone for the moto and love it. Best feature ever.
  • I've been really interigued by all the Moto X features. I really like that Motorola went a different direction then most other OEMs and tried to make Google's features better rather than build their own from scratch. Frankly, Google has a bigger software research budget than any OEM and I want to use Google's services. Motorola has taken the best of Google and made it easier to access instead of trying to replace it with their own services like Samsung or hiding it like HTC.
  • Stop being a selfish A-Hole and looking at your phone when you are driving. Nothing, not even the latest nexus is worth someone dying for.
  • And don't touch your car radio to change the station , take a sip of your drink or turn your head to speak to your passenger. Heck, don't listen to your radio as it's distracting. And whatever you do, don't look at your instrument panel to see how fast you're going or that dummy light that's warning you something is wrong. You can wait til you stop. Posted via Android Central App
  • What are you 5 years old? You realize that people die from distracted driving - right? Whether it's to look at the radio for one second or send a text. Grow up.
  • If you were replying to me, I agree with you completely. You were close on my age too. Posted via Android Central App
  • What are you 5 years old? You realize that people die from distracted driving - right? Whether it's to look at the radio for one second or send a text. Grow up.
  • "So I tapped the call button again and told my phone to play some Black Crowes,"
    Jerry Hildenbrand Respect-o-meter just 1-upped! Nice article. Still can't see myself getting a Moto X in March when my upgrade rolls around. At that point, it'll either be an S5 or tough it out for another 5 months and hope for a Moto X II.
  • "Amazeballs kernel nightly 66b" classic! Posted via Android Central App
  • I could do all this since... Very nice work Moto! Posted via Android Central App
  • Right on the money Jerry. Touchless controls set a very high standard IMO for my next phone purchase. I'm sure Moto is only going to improved this functionality. Its revolutionized phone use in the car for me. Destiny willing I might actually live to 40 without dying from a texting and driving accident now. Posted via Android Central App
  • I've had the Moto X for a couple of weeks now and I've never used the touchless control feature. There haven't been any instances where I needed to use it. It seems it would be useful while driving but I hardly ever drive.
  • Same here. I take the bus, can't do it then. In school? Right. My family would look at me like I was crazy if I was sitting there talking to my phone at home. It's hard enough with me typing and looking at it all the time. Though after watching the latest South Park talking to your phone in public is no longer abnormal. And with all that said I would LOVE this feature on my G2. The S800 is supposed to have this feature but it doesn't look like anyone is taking advantage.
  • Amazeballs LOL! And it's funny how every ROM developer sounds like a used car salesman too. You keep it real as f@#& Jerry.
  • I have a Ford vehicle with Sync (not the MyFord Touch version) and I *LOVE* that my DROID MAXX actually interrupts what's playing by way of the PHONE function...reading out my text message with Google Now's voice - which trumps the SYNC version by leaps and bounds. I think it's awesome.
  • As a person who just recently switched from an iPhone 5 to a Note 3, I'm glad to see that Google and Android are doing even more to take the work and complexity out of every day tasks. Posted via Android Central App
  • My blackberry Z10 is the best phone I've linked with my 2012 truck with stock bluetooth so far. It pairs seemlessly at the turn of the key. Launches the music app automatically and will begin to play if I'm in the bluetooth mode on the stereo (vs tuner or cd etc.) My phone somehow knows I'm connected to a Toyota and displays this on a custom lock screen while paired. Blackberry went one further up on SIRI, where siri you always have to press the button on the phone. Blackberry did a clever workaround by programming a number, where if dialed it launches the voice control. So you program the blackberry voice control on you speed dial(accessible on the steering wheel) and call the voice command. That's where Blackberry falls short though, the voice command is a simple call____, text_____or search_____. Maybe a couple other commands but that's it. Gadgets like this and the moto x just working together so nicely is awesome. I'm conflicted between the moto x and the nexus 5. Fast updates is the leading edge right now for the nexus. But the moto sounds better and better everyday. I hate hard decisions like this lol. If telus had the moto I'd have it already, but since I have to pay 700$ for it on rogers and unlock it I haven't got it.
  • Moto, you already had me sold on the features after those amazing commercials, just let me customize it in wood and I'll buy! Seriously that is the only thing keeping me from buying (that and the phone has to be unlocked, not dealing with carrier versions).
  • I am in love with the Moto X. Voice feature works for me in my car with no issue. My Fav android phone ever.
    Great write up.
  • No Bluetooth? Oh, time for an even less older truck! Haha.. Also, I own a Bose Soundlink Mini and I love this little thing. Wireless charging, booming clear sound, Bluetooth pairing, and I use it 5-6 hours a day. Great for parties and bass is surprisingly satisfying. Check into it if you can part with 2 Benjamin's. They should have it at Verizon, thats where the salesperson talked me into doling out more money even after the 3 hundred for my maxx. Sigh.. Still money well spent, IMO. Posted via Android Central App
  • I don't use the voice controls much. That's because I have a speech impediment and it doesn't work that well for me. I wouldn't expect it too either though. Still a great feature for telling it to read you texts while driving. Posted via Android Central App
  • and for those who don't have a moto x .....
  • This has me seriously thinking about trading my LG G2 for a Droid Maxx. I ride a motorcycle most of the time and this feature could be a big help when I'm riding with my bluetooth headset in my helmet and being unable to use my hands.
  • So isn't this "always listening" feature the exact same thing that everyone was freaking out abt when the Xbox One introduced in the summer? Just laying that out there.
  • but can it read short hand text messages like u, tha, wasup, y, lata, or ridin. thats my gripe wit text to voice because no one i kno including me types tha complete word in text messages.
  • It takes me MORE effort to type incomplete words. My brain has to translate from proper spelling to that mess before I hit the keys. And the same goes for reading it. My sister texts me and I'm like, "Uhhh...what?"
  • Its apparent you dont type complete words while commenting to articles on the internet either. I believe "short hand" in text messaging is abused and overused. There was a place for it when all we had was T9 but in todays world with smart phones and full keyboards its not needed.
  • Using Google Voice as my main texting app kind of ruins any chance of using it for "driving mode" apps right? For example, it's not going to read these out to me or allow any interactive functionality like it does with the default SMS app...right?
  • Hope this is enabled in Kit Kat on nexus 5. That will be awesome Posted via Android Central App
  • Welcome to what Blackberry has been doing for years. :P
  • I've been using a BlackBerry since they were email pagers. There is no comparison.
  • if only moto would make a 5.5 inch version of the X, I'd be all over that.
  • I still say Google Now takes this title. Posted via Android Central App
  • I love the touchless control features, I use it for search, song ID, and hands-free stuff in the car. On the Droids, I like being able to find the phone by saying "OK, Google, call my Droid," and it makes a noise and light show to make tracking it down easier. Does Moto X have something like that? Posted via Android Central App and Droid Mini
  • I agree - a properly implemented voice control in the devices like Moto X is a very useful feature. Same goes for other devices. Too bad that some car manufacturers (like for example Audi/BMW) continue trying to impress people with useless gimmicks like touchpads or capacitive touch buttons (Cadillac/Lexus do this) instead of improving the voice control...
  • Please don't flame me on this question, as it's an honest (although maybe dumb) one - Will this Motorola speakerphone work with an ios 7.x iPhone?
  • Best feature ever Posted via Android Central App
  • Windows Phone has been doing this (better) since Mango. Because of the lack of apps I have switched to Android (Nexus 4) and admit it is a much better fit for me. But I have sorely missed the driving assistance WP had baked in, which is why i switched to the Moto X. However, a big piece is still missing and I don't understand why WP is still the only ones to have figured it out. For a complete driving assistance solution, the following scenario needs to be played out: Driving, incoming text, the phone announces the sender and text, the phone asks "do you wish to read or ignore", "read it", phone reads the text, the phone asks "say reply or i'm done", "reply", the phone says "say your message", you dictate the message, the phone reads it back for accuracy and asks "send or try again?", "send", the phone sends the text; never needing to glance at the phone once. Has anyone got this figured out for Android? I would love to hear your solution.
  • I love the Assist feature on my Moto X, but I would love to have the option to turn on a similar (identical) feature for when I want to answer the phone or texts without touching my phone. I realize with Google Now that I can *initiate* a call or text, but let's say I'm working around the yard and don't want to touch the phone when someone calls - any suggestions? I apologize if I'm missing something obvious.
  • Does this feature work on a motorcycle Posted via Android Central App
  • When will google update nexus 6 with lollipop 5.1 ?