I’ve been spending a lot of time with the Moto X lately (full review coming shortly), and while the spec sheet isn’t to everyone’s liking, it packs some smart features that I’d love to see on other devices. Motorola’s motion-sensitive Active Display notifications is at the top of that transplant list, and thankfully a developer over on the XDA forums has already cooked up a pretty solid approximation with an app called ActiveNotifications.
The app was originally only available for devices running Android 4.3, and there aren’t too many of those floating around right now — unless you had a Nexus device or one of the two Google Edition phones you were just plain out of luck. A newly released update though broadens that playing field substantially, as it can now be loaded up on any device running Android 4.1.2. or later. In case you’re running an even older build (think Android 4.0) and don’t mind a little weekend troubleshooting, there’s also an alpha build for you to tinker around with.
I’ve spent the past few days fiddling with the app on both a Nexus 4 running Android 4.3 and Galaxy S 4 running Android 4.2.2, and you know what? It’s not bad at all considering these devices lack the additional hardware that makes the Active Display feature really shine on the X. Once ActiveNotifications is installed and you select the apps you want it to display notifications from, a familiar-looking notification shade will occasionally spring to life to show you what’s been going on on your phone. After that, it’s just the same as on the X: swipe up to select the notification and jump into the app, and swipe down to unlock your device normally. Throw in support for the proximity sensor so the display won’t fire up while it’s in your bag/pocket, and you’ve got yourself a pretty impressive knock-off (and I use that word with the utmost respect).
There are, as always, a few caveats to be mindful of (and the developer makes no bones about the fact this is an experimental app). It’s better to run the ActiveNotifications on devices that have AMOLED displays as only certain parts of your screen get lit up — running the app on the Nexus 4 caused the entire screen to light up, which won’t do your batteries many favors. ActiveNotifications can also only show one notification type at a time: you’ll see a Gmail icon for instance, but not a Facebook icon even if the messages hit your phone at the same time. Given the blistering pace of updates being pushed out though, it shouldn’t be long before the gap between ActiveNotifications and the real deal closes dramatically.
Motorola’s brass likes to talk up the additional processing cores in its X8 architecture that make features like Active Display work — one core is apparently dedicated solely to monitoring the phone’s myriad sensor data, which includes information on movement and spatial orientation. Even without those extra components, ActiveNotifications makes for an experience that gets pretty close to what Motorola has been trying to nail for the past year. Not bad at all for an app that’s less than a week old — you can check it out in the Google Play Store here.