One of the most impressive features of the Motorola Moto X when it debuted last year was its clever touchless control. Essentially, you could execute Siri-like searches and commands with your Moto X without touching the device.
Just say, "OK Google," and the phone would leap into action, as long as it was within earshot. In your pocket or on the table, it didn't matter. And now something approaching that level of control has made its way to all Android phones.
A new update to Android's Google Search app means that you can activate search by saying "OK Google" no matter what screen is currently displayed on the phone. This is being rolled out slowly, so you might not have it yet -- but if not, you will soon (Google search version 3.5.14 is the one that delivers this new capability.)
Unfortunately, it still isn't as powerful as what you get with the Moto X. The phone's screen must be on, so a sleeping phone can't be woken with the search hotwords. Motorola engineered the Moto X with low-power hardware to support that capability, so other phones can't match that ability. But the good news is that it'll respond to the "OK Google" command no matter what screen is showing.
Like Apple's Siri, there's a wealth of things you can do with your Android phone with Google's voice feature. Google Search can get directions, place phone calls and send text messages, as well as schedule appointments and reminders. You can also use it to look up information, play music, and navigate to and control features on the phone itself. Touchless search is especially handy in the kitchen, where you can command your phone to perform measurement conversions (like "how many teaspoons are in a tablespoon," or "how many cups in a liter?").
If you want to try this out, though, you'll need to opt in. Open the Google Now app and look for the option to enable hotword detection in the voice settings menu. Specifically, choose Menu, Settings>Voice, "Ok Google" Detection to start using this feature.
This is just a first step. Android L, announced at last week's Google I/O conference, will deliver a slew of new features in the fall, not the least of which is a hardware-assisted hotword detection infrastructure. That, according to Google, will enable phones to all deliver that same anytime/anywhere hotword detection that the Moto X has offered for a year now.
Android L will also, as many pundits have suggested, "kill the password." Android phones will be able to sense the presence of other nearby Android devices to know whether it's OK to unlock without entering a passcode. So if you wear an Android Wear watch, that can be enough to authenticate you for access to your phone.
Also look for dramatically improved visuals, better notifications, and better battery and graphics performance when Android L drops later this year. But in the meantime, you can now control your phone hands free (as long as it's on to begin with).