How to setup and use Active Display notifications on the Moto X


The Moto X features Active Display, which gets rid of the archaic notification light found on most phones today. I never cared for the light concept because there wasn’t enough information and no way to tell what types of notifications were pending. Why no other manufacturer didn’t implement something like Active Display before is beyond me, but thankfully Motorola took the bulls by the horns and added another solid feature found on the Moto X.

Motorola found that people turn on their smartphone over 60 times per day on average. What they also found was the majority of those times were for either checking the time or looking for notifications. I don’t have to tell you how much battery that wastes over the course of the day. With Active Display, only part of your screen displays the time and any notifications pending. This information will flash every few seconds like the notification lights found on other phones. In a sense, it probably consumes more battery for the notification aspect of things, but since you won’t need to turn on your display as often, it will take less of a toll on your battery as opposed to traditional notification lights along with turning on the display. I think of it as a secondary lock screen since you can unlock your device from the Active Display as well. The best part of it all is Active Display is so easy to setup and use. Hit the break to get started.

[Scroll down if you want to skip the written part and watch the tutorial video]

The good news is that Active Display will be turned on by default, but there are some tweaks that you might need to make. You may also find that somehow you inadvertently turned the feature off and need to turn it back on. Head into Settings / Active Notifications. You will see a “Learn More” option at the top. Tap on that to get a quick tutorial if you want. After you have done that, you need to make sure that “Active Display” is turned on by checking the little box to the right.

The next option is “Manage notification types”, which will allow you to select what apps you want to appear in Active Display. If you tap on that, you will see a list of all the apps that you have installed on your Moto X. Many of them will already be checked, but you can obviously uncheck any that you don’t want to appear. You can also check the ones that you do want to appear. After you have decided on which apps you want to be included, hit the back key to go back to the last menu.

One very cool thing about Active Display is that not only will it tell you what apps have notifications, but you will also be able to see the contents of the last notification by tapping the center icon. For example, if you have a text message pending, you will be able to read the text message without unlocking your phone. If you utilize a pin or pattern lock screen, you can opt for this information to not be displayed by checking “More Privacy”. The icons for the apps will still appear letting you know you have a notifications pending, it’s just the contents of the notifications that won’t be visible.

The last item that needs attention is “Sleep at night”. This is a great feature that you don’t want to miss. This option will turn off Active Display during a specified time period each day, such as when you go to sleep every night. By default it will be on and set for 11:00pm to 6:00am. If you want to change the time, just hit the settings icon to the right. Also make sure the checkbox is checked to ensure that Active Display won’t run during those times.

Active Display can be quite useful even when you don’t have any notifications. Let’s say you often check your phone to see what time it is. All you need to do is pick up your phone or take you phone out of your pocket, and the Active Display will turn on briefly for a few seconds showing you the time. Of course, if you have notifications pending, it will be flashing every so often. In either situation, you can simply unlock the device by tapping on the center icon and swiping down. If there is a notification, it will be a circle with an icon of the last app that alarmed (other app icons will be below it). If no notifications are pending, it will simply be a padlock. If you want to read the info of the notification (ie the text of an email or SMS message), just tap the center icon and hold. The text will appear at the top. To unlock the phone directly to that particular app, just swipe up to the text. If you want to dismiss it, just swipe right or left and the display will go black saving your battery life. It’s that simple. The only drawback is that you can’t read the contents of all your notifications. For example, if you have notifications from four different apps, you will see that you have notifications from all four, but you will only be able to read the text of the last app that came through with a notification.

To make things really easy for you, I put together a “how to” video showing you the complete setup process as well as how it all works. Be sure to check out our other Moto X guides here.

About the Author: Robert Nazarian

Robert lives in upstate New York where he was born and raised. Technology was always his passion. His first computer was a Radio Shack TRS80 Color that used a cassette tape to save programs, and his first laptop was a Toshiba T1200FB that sported a CGA greyscale screen and two 720kb floppy drives (no hardrive). From the early 90’s through late 2011, he only owned Motorola phones starting with the MircroTAC all the way through to the Droid X. He broke that streak when he bought the Galaxy Nexus. Now he's sporting a Galaxy Note 4, and absolutely loves it. He has a wonderful wife and a 6 year old son. In his free time he enjoys sports, movies, TV, working out, and trying to keep up with the rapid fast world of technology.

  • blindexecutioner

    I would take a simple led light over having to touch or turn on my phone any day. There is no way turning on a backlit screen uses less battery than a small led, even if part of it is only showing up.

    • Mike

      Moto X is OLED, not backlit, so it shouldn’t take a huge amount of power.

  • Ryan

    I miss my number indicators on the email, phone and text to know I have messages. I also cannot find a way to make every notification not vibrate.

  • Rhode

    Anyone know why my moto x receives pictures attached to texts as 20 second videos?


    I miss my number indicators on the email, phone and text to know I have messages. I also cannot find a way to make every notification not vibrate

    • Andra Garrett

      Me too….. Is there a way to get the number indicators ??

  • Breebailey

    My boyfriend has this phone. I seen it lighting up the other night and when i checkd it, there was no notification on screen or in notification bar. Why was it doing that, and what could it be?