26 February 2014

Motorola Moto G tips and tricks

The Motorola Moto G is a game-changing phone -- its quad-core chip, pure Android 4.3 and pin-sharp HD screen are fantastic value at the bargain-basement price of £135. It's likely to find its way into many a stocking this Christmas, so familiarise yourself with this super-cheap Android phone with our handy hints and tantalising tips.

1. Secure your phone

The Moto G might be cheap, but you still want to make sure you don't lose it. The phone comes with Motorola's own 'Device ID' system, where you can register the handset and locate it later on if you misplace it. When you switch on the Moto G for the first time you'll be prompted to enter your Google account to activate this service, but if you skip this step for whatever reason, you can begin the process anew by going to Settings > Motorola device ID. It's also possible to unlock the phone from this menu as well.

2. Take a screenshot

You can take a screenshot of your display by holding the power button and volume button down together. The resultant shot will be deposited in your phone's gallery, in a folder called -- you guessed it -- Screenshots.

3. Add widgets to your lock screen

Widgets are still one of Android's most unique features, and in Android 4.3, they're not limited to your homescreen any more -- you can view them even when you phone is locked. On the lock screen, simply slide from left to right and then tap the 'plus' icon to add a widget. These include your calendar, messaging inbox and Gmail.

4. Automatically upload photos to the cloud

It's possible to preserve your photos and videos by using a cloud-based upload service on your Moto G. Google's Facebook rival Google+ comes with such a feature, as does cloud file service Dropbox -- both of which will prompt you to enable the functionality when you sign into them for the first time.

5. Transfer content from your old Android phone

Google's Android service takes the pain out of upgrading by allowing you to store all your data in the cloud, including emails, contacts and application information. There are still elements which don't get transferred properly though, but fear not -- the Moto G comes with a handy 'Migrate' tool, which sorts all of this out for you. You'll need to ensure you install the app on your existing phone (which needs to be Android-based, naturally) but the whole process is about as painless as it gets.

6. Customise your app tray

See that row of icons at the bottom of your homescreen? These are quick-launch shortcuts to key applications, and by default are set to Phone, Chrome, Messaging and Camera. You're not stuck with this selection though -- by holding your finger down on the app icon, you can remove it from the tray and replace it with one of your own choice. The only shortcut you can't remove is the one in the middle, which opens the Moto G's app drawer.

7. Take multiple photos

Multi-shot burst modes aren't anything new, but the way they're accessed on the Moto G is especially intuitive. Instead of having to enter a different shooting mode or tinker with options, all you have to do is hold your finger down on the screen, and the camera will keep snapping as long as your finger remains in contact with the display.

8. Turn your phone into a pocket-sized interpreter

Travelling to a new country is often a fraught and tense experience -- new food, different weather, staring locals -- and then there's the language barrier to contend with. Your shiny new Moto G can help with that. It comes with the latest version of Google Translate installed, which means you can instantly translate speech, text and even handwriting. There are loads of different languages to pick from -- yes, even Yiddish -- and the app will even attempt to detect the language if you're unsure.

9. Open your camera from the phone's lock screen

If you have a screen lock pattern or pin code on your phone then you'll no doubt be annoyed by the fact that you have to unlock the device to access the camera -- and that means you could potentially miss vital family shots. Thankfully, Android 4.3 allows you to swiftly fire up the snapper from the lock screen -- all you need do is swipe from right to left. Any photos you take can be reviewed, but be aware that you won't be able to access the rest of the phone's gallery until you unlock the device properly.

10. Effortlessly control your phone's ringer

Using the Moto G's preinstalled Assist application, you can tell your phone when you'd like it to disable your ringer. Assist can view any upcoming meetings you have stored in your calendar and silence the phone during these periods. You can also set a time at night when you'd like the phone to remain silent, so incoming alerts don't disturb your shuteye.

11. How to get the Nexus 5 interface

When we upgraded to Android 4.4 on our Moto G, we half-hoped we’d get the Nexus 5’s interface. The current Nexus was the first phone to show off Android 4.4, and it has a different look to almost every other Android phone.

It’s because the Nexus 5 uses the Google Experience interface rather than the usual Android one. However, if you like the friendly, clean look of this interface you can get it on the Moto G, with a bit of fiddling.

First, you need to download a specific apk Android app file, which enables Google Experience. You’ll find it hosted by Android Police.

Either download it using your computer or do so directly on your phone. Then find it using a file browser app such as ES File Explorer, and install it. You'll need to enable installs from unknown sources in Settings > Security first.

Once installed, you’ll be given the option to either use the normal UI or the Google Experience one when you press the Home button. Select the ‘use as default’ option to continue using the new interface a bit more permanently on your Moto G.

There are also ‘home switcher’ apps available from Google Play that that let you switch between default interfaces without having to fiddle about in the Settings menu. One of them we’ve tried is – helpfully – called simply Home Switcher.

12. A bumper case is best for long-term protection

The Motorola Moto G is a well-made phone. However, some aspects of its build have been sacrificed in order to keep the Gorilla Glass front panel safe.

The plastic shell of the phone sticks out from the screen by a fraction of a millimetre, meaning the plastic (rather than the glass) takes the brunt of any impacts. It means the plastic screen surround is susceptible to damage – without any particular bad treatment.

To avoid this sort of damage, consider investing in a bumper-style rubber case, or Motorola’s own flip cover. This uses a front flap that should soak up some of the pressure of bumps and scrapes.

13. Use an app zapper for performance maintenance

One of the few weak bits of the Motorola Moto G is that it doesn’t have all that much RAM – just 1GB. Once you have a load of apps installed, many of which may be sucking up system resources in the background, the phone can start to chug a little.

In order to keep performance solid, install a task killer app that can 'force' an app to stop running. An issue with Android is that apps can end up performing activities when they shouldn’t, causing battery life and performance issues. Advanced Task Killer is an app manager we frequently return to.

App killers aren't a 'cure all' solution, but we found they're useful every now and again as a last resort.

14. Install Google Keyboard for gesture typing

 The Motorola Moto G is one of the more up-to-date Android phones around. However, it can do with a software tweak or two fresh out of the box.

One key thing to change is the keyboard. The phone has the generic Android keyboard, which is actually a little different from the ‘Google’ keyboard available from Google Play. It doesn’t have gesture typing for one, and as such we strongly recommend switching to the Google keyboard.

To do so, head over to Google Play and get the app downloaded, go to Settings > Language & Input, make sure the check box for the Google keyboard is ticked. Then tap on Default and select the Google keyboard option to make it your go-to keyboard. Other keyboards worth checking out include Swiftkey and Touchpal.

15. How to fix app install parsing errors

One of the most annoying issues of the Motorola G is that some handsets suffer from a parse error that stops you from installing apps that come from anywhere but the Google Play app store. Trying to do so will result in an error message you can’t easily get around.

Some people have found that performing a factory reset on the phone solves the issue – to try this go to Settings > Backup & Reset and select Factory Data Reset.

However, we didn’t find this to be a problem-buster. A fix will come in time with a software update, but there is also a way to work around the parsing error for the time being. You can upload your .apk files to Google Drive, Google’s cloud storage service, and install them from there. There’s an app for Drive pre-installed on the Moto G.

To upload a file to Google Drive, install a file manager such as ES File Explorer, use it to locate the .apk file you downloaded. Tap the file’s entry, press the ‘More’ menu item at the bottom and then tap the Share option in the pop-up submenu. One of the options here will be Google Drive.

You don’t actually have to wait for the full file to upload. Once the upload has started, you’ll be able to install the app/game by simply tapping its entry in the Google Drive app (which you’ll be sent to upon sharing the file). You can then cancel the upload to save data.

16. Use HDR mode if you want half-decent photos

The Motorola Moto G’s camera is not very good. However, you can get reasonable results if you use the HDR mode. HDR stands for high dynamic range, and it uses multiple exposures merged together to produce higher-quality, more vivid shots.

To turn HDR mode on, swipe left to right on the edge of the screen when in the camera app to bring up the camera menu. There will be an HDR option within it. The downside of using HDR mode is that it’s pretty slow, requiring a couple of seconds for each shot. However, it’s pretty much the only way to produce satisfying photos with the phone.

17. How to transfer your old data with Motorola Migrate

Motorola Migrate is an app that lets you take content from your old phone and bung it into your new Moto G. It’s pretty clever, and very simple.

All you do is install Motorola Migrate on both phones (it comes preinstalled on the Moto G), and scan a QR code on your old phone with the new one's camera. You’ll need an internet connection, but Migrate will do the rest. It’ll give you old text messages, your contacts and even your media.

18. How to update to Android 4.4

Android 4.4 KitKat is already out for some versions of the Moto G, but by no means all of them. We strongly recommend waiting until the official release is available for your phone, rather than crowbarring in the update by rooting your phone.

To check if the update has been released for your particular Moto G variant, go to Settings > About Phone and tap the system updates option. This will manually search for software updates. If one is available, on-screen prompts will help you install it. Otherwise, just hang on.

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