OmniROM dev working on Moto X-like always-on listening mode for the Nexus 5

by: Bogdan PetrovanMarch 6, 2014

Guillaume Lesniak, the man behind the Focal camera app and one of the founders of the OmniROM project, is working on giving always-on listening capabilities to the Nexus 5.

In a Google Plus post, Guillaume explains that the Snapdragon 800 MSM8974 processor inside the Nexus 5 is capable of always-on listening, just like the Moto X. The chip contains a processor dedicated to processing voice commands, without keeping the CPU active, and therefore with low battery consumption. Guillaume says this core can be activated through software modifications, and the video above is the proof of concept.

Guillaume says that the functionality is “far from being stable, and not releasable in the current state,” but the developer hopes to make it available to the public in the future. Here’s how he explains his work in technical terms:

[quote qtext=”The S800 also has dedicated processing power. Even if it’s not shown in the video, it is using the capabilities of the WCD audio codec to wake up the audio DSP when the mic reaches a certain level. The audio is then matched against a predefined sound model, which will wake up the CPU above a certain match threshold. The CPU is otherwise inactive. ” qperson=”” qsource=”” qposition=”center”]

This is not a kernel-level mod, but the modifications are nonetheless extensive:

[quote qtext=”The kernel didn’t need any change, but all the audio chain needed changes (audio HAL, audio_policy, and various libs to rebuild and add). Unfortunately I can’t release those changed files. ” qperson=”” qsource=”” qposition=”center”]

Touchless Control on the Moto X is probably the most distinctive feature of the device, allowing users to wake up the device without touching it, with a simple “OK, Google Now” voice command. The Moto X runs on Motorola’s proprietary X8 chip, which contains a specialized signal-processing core that allows continuous listening for commands. But the Snapdragon 800 chip is capable of the same trick, as this promotional video from Qualcomm shows:

We’ll definitely keep an eye for any development on this front. If Guillaume Lesniak manages to enable accurate, battery-friendly on the Nexus 5, Google’s device (and potentially other Snapdragon 800 powered phones) will become even more attractive.

  • takpro

    This is such a popular and acclaimed feature on the Moto X, yet not one OEM that uses the Snapdragon 800, that I’m aware of, has attempted to implement this feature. The technical issues must be formidable.

    • silver_arrow

      I believe Samsung does with the “Hi Galaxy” line.

    • apianist16

      I’ll bet the “potential” for always-on voice commands is in the SD800, but it would drain the battery like heck since it wouldn’t be optimized on die like the Moto phones. That’s why Moto customized their own chip for their latest phones.

      • mobilemann

        I leave this feature on and still get at least 1 and a half days from my galaxy Note 3

        • apianist16

          Yes, but the Note 3 and the Nexus 5 are two completely different beasts. Plus, your battery life is generally dependent on usage and connectivity, which varies completely from user to user.

          • mobilemann

            Its 3200 mah, and laughs at that.

    • mobilemann

      Samsung does, I use it all the time.

      • Daemeon Holmes

        Samsung does not and has not implemented an “always on” feature.

        • mobilemann

          Whatever helps you sleep buddy. I can turn it on by saying “hi galaxy” with the screen off. (It opens google now after some light modification) Its not an exclusive feature at all

          • Daemeon Holmes

            I don’t need help sleeping. No matter how you spin it, it is not the same thing. I have both a galaxy S4 and a nexus 5. It is not the same thing. And saying ok Google works MUCH BETTER for many different tasks than say hi galaxy. Especially since “hi galaxy” doesn’t even wake my phone half the time.

          • mobilemann

            Kid, your s600 equipped s4 does not have a core for always on listening like the s800 equipped galaxy note 3 (Which is what I have) and nexus 5 do.

            Saying hi galaxy works 95% of the time for me. The same amount saying OK google does in the Google app for me.

            Don’t worry, you’ll get over it.

          • just_a_guest

            This S4 and the Note 3 have different processors.

  • MasterMuffin

    Cool beans :)

  • BarkLeesDad

    Gravity Screen can do the on/off bit of it.

  • John Doe

    This ‘if it works correctly without killing my battery’ would be sooo kool!!
    I cannot wait !!

  • doode

    Aw no way. Don’t take away that totally awesome low power pedometer feature that is much more useful than always listening. I mean what could be more useful for a low power chip on a phone than a totally innovative pedometer.

  • trwb

    I think they should get multi window working first