Hands on with Motorola Skip, the PIN-skipping fast-unlock gadget for your phone

Motorola Skip

I don't generally spend much time focusing on smartphone accessories, but every now and then something comes along that's innovative or different enough to pique my interest.

That's precisely the case with the Motorola Skip, an unassuming little clip that promises to take the hassle out of unlocking your phone. It's designed to work with the Moto X, the first phone of Motorola's Google-owned era.

The Skip costs 20 bucks; it's also being included for free along with all custom Moto X orders for an unspecified "limited time."

So how's the thing work? It couldn't be simpler: You just touch the Skip to the back of your Moto X -- or hold it close by -- and the phone skips past the lock screen and takes you right to your home screen, no PIN or pattern required.

The Skip uses near-field communication, or NFC, to accomplish the feat; you complete a quick initial setup to pair the Skip with your phone and turn it into a custom key fob.

Sounds intriguing enough, right? It's certainly an interesting concept in theory. In practice, here's what I've found:

• For the most part, the Skip works reasonably well. It takes a little while to figure out the right place to hold it -- it has to hit the phone's NFC sensor, which is located right around the dimple on the back of the device -- but once you get that down, there's really not much to it.

• An exception: If you use the Skip while your phone's screen is off, it's supposed to wake the device and then do its lock-screen-skipping magic. I've found it to be a bit finicky in that scenario, though, particularly when the Moto X's Active Display system is lit up (which, by default, it usually is when you first pick up the phone). Sometimes it works properly; other times it either takes an extra second or two to kick in or does nothing at all.

Motorola Skip Moto X

• The actual Skip unit is a small felt-covered strip designed to attach to your clothing. The strip folds over itself and stays together with a powerful magnet. The Skip kit also comes with three NFC-enabled stickers that you can pair with your device and use as well.

• The stickers, strangely enough, never seem to wake the device when the screen is off; they work only when the display is on and sitting at the lock screen.

• It's worth noting that you do have to pair each individual Skip device/sticker to your phone before it'll work. That's a good thing; otherwise, anyone would be able to use any Skip device as a universal key.

• It takes about a second, give or take, from the time you touch the Skip to your phone to the time you're at your home screen. And that's assuming you don't run into any of the aforementioned finickiness along the way.

So all considered, here's the big question: Is getting into your phone with the Motorola Skip meaningfully faster than entering in your PIN or pattern the normal way? I'm honestly not so sure; as novel and interesting as the accessory is, I've found it's actually quicker and easier for me just to swipe in my pattern than to move the phone up to the Skip -- wherever I have it clipped or stuck -- and hold it there for a second. If you have a long alphanumerical password, the time saved might be more significant, but for me, it hasn't proven to be worthwhile.

What I've found to be far more useful is Moto X's Trusted Devices feature, which allows you to set specific Bluetooth devices as automatic authenticators. Anytime your phone is connected to a pre-approved device -- be it your home or car stereo, a smartwatch, or whatever else you might use -- the system won't prompt you for a PIN or passcode.

(Even more useful would be an expanded version of that feature that also works with Wi-Fi networks. Now, that would be handy.)

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As for the Skip, it's perfectly nice as a freebie thrown in with a phone purchase. At 20 bucks, though, I'm not sure it's enough of a time-saver -- or reliable enough of a time-saver -- to make sense for most folks.

SEE ALSO:

What makes the Moto X so special

Moto X vs. Droid Ultra: A real-world comparison

3 mistakes Motorola's making with the Moto X launch

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