Gestures on a smartphone aren’t exactly new tech, but they are new to Google’s Pixel 4. Thanks to a teeny tiny Project Soli radar, you can now wave at a Pixel 4 to poke Pokémon wallpapers, as well as control your music, timers, and phone calls.
That’s all well and good – but the problem with gestures has more to do with usability. Sometimes, it takes more time trying to get the gimmick to work than just doing things manually. I got to try the Pixel 4's new Motion Sense features during a demo, and surprisingly, it worked pretty well! The phone was able to clearly recognise when I was swiping through YouTube and Spotify playlists. When I was reaching for the phone to turn off a timer, it lowered the volume. I spent an inordinate amount of time tickling a Sobble.
To compare, we also had the LG G8 ThinQ on hand. The G8 also featured gestures called Air Motions – it just didn’t work nearly as well. To wake up the G8's Z Cam, you have to hover your palm over the sensor. That can be pretty hit-or-miss. Two-thirds of the time, I ended up waving my palm over the camera to no avail. When I did get it to work, that involved pinching my hand like an amateur wizard and moving left or right to some pre-set short cuts. The thing is, you have to hold your hand in exactly the right spot for the G8's sensor to recognise your movements. If you stray outside that zone, you just end up with a hand cramp.
Both the G8 and Pixel 4's gestures do many of the same things and are really meant to help you control your phone when your hands are otherwise occupied. It’s just the Pixel 4's Motion Sense is way more intuitive. You don’t have to make funny hand shapes or stay within a specific zone. I was flailing willy nilly like a drunk Jedi, and the gestures still worked as intended. Plus, I wasn’t limited to a handful of shortcuts or functions that needed to be pre-configured in my settings. Another neat thing was that I didn’t have to have the music app front-and-centre to swipe through a playlist. Waving hello to a Pokémon character on my wallpaper is objectively stupid. But it’s also the sort of cute, frivolous fun that happens to showcase how little you have to think about using the gestures. If you wave to the Pokémon, it waves back at you in real-time. I’m sure that’ll eventually get old, but in the moment, it feels natural.
I could actually see myself using the Pixel 4's gestures in my day-to-day, either while driving, folding laundry, or cooking. Meanwhile, I was ready to give up on the G8's Air Motions ever working in just a few seconds. Sure, the Pixel 4's gestures are still kinda gimmicky – but I’ll take a gimmick that actually works over one that leaves me wanting to pull my hair out.