I expected to hate the Pixel 4's Motion Sense gestures, but I love them

Motion Sense on the Pixel 4
Motion Sense on the Pixel 4 (Image credit: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

The Pixel 4 was just released to the public on October 24, but even so, the phone's already come under fire for a variety of things. Battery life has been poor, the 90Hz display comes with a ton of weird restrictions, face unlock doesn't work with most apps, and the Motion Sense gestures are pretty much a glorified gimmick.

Today, I want to talk about that last point a little bit more. In spite of all the hate Motion Sense gestures have been getting, I've been genuinely happy with them so far in my experience with the Pixel 4.

Motion Sense gestures are powered by Google's Soli radar system, and right now, it takes the form of three main gestures:

  • Snoozing alarms
  • Silencing incoming phone calls
  • Controlling media playback

That doesn't sound like a lot, and that's because it isn't. And, to be perfectly honest, I've only been taking advantage of the media playback gesture. Even so, I've found it to be incredibly useful with the way I use my phone.

Using Motion Sense to control songs on the Pixel 4

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Here's one example. I listen to music all day long while working — whether I'm in my office or at the local Starbucks. If a song pops up in one of my Spotify playlists that I don't want to listen to, all I need to do is quickly wave my hand over the Pixel 4, the song skips, and I can continue with my work.

My Pixel 4 is always within reach when I'm working, whether it's lying flat on a table or propped up on a wireless charger. Turning on the lock screen and tapping the skip button isn't necessarily difficult, but doing a brief wave over the screen takes a lot less thought and effort.

Motion Sense offers a convenience I don't have with any of my other phones.

Another use case I've found for Motion Sense is with the YouTube app. I prop my phone on the top ledge of my shower every morning I hop into it so I can have some background noise and keep up with my favorite channels. If I'm watching a particularly short video, however, I need to quickly dry off my hands, tap the screen to find the skip controls, and then keep tapping away until I find the next video I want to watch.

With Motion Sense, all I need to do is wave my hand in front of the Pixel 4. It may only be saving me a couple of seconds at the most, but it's still an added convenience that I can't get with my other phones.

Along with those added conveniences, I've kept using Motion Sense because of how well it works. The general consensus online seems to be that the gestures are finicky and hard to pull-off, but at least in my personal experience, they've been fantastic. I have had a few times where my hand isn't picked up, but I'd say that I'm experiencing about a 90% success rate.

Google Pixel 4 XL laying on a table

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

That's not perfect, but it's good enough for me to want to keep using the gestures. Learning how they work doesn't take too long, and after my first couple of tries, Motion Sense started to feel very natural.

At the end of the day, my biggest gripe with Motion Sense is that it doesn't do more. I wish I could use it to play/pause media apps, scroll through Twitter, etc. The Soli radar system is incredibly powerful, and I think we're just seeing the tip of the iceberg for Motion Sense's full potential.

As a first-gen consumer feature, I'm beyond happy with what Google's offering.

How to use Motion Sense on the Pixel 4

Joe Maring

Joe Maring was a Senior Editor for Android Central between 2017 and 2021. You can reach him on Twitter at @JoeMaring1.