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

20 Comments
  • I didn't know Joe Maring liked AJR and Panic! At the Disco.
  • I do — Just saw AJR in concert in Grand Rapids!
  • I would like to add my personal experience to 'The general consensus online seems to be that the gestures are finicky and hard to pull-off, ". Really don't get why pause and play in media would be so hard to implement if snooze and call silencing is offered. Well, the assumption is this will get better...or not, and be deprecated in a revision or two like Apple's force touch.
  • I've had the same feelings. They seem to work as advertised almost every time. If anything, I notice it working too much ie when I'm nerding out playing videogames and watching YouTube on my phone and reach across the table to grab something it'll skip to the next or previous video. And every morning when my alarm goes off and reach to shut that **** down I forget about the motion sense until I'm halfway there and the alarm quiets. It honestly works quite well. And per the other main complaint about the 4 (mine's an XL), the battery, this is LIGHT YEARS better than my 3 XL. I have an iPhone 8 as a work phone that's only two months old and it blows it away. I was at the bar Friday night and on it for a full hour (I don't much like people, just boozing, mind you) and it dropped five percent. Am I the only one with a good unit?
  • Even I don't take my phone in the shower! And I thought I had a problem. Sad news really.
  • I excepted to like them, but hate this gimmick crap
  • I expected very little of them based on the blog reviews...
    Until I rec'd my XL. They work MUCH better and more reliably than I anticipated. So much so that now I'm looking forward to Google's inevitable expansion of it. IMHO a pleasant and unexpected surprise.
  • I am sure its reliable, but it's a gimmick. I am not going to wave my hand in front of the phone. I also dont use any music apps besides TuneIn live radio. I was expecting something out of this world, something they showed in demo, like you can adjust volume we slight finger twist etc. What the have done is pure crap and a waste of resources
  • The gestures are pointless.
  • I hate them and have turned off all that I can. Annoying as hell. Reactivated the bottom button row as well.
  • They will updated over time
  • I seem to have issues with motion gestures when the screen is off/locked (even if ambient is on). Is there a setting I need to fix? Or am I just doing it wrong?
  • If you've never used any kind of motion gestures I understand thinking they just a gimmick but I'm pretty sure anyone who's used a Motorola phone with wave to snooze, silence call ringing, twist for camera, chop for flashlight and other stuff that sounds useless will agree with me that you really miss them when they not there. My personal favourite is (as I still use a 2014 Moto X) being able to wave over my phone to see the time. I admit they do sound gimmicky but once you used to using them they start to become a must have feature rather than a useless gimmick. I still wish Google hadn't sold off Motorola they made great innovative phones and would be great to see what Motorola could have become with Google's backing.
  • I still miss twist for camera and chop for light!
  • Also I don't think any motion gestures will work 100%of the time. I've noticed if the sensor has fingerprints on it it can be bit less accurate but usually fine after a quick wipe.
  • Hmmmm....I have discovered an even more effective and easy way to control my phone. It's so simple.....I touch the screen with a single or even multiple fingers. Try it. You'll be surprised at how simple and effective it is. ;)
  • I agree that some things need interaction with the screen but it doesn't have to be an either/or choice, some things are actually easier with motion gestures, it's about getting the right balance of things that work best using the different ways to interact with your phone. I can't get the hang of swiping my keyboard to write stuff but some folks find it quicker and easier. Thankfully both options are there for people to choose which is best for them. Also there may be times like if your hands are wet or dirty that motions are just better at that time.
  • It's even the little things...
    I keep my phone ringer pretty loud as it's very important to know when I get a call. During the day they're generally work related but in the evenings sometimes not with salespeople and spammers. That loud ring is immediately quieted (not completely turned off) by simply reaching for my phone so I can see who it is without the ringer bothering anyone else in the room. Same with alarms which I sometimes need to set at work for specific timed tasks. Reaching for my phone quiets it. It's another convenience I appreciate. I'll assume once I receive my charging stand it will be even a more positive experience with no need to pick up my phone at all if it's a caller I don't need /want to speak with. Dismissed with a wave.
  • That's the nail on head phrase 'its the little things'. It's not always the groundbreaking amazing breakthroughs in tech that move the goalposts, sometimes it's just little things that make things that bit easier or more convenient and for me that's what motion gestures do. I'm sure there will be more things it's capable of as time goes on. I think the next 'big' thing will be some kind of battery breakthrough where every phone lasts multiple days on a single charge.
  • I love them as well! I have the XL and had the hit and miss problem. After experimenting with it for about an hour I've figured out if you don't start far enough to the the right or left of the screen it won't work properly. Starting outside that soli "bubble" activates it for me now 100% of the time! It's amazing! I constantly stream music and being able to skip tracks like that is just awesomeness.