Google's new Pixel 4 represents the first time radar appears on any mobile phone. On Pixel 4, it operates a motion sensor that Google uses to operate a series of features, including gestures to control the device hands-free and faster unlocking of the face (but there is a big caveat here). Google aptly calls the Motion Sense sensor.
Telephone manufacturers have been experimenting with motion control for several years and use the camera sensor to know where you are and interpret what it is you want to do hands-free, like swiping photos in a gallery and switching tracks in a music app. Some, like LG G8 have even worked up moving movements to launch certain apps by squeezing the fingers of a bird's beak or adjusting the sound by imitating a twist.
The missing ingredient in these clumsy past tests, at least according to Google, is radar, which the company hopes will make business-friendly quick and convenient to use when it comes to your phone to know where you are.
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Radar is not what makes face unlock work
Before we go into anything else, know that radar is not the same as face unlock. Google Motion Sense understands when you reach for Pixel 4 and brightens the screen, which means your face will be within reach and do the rest. But that's all the radar-powered chip inside. The sensor, which Google calls Soli, doesn't actually scan your mug to make sure you're really you.
Therefore, Google relies on an infrared camera to project dots on the face, just like Apple uses on the iPhone ($ 699 on Amazon) for Face ID. We're not sure how many dots are projected onto your face (we asked), but it's this depth map that does the unlocking itself. Exercise Sense just speeds up the process so you don't have to swipe to unlock the phone, or even pick it up to trigger the raise to wake up.
What Motion Sense does on Pixel 4
Motion Sense can detect your presence if you reach for the phone and gestures that you have decisively swipe left or right with your hand. With Motion Sense enabled you can:
Swipe to move music tracks back and forth, as with the YouTube Music app
Swipe to reject an incoming call or to reject an alarm or timer
Activate Pixel 4 screen to wake when you reach the device (to enable faster unlocking of the face)
Decrease the volume of an alarm or timer when you reach the phone
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How the Radar Works on Pixel 4
Google chose Motion Sense radar, rather than relying on the camera to "see" you because of its longer reach and low power consumption. Radar uses radio waves to sniff out the size, location and proximity to objects. While you can turn off any of the Motion Sense features on Pixel 4 (individually or all together), if Motion Sense is enabled, it will always detect you.
Google says its technology uses a 60 GHz radio frequency, does not travel very far and has met all the necessary security requirements.
The Pixel 4 chip has a 180 degree field of view, which means it has a spatial awareness everywhere in front and away to the sides. As for the depth – how far in front of the phone it feels – a Google representative told me that it sees at least 1.6 inches in front of the phone's face for presence and detects gestures nearly a foot (30 cm) away from the sensor.
Radar and Privacy
To stop privacy concerns over the use of radar in the Pixel 4 phone, Google confirmed at the launch event that all radar data is stored locally on the device and not on Google's servers. Radar is not distinct enough to, for example, get a detailed picture of your hands or face. The Soli sensor is set to look for masses and motion, not humans.
Will Google add more gestures to Motion Sense?
The company keeps quiet about future plans, including whether it will add a radar sensor to the back of the phone. However, one representative said that Google could potentially use Soli's surrounding awareness to increase your productivity on the phone and expand a larger gesture repository.
Will other phones also get radar?
When Google does something, rivals pay attention. Google's Android OS operates about nine out of ten smartphones on the planet, but it's likely that the company wants to keep its Motion Sense and secure face-locking secrets for itself. (It even developed its Titan M chip above Qualcomm's base to add its own security stock.)
That said, it would be easy to see other phone manufacturers both operate a better system of gesture control than using the camera to feel you, as well as the level of secure face locking found in Pixel 4, a feat some have achieved.
There is much more to learn about Pixel 4's specifications, appearance and features including a package of new camera enhancements that promise incredible capacity with low light and how to compare with their biggest competing phones you can buy now. Here is everything that Google announced at this week's event.