The way that you get around Google-powered phones is changing, with Android 10 ushering in a new button-less, iPhone-esque gestures approach for going back, going home, and bringing up recent apps with swipes. Fortunately if you don’t like this evolution in Android navigation, you do have options for changing it.
Google is leading the way with the gesture-first approach to Android navigation—fewer on-screen buttons means more room for apps, photos, movies, webpages, and everything else you might want to look at on your phone. The Pixel 4 phones come with gesture navigation by default: Swipe up to go home, swipe in from the left or right to go back, and swipe up and hold to see recent apps.
On the latest version of Android 10 pushed out for Pixel phones, you can customise how you get around the operating system by opening up Settings, then choosing System and Gestures. Besides setting options like Active Edge (where you squeeze the phone to launch Google Assistant), you can pick System Navigation to set the gesture controls.
Tap the cog icon next to Gesture navigation to tweak the sensitivity of the gestures we mentioned above (you can’t actually modify them without a third-party app). Select 3-button navigation if you want to go back to the traditional way of getting around Android, with Back, Home, and Recents buttons along the bottom of the screen.
If you’re running Android on a Samsung phone, it works slightly differently, with three options to pick from: The old three-button approach, the new Android 10 gesture approach, and the previous Android 9 Samsung approach, where the three buttons are replaced by three zones where you can swipe up from the bottom of the screen.
To make your choice, if Android 10 and One UI 2.0 have reached your Samsung phone, you need to go into Settings and choose Display then Navigation bar. Each of the three options is shown clearly on screen, so you know what you’re dealing with, and as is usual with Samsung, if you go for the buttons then you can change their order on the screen.
If you’re still on Android 9 on your Samsung device (which a lot of people will be at the time of writing), when you head into the Navigation bar menu you’re going to see two options—Navigation buttons and Full screen gestures. Again, you can make changes to the button order if you need to, using the panel underneath.
Unfortunately, the Field Guide phone supply isn’t robust enough for us to be able to show you the gesture customisation process on every single flavour of Android on every single brand of phone., but we can at least also show you how it works on OxygenOS from OnePlus (an Android OS that’s actually better than Google’s own efforts in some areas).
From Settings, open up Buttons & gestures then Navigation bar & gestures. Your two choices (as long as you’re on the latest Android 10 release of OxygenOS) are Back, Home, Recents (the traditional three-button approach) and Navigation gestures (the new method Google is pushing with the latest version of Android.
If you pick the button approach, OxygenOS shows some additional settings for changing the button order, configuring how double-taps on the buttons work, and so on. If you choose to use gestures, meanwhile, you get the option of showing or hiding a small bar at the bottom of the screen, which you can swipe to jump backward and forwards through your recent apps list.
Android apps can get their hooks much deeper into the phone OS than iOS apps can, which is why you’ll find third-party apps for tweaking the gesture controls on Android, but none in the App Store for the iPhone. That might be a plus or a negative for Android, depending on your view.
The freemium Navigation Gestures lets you get gestures on older phones that aren’t running on Android 10, and lets you customise the gestures too—so you can have a swipe launch the Google Assistant or return you to the app you were using last, for example. There’s also the option of a pill-shaped iPhone-style Home bar, if you want it, as there is in OxygenOS from OnePlus.
Full Screen Gestures is another freemium app which runs along similar lines, though it offers even more ways to customise the gestures you’re using, once you’ve enabled them (some of them require an in-app payment). Again, the idea is to bring gestures to phones without Android 10, but you can also use it to customise the gestures on an Android 10 device.