You Can Pause Music With Google’s Motion Sense – But It Doesn’t Work All That Well

Google Motion Sense
Google Motion Sense lets you control the music on your phone with gestures – when it works.

Google’s tricky Motion Sensing radar can now see your hand hovering above your Pixel 4 phone and pause your music on command. It does work – sort of – but it’s still very much in the “party trick” school of mobile phone gimmicks.

One of the key new features Google was very keen to promote with the Pixel 4 when it launched last year was Motion Sense. Coming out of Google’s “Project Soli“, Motion Sense uses a radar sensor in the top of each Pixel 4 or Pixel 4XL to detect hand motions and operate your phone without actually touching it.

In an age of the COVID-19 coronavirus, not actually touching your phone might be quite the smart idea, but at launch Motion Sense was limited to just a few key functions that you had to actively enable to get working.

You could swipe left or right to skip forwards or backwards, or use the same basic gesture to silence your Pixel 4 entirely if no music was playing… and that was about it.

As part of the feature drop that also included adding crash detection for Australian Pixel phones, Google’s also enabled the ability to play or pause music by hovering your hand over the Pixel 4’s Motion Sense lens.

You’re quite literally telling your phone to talk (or in this case sing) to the hand… at least in theory.

I’ve spent the morning playing around with Motion Sense’s new play/pause functionality – this is clearly a gruelling job – with, to be entirely honest, mixed results.

That’s very much been the story of Motion Sense in my experience; while Gizmodo US found it accurate around 9 times out of 10 at launch, my own track record would put it at more of a 50/50 bet.

Adding a new gesture to the mix only really complicates matters, although you can opt to enable single features. I had play/pause and track skipping both enabled, because who wouldn’t really want that to work if it was going to?

There is something cool in a “hey, watch this!” kind of way in making your phone pause When Doves Cry by hovering your hand above it, but it’s equally frustrating (and a tad embarrassing) when your magic trick doesn’t work.

Motion Sense seems to be more “aware” of pause requests, but when it comes to getting Prince kickstarted again, the Pixel 4 generally didn’t want to play nice.

Naturally, I could always get him singing again by actually tapping the screen like some kind of primitive ape man, but where’s the fun in that?

It’s also noticeably better and more accurate if you happen to be holding the phone in your hand at the time.

In handheld mode my accuracy of not-taps jumped up a lot, whereas when I have the Pixel 4 on my desk, it often either refused to recognise my hand coming in to pause or play, or interpreted its movement as a swipe, swinging either back or forwards through my playlist. I do like me some Raspberry Beret, but I’d rather finish my song first, Google.

The technology in Motion Sense is cool as hell, and it’s great that Google (unlike many phone manufacturers) is continuing to add new features to it. However, it’s still pretty much just a gimmick; while touching my mobile screen is a low-tech experience, it’s still a more reliable way for me to get my daily music fix.