A Pixel 4 teardown reveals just how small Google’s Soli radar system is

Google used its recent Made by Google event to launch, among other things, its radar-equipped Pixel 4 smartphone. The team at the iFixit has taken the Pixel 4 apart and were amazed by just how tiny the Soli radar chip is.
Google's Soli radar chip senses your gestures
Google’s Soli radar chip senses your gestures Photo: Google

Gimmok or here to stay?

It sounds like a solution looking for a problem, which is sort of true. Google calls its system Motion Sense and the system means that you don’t actually need to touch your Pixel 4 to make it do things.

Instead, you simply wave your hands around and the Pixel 4 reacts to your gestures. In some ways this is a bit like Microsoft’s Kinect although Google claims that because the Pixel 4 uses radar rather than cameras to “see” what you’re doing, there are fewer privacy concerns. All of the data collected by Google’s Motion Sense system is stored locally rather than on Google’s servers.

You can snooze the alarm, skips songs or send phone calls from your boss straight to voicemail without having to worry about which button or icon you need to press. It sounds all futuristic and fancy but in reality, the actual implementation falls short. To me, if you have to wave your hand more than once for it to register, it is a hinderance more than anything.

Radar tech like this is impressive in a phone

Mention radar to someone and the first image that comes into their head will be the huge, rotating radar installations that you see at airports.

Pixel 4 teardown showing Soli chip by iFixIt
it amazed the team at ifixit as to how Google managed to fit such an advanced piece of tech into the phone. Photo: ifixit

But in fact, the Soli radar chip in the Pixel 4 is so small that when the iFixit team took a Pixel 4 apart they struggled to find it. In fact, in their article they say that they’re at a loss as to how Google has managed to fit the system into “a tiny rectangle with no moving parts”.

Google’s original radar chip was around 1cm2 in size, so have to reduced the chip’s dimensions even further in a relatively short space of time is an incredible achievement.

The result is a smartphone that is no larger than its competitors. You don’t end up with any weird protruding aerials, either, because the Soli radar chip is hidden away inside the Pixel 4’s case.

What’s the impact on battery life?

Pixel 4 teardown showing battery
The battery is a 3700 mAh cell that is bigger than last but drains quick. Photo: ifixit

Google claims that the Soli radar chip is energy efficient. The problem is that Google’s Motion Sense is running all of the time unless you’ve decided to switch it off. Running radar continuously can’t be helping that in the same way that your smartphone’s battery life won’t be as good if you don’t turn Bluetooth and WiFi off when you’re not using it.

Having said that, Google’s Motion Sense detects when you’re not near your phone and turns off the screen. This seems to be the most successful part of the rader sensor in terms of it happening successfully every time. With the screen being the main issue when it comes to battery life it’s just as well.

In other words, although many people are complaining that the Pixel 4’s battery life is substandard it’s unlikely that the Soli radar chip is the culprit. The feature will of course improve overtime with future Android updates, which is exciting, but time will only tell.

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