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Pixel 4 rumors are heating up: motion sensing and a square camera bump

Google has been releasing Pixel phones in October for three years now, and so we’re expecting a Pixel 4 and a Pixel 4 XL this October too. Like clockwork, the leaks have begun, though at this early date it’s a little hard to nail down precise details with confidence. Still, there are a few pieces of information worth looking at, if only because the first set of rumors is plausible and the second set is weird — weird enough to be true.

First, we have the traditional first leak for any phone: supposed cases and renders. The renders come from Pricebaba (by way of OnLeaks) and show a classic black slab that breaks a bit from Google’s traditional design language. First, it doesn’t seem to have a fingerprint sensor on the back. Second, while there is a speaker on the top, there isn’t the traditional stereo speaker on the bottom. Third, it has a big ol’ square camera bump.

Things to note about this “leak”:

  1. We haven’t seen previous leaks from Pricebaba, but the retweet from OnLeaks gives it a patina of reliability.
  2. The square camera bump, if it’s accurate, is going to cause all sorts of silly fights between iPhone and Android partisans, as the iPhone 11 is rumored to have nearly an identical bump with multiple cameras in it.
  3. The lack of a fingerprint sensor is not surprising, but it’s not clear if that means the Pixel 4 will move to some sort of facial recognition or an in-screen fingerprint sensor. Let’s hope that Google doesn’t follow Samsung’s “all of the above” playbook.

Today, Unbox Therapy posted a video of a hunk of metal that they report is the mock up a manufacturer would use to make cases. You can watch it below:

Unbox Therapy’s Lewis Hilsenteger says he expects there to be two rear-facing cameras (another first for Google) along with a “spectral sensor,” which Google used on the Pixel 3 to make sure it handles light flicker when, say, recording LCD screens. He also says that there will be no notch in the screen, rather a large bezel with five different “imaging units” inside it.

Then there’s the weird rumor: Project Soli, one of the futuristic projects that Google has been working on inside its ATAP division. Soli is a motion sensing technology that uses radar to detect tiny hand or finger movements in 3D space with millimeter-level accuracy. I last got to try Project Soli way back in 2016, when I used prototypes in a smartwatch and a speaker:

Lots of ATAP projects have come to naught, and to be honest I assumed the same thing would happen to Soli. Although the division successfully shipped its Jacquard smart jacket, we haven’t heard a ton about Soli recently — aside from a confirmation of continued research into the tech earlier this year.

The reason we’re talking about Soli at all is that there are a pair of rumors that suggest that it could be built into the Pixel 4 and could be used as some sort of control interface. 9to5Google reported on that possibility earlier today, writing “Specifically, we’ve heard that the Soli radar chip is integrated in the Google Pixel 4.”

That shook the tree, because XDA Developers followed up with some details it found inside the beta version of Android Q that pointed a mysterious new Pixel-specific feature called an “aware sensor”. XDA writes: “Within the Settings APK, Google has added multiple classes to determine whether to show or hide any settings related to the `Aware` sensor.” It adds that there is also code for “skip” and “silence,” which points to possible media playback controls.

We’ve seen gesture control on Android phones before, but it’s been pretty rough stuff. Utilizing Project Soli’s radar to allow for more fine-grained control could theoretically make it a much better experience.

Will any of this pan out? Maybe! When it comes to rumors, you often end up waiting to see if they truly corroborate each other or if they’re simply based on the same initial discovery. It’s possible that someone tipped off 9to5Google after seeing the code that XDA Developers found, but right now it looks more like corroboration.

Perhaps more importantly, all these rumors seem plausible. Google’s Pixel hardware hasn’t done a lot to truly differentiate itself, and a good motion sensor could potentially do that. Google also needs to do something besides slapping a fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone again, because the rest of the phone world has already moved beyond that.

I’d tell you that you’ll just need to wait until October to know the truth of it all, but the actual truth is that we’re likely to see a lot more rumors in the coming months. Heck, if history is any guide, Google will end up accidentally selling some of these things to somebody ahead of the official release.


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