White elephants in the mist: Google's upcoming Pixel 4A may ship without Soli motion recognition, per FCC filing

Stripping radar-based tech would cut price and allow phone's sale in markets where 60GHz spectrum is restricted

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A new filing by the US Federal Communications Commission suggests the upcoming Google Pixel 4A phone will ditch the Soli gesture-recognition system that featured on its flagship predecessor.

The FCC didn't explicitly name the Pixel 4A, though it's likely this was what "G025J" referred to. Approval from the regulatory body is typically made shortly before commercial release, and the Pixel 4A is widely expected to come out soon, having missed its usual release window earlier this year.

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Unveiled last year, Google's radar-based Project Soli uses millimetre radio signals between the 58GHz and 63.5GHz bands. This powers its Motion Sense technology, which in turn can track hand movements at a seemingly microscopic scale.

So far, the primary use case of Motion Sense has been gesture recognition, with users able to control their Pixel 4 without having to physically handle it. For example, dismissing calls by a flick of the hand. Motion Sense can also silence alarms and control audio playback, and plays a role in the facial-recognition authentication tech found in the Pixel 4.

The FCC filing for the Pixel 4A didn't show it using the Soli frequencies, which is unsurprising considering it's a budget phone. One may expect some corners to be cut to reach its expected sub-£400 price point.

Initial perceptions of Motion Sense were somewhat bemused, with many regarding the tech as somewhat of a white elephant. That said, it does hold promise for small form factors like smartwatches and other wearables, which typically have diminutive screens.

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For phones, it felt out of place. Consequently, it's unlikely many will miss it on the Pixel 4A.

Ditching Soli doesn't merely mean Google will be able to save on component costs. It also allows the Chocolate Factory to sell its latest mass-market blower in countries where the 60GHz spectrum is restricted.

Soli prevented Google from selling the Pixel 4 in India, although it appeared unofficially via third-party importers.

With that problematic radio removed, there's nothing stopping Google from releasing the cheaper Pixel 4A and competing with the giants that dominate the local market: Vivo, OnePlus, Xiaomi, and so on. ®

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