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android gestures In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy there’s a scene where Zaphod tries to listen to the radio, but radios have got so sophisticated over the years that they’re now tuned using gentle hand-waving motions. So all you need to do to mess up the tuning is just to throw a pencil right in front of the radio, which is what, of course, ends up happening.

Prox for Android lets you do pretty much the same thing, but it actually works. You gently tilt your device to one side, wave your hand over it, and the Messaging app opens. Tilt it to another side, wave again, and the browser launches. You can also open and close the notification bar with a simple wave of the hand. It definitely adds a bit of dramatic flair to the Android experience, and makes the whole thing feel vaguely magical (or a bit silly, if you’re using it in public).

Make Sure Your Phone Is Compatible

I’ve had Prox on my wishlist for a while now; sadly, I was stuck using an Acer Liquid E. While it’s a nice device, Acer tried to reduce the price as much as it could, and integrated the proximity and ambient light sensors. So while this combined sensor is good enough for shutting the display off when you put it near your face (the proximity sensor’s main job in life), it doesn’t cut the mustard for Prox. Prox is a paid app ($1.50), but the developer was kind enough to publish a free version that helps you check if Prox works on your phone without being pressed for time by the Market’s annoying 15-minute refund policy.

So first things first: install the free version and play with it. It doesn’t do very much; you can use it to open and close the notification bar, launch the browser and the dialer, and go to the home screen – all with a single wave of the hand while the device is tilted. If this happens to be exactly what you want to do with Prox, you’re done. You can just keep using the free version indefinitely.

If you desire a bit more power and customization options, and Prox Free works on your phone, then you should go ahead and plunk down a buck fifty for Prox Pro. That’s what I did, and I will now take you on a quick tour of the Pro version, powered by my awesome new Galaxy S.

What Prox Pro Is Like

The first thing you’ll see is a short introduction text:

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android gestures

Do take a moment to read it; Prox is innovative, and you might need a little bit of help getting up to speed.

Prox works using a service that runs in the background, so you’ll need to tap the large START button to load it up:

control android

I like that starting the service is an explicit operation, and not something that “just happens” when I run the app. This way, if Prox is giving me some trouble or I just want to disable it for a while (for example, when a child is playing with the phone), I can just run Prox and tap the STOP button, rather than use a third-party tool to forcibly kill it.

Half the screen is dedicated to “loadouts”. There are only five possible ways to tilt your phone: Left, right, forward, flat and away. Loadouts are used to have Prox do more than just five actions. You can configure each loadout with several actions, and then switch between them using Prox (tilt your phone away and swipe over the proximity sensor).

Let’s look at the list of possible actions:

control android

It doesn’t look like much, but Launch Application lets you start just about any app on your phone. One action that’s missing is “Trigger Shortcut“, which would let you access specific operations within applications; I hope the developer adds this in the future.

Learning To Tilt Your Phone

Using Prox may take a bit of practice: You may think you’re tilting your phone to the left, while Prox actually thinks you’re tilting it forward (because you are doing that, too). Prox’s Tilt Values option lets you look at the app’s innards and understand what the app is thinking you’re doing with your phone:

android gestures

With this screen, you can play around with the phone a little bit and see the readings, and actually learn to hold it “better”, or at least in a way that’s easier for Prox to understand. I didn’t have trouble with this, but a friend of mine did, and this screen can help.

Weaknesses

Prox is a very impressive app, but there are a few things you should know before installing. Documentation does exist, including a nice YouTube demo, but it’s not comprehensive.

Specifically, there’s no way to edit the default layout, and I couldn’t find the actions linked to it, so I had to figure it out by trial and error. It turns out that one of the actions (tilt right) is “disable Prox”. That makes sense, but unfortunately, once disabled using this action, Prox has trouble starting back up. Tapping the Start button starts the service and it’s immediately stopped again. The only way to solve this was to force-close the app and try again. This is definitely a bug, but it’s the only one I’ve come across during my time with the app.

Bottom Line

It’s apps like Prox that make me love Android. The unfettered access developers have to the hardware allows them to do all sorts of crazy and innovative things. Prox is one of the coolest and most interesting apps I’ve seen in a while, and I will certainly be adding it to my daily repertoire.

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