How to use gesture navigation in Android 10, or how to turn it off

The latest version of Google’s mobile operating system, Android 10, comes with a lot of great new features. Gesture navigation — which uses swipes and other actions to control your phone, rather than tapping on buttons — has become a universal mode of navigation on modern phones. In Android 10, Google has put the final touches to its gesture controls, ditching the last few soft keys, and creating a system more like the gesture navigation in Apple’s iOS.

Like taking off the last training wheel, the new gestures may require a bit of practice and muscle memory to nail down. We’re here to break down all the latest changes so you’re able to swipe, drag, and navigate swiftly through your Android device in no time.

How to turn on gesture navigation

Whether you want to test out the new navigation controls or swap back to a tried-and-tested method, you’ll need to know how to change your navigation method. To swap between navigation methods, head to your Settings app, then tap System > Gestures > System navigation. You’ll be faced with three options:

  • 3-button navigation is the traditional Android navigation system, with a back, Home, and switch apps button at the bottom of the screen.
  • 2-button navigation is the gesture navigation introduced in Android 9.0 Pie, with the swipe-able pill-shaped Home button and a separate back button.
  • At the top of the list is Gesture Navigation — Android 10’s new system. Tap this option to turn it on. To turn it back off, just tap one of the other options in the same menu.

How to use Android 10’s gesture navigation

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

So you’ve decided to try out the new gesture navigation method, but all of your familiar buttons have disappeared, and you have no idea how to control your phone anymore. Don’t worry, we’ve collated all the useful gestures you need to know.

Returning to the home page in Android 10

Going back to the home page is one of the most crucial abilities on a phone, but doing so without a home button seems impossible. To go home, place your finger at the bottom of your screen — near the thin bar — and swipe up until the open app disappears.

Going back in Android 10

Like going home, you might assume going back is harder without a back button — but that’s also not the case. To go back, just drag from either the right or left of your screen to pull out the back arrow icon, and release to go back. You can do this from almost any point on the left or right side of your screen, making it perfect for larger screens.

If the sensitivity of the back function doesn’t feel quite right to you — whether it’s triggering too easily, or barely at all — then you can change the setting’s sensitivity. Just head to Settings > System > Gestures > System navigation, and tap the cogwheel to right of the Gesture navigation to alter the sensitivity. Be aware that higher sensitivities will make it harder to swipe through galleries of photos, so we recommend erring on the side of caution.

How to open the recent apps list in Android 10

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Like Android 9.0 Pie’s gestures, accessing the recent apps list is tied to a similar gesture as your home gesture — though it’s slightly different this time. To access your recent apps list, slide up from the bottom of your screen, but don’t swipe all the way up. Instead, pause anywhere on the screen before completing your swipe, and you’ll see the edge of your latest app pop into view. Lift your finger off the screen, and your recent apps will pop into view. Swipe left and right to navigate the list, swipe up to close apps, and tap to open an app.

There’s one final way to swap between apps you should know about. To quickly swap to your last-used app, swipe from the left to the right on the bar at the bottom of the screen.

Activating the Google Assistant in Android 10

Android 10 Assistant Navigation
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In older versions of Android, accessing the Google Assistant without saying “okay Google” was easily done by holding down the home key. Now, Android 10 has ditched the home key, so has that functionality disappeared? Thankfully not. Instead, there’s now a Google search bar at the bottom of the homepage. To activate Google Assistant, just tap the icon to the right of the search bar.

Android 10 on the Pixel phones has the search bar by default, but that doesn’t mean other manufacturers will, so there’s another way to access the Assistant. Place your finger on one of the bottom corners of your screen and drag it away diagonally towards the center. This is definitely a trickier gesture to master, as it rests in between the home gesture and the recent app swap gesture. Swipe too far upwards and you’ll go back to your home page, while if you drag too flat then you’re likely to open your last app. The sweet spot is around the 45-degree angle away from the corner. You’ll know you’ve got it right when you see the Assistant’s multi-colored lines appear at the bottom of your screen.

It’s a bit of a puzzle as to why Google decided this gesture was the best possible gesture for activating the Assistant, and it’s hard to see how many would discover this. Still, now you know.

Rotating the screen in Android 10

This isn’t a traditional entry in the list of navigational controls, but since Android 9.0 Pie you’ve been able to manually rotate the screen from your navigation bar. Turning off auto-rotate and relying on manual rotation may seem odd, but it’s extremely useful if you’ve ever used your phone while lying on your side in bed. With automatic rotation, your phone rotates as soon as you’re horizontal, and that’s just annoying. It’s so much easier to just tell your phone when you want it to rotate.

To turn off automatic rotation of your screen, pull down your notification shade and access your quick settings panel, then tap the Auto-rotate button to turn it off. Now, whenever you want to rotate your screen, turn your phone to the desired orientation, then tap the small rotate button that appears in the bottom-right corner.

How to open split-screen mode

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To start split-screen mode, open one of the apps you would like to open in split-screen. Then flick up to open your recent apps list. Tap on an app’s icon at the top of its screen, and select Split screen. That app will then zoom to the top of your display. Below it, your recent apps list will stay open so that you can scroll through the list to select another app for split-screen mode. Or, if you prefer, you can go back to your home page and choose another app from your app drawer.

You can now use both of these windows separately, and if you decide you need more room on one, it’s not a problem. You can just drag the separating line between the screens to expand the space allowed for either app. To close one of the screens, all you have to do is pull the line fully to one edge or the other, closing off the app that you don’t need anymore. 

If you want to get rid of split screen mode, tap Apps from your home screen. Select Settings, and choose Multi window. Tap the switch to turn the function on or off. Hit the Home button to go back to your Home screen.

Finally, Google has added a gesture navigation layout for Android that rivals that of Apple’s iOS. Whether you’re a transplant from iOS or are a diehard Android user, the latest release is an impressive installment with plenty of fun features. Sure, there’s a lot to learn, but navigating the gestures allows you to take advantage of useful features that you otherwise might have forgotten about on your Android device. We have to admit, the trickiest part might be remembering which gesture accomplishes what action — but we’re happy to continue practicing our swiping and dragging skills.

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