What makes a phone buzz? Google's new tech vs Apple's Taptic Engine and the rest


One of the big idiosyncrasies of today's smartphones, and one that is rarely discussed, is how each model vibrates in its own, distinctive way when ringing or receiving notifications. Each phone feels and sounds different when buzzing in your hand or pocket, or when left on a hard flat surface, such as the desk at your office. This, of course, comes down partially to their structural features — both interior and exterior — the materials used in the build and how well put together the whole thing is. These factors, combined with the specifics of the feedback source — that surprisingly small motor inside your phone — can be the difference between getting annoyed looks from your coworkers when your phone begins its short, vibrant stroll around your desk for the fiftieth time that day (thus forcing you to keep it on a pad of post-it notes), and nobody ever noticing its quiet buzz.

Up until now, the haptic feedback of most phones was handled by either a rotary motor with an off-balanced weight, or more recently, a coin vibration motor (a.k.a pancake motor). With Apple's introduction of the Taptic Engine, however, things are likely to change a bit in the near future. Designed to bridge the digital-physical divide, the Taptic Engine is capable of replicating tactile sensations unlike any other device of its kind, such as providing feedback with varying levels of intensity when using Force Touch, or even simulating motion when pressing iPhone 7's new solid-state home button. It is also responsible for syncing the iPhone 7's vibration patterns to the ringtone, as well as for the overall solid feel of the phone's haptic feedback.

We are now getting our first glimpse at what exactly is driving the feedback system inside the Google Pixel and Pixel XL. Similar to the Taptic Engine, it is a linear actutator, although much smaller in size, that makes the Pixel phones buzz. In the video below, you will see the two devices in motion, and how the Taptic Engine relies on shorter, more precise movements, while the smaller motor in Google's phone sways side to side more aggressively and with greater rapidity. Still, the Pixel and Pixel XL pack some of the better motors out there, making the phones' haptic feedback well-pronounced and solid, while keeping it quiet and unobtrusive at the same time. In terms of precision, however, it has a lot of catching up to do.

FEATURED VIDEO

19 Comments

1. Tyrion_Lannister unregistered

Samsung phones are also using linear motors for quite a while now. They are much better than the rotational ones found in most phones. A lighter load on spring will have more and faster harmonic motions and hence will provide worse feedback in general. That's where iPhone's taptic engine beats the others. It's just a higher quality, bigger and heavier load, hence better. However, the one on the iPhone is not nearly as good as the one on the macbooks. On a newer macbook, you get a click exactly where you press. Also it's a uniform press and a more believable experience. Off-topic: I'm back.

2. gauravbhakuni90

Posts: 28; Member since: Oct 29, 2013

I have been a silent reader on this site for quite some time now ..... You and some more users know what they are talking about when they tech talk not about some particular brands but tech in general and it has helped me to get some new information . BTW aren't you using Harambe account ...I thought that was you .

6. Tyrion_Lannister unregistered

I meant by this account. This is the classic account which I have used for more than a year.

16. sgodsell

Posts: 7579; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

This article is just crap. Let's get real. Vibrations and especially the amount, or type of vibrations are totally useless if the phone is in you coat, purse, or even in your pants pocket. You will definitely loose some of those vibrations. Especially when other materials in your clothing can dampen those vibrations. No matter how good the phone can make them. What is more important is what the phone and software can do.

4. Nathan_ingx

Posts: 4769; Member since: Mar 07, 2012

Off-topic. Welcome back. Good to see you.

8. zeeBomb

Posts: 2318; Member since: Aug 14, 2014

Omg The legend Is back. The Lannister have sent their regards!

15. rick_mobile

Posts: 359; Member since: Dec 13, 2010

I would have assumed that a ligther load would allow for higher oscillating frequencies. Since the motor in the pixel can be more precise I think it can be more seameless and more acute feedback. I have tried the iphone 7and it disperses the vibration through a larger surface area but it feels slugish to me. I havent tried the pixel but im assuming is very sibtle and precise, unless they're feeding it too much current.

19. Tyrion_Lannister unregistered

Higher oscillating frequencies result in lower quality feedback because it takes longer to dampen, hence taking longer to end the vibration making it less precise.

3. dimas

Posts: 3419; Member since: Jul 22, 2014

I don't mean to be a party pooper but does having distinct vibrations really matter? I used macs, iphones and androids and they're just simple vibrations to me.

5. Nathan_ingx

Posts: 4769; Member since: Mar 07, 2012

Feel it bro, with every inch of your skin. Feel it and let it take you to vibra-nation.

14. 47AlphaTango

Posts: 739; Member since: Sep 27, 2015

It depends on ladies reaction when using the vibration. For what I've know. The greater the vibrations, the better it feels.

7. TrackPhoneUser

Posts: 256; Member since: Oct 21, 2015

Now apply this to a vibrator

9. dimas

Posts: 3419; Member since: Jul 22, 2014

With taptic engine? That would be iVibe with force touch feature.

10. Valdomero

Posts: 704; Member since: Nov 13, 2012

The deeper you go the harder it vibrates

12. steodoreben

Posts: 379; Member since: Sep 26, 2013

ewww. JK. I thought you're thinking something other than smartphones.

11. NarutoKage14

Posts: 1347; Member since: Aug 31, 2016

I always turn off feedback though. It saves a little battery throughout the day and I generally don't like it. I find the feedback for the iPhone 7 home button rather weird. Can't they just give us switches like in mechanical keyboards?

18. joey_sfb

Posts: 6794; Member since: Mar 29, 2012

I don't like the feeling of vibration on a glass so that the first thing I do when I receive my new smartphone.

13. Unordinary unregistered

No phone vibrator on the market compares to the motor and software on the iPhone 7.

17. CreeDiddy

Posts: 2275; Member since: Nov 04, 2011

I have to admit that the taptic engine is very slick. No need to have a home button. Also the added vibration adds to the user experience very subtle, but yet smooth.

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