Getting around Android sure ain’t what it used to be.
Google’s made some serious changes to the Android navigation experience over the past few years, going from the old-style three-button setup to a somewhat clunky early gesture model in Android 9, then a whole other new gesture system in Android 10, and then finally a slightly refined version of that same gesture model with this year’s Android 11 release.
It’s enough to make anyone’s head spin — and whether you’re a card-carrying Android nerd (hiya!) or someone who’s just reluctantly trying to figure out the ins and outs of your phone’s ever-evolving navigation system, there’s almost certainly more you could be doing to make the most of Android’s current arrangement.
I’ve been fiddling around obsessively with Android gestures for years now, and along the way, I’ve stumbled onto some pretty helpful tricks for tapping into their many layers and hidden possibilities. So crack those phalanges and do some gentle thumb stretching: Here are 10 tricks I’ve uncovered that’ll let you move around your phone like a pro.
(Note that these tips apply specifically to Google’s current Android gesture system — the one included with Android 10 and Android 11, which is identifiable by its thin line (not a pill-shaped button!) and a lack of any other icons along the bottom of the screen. If you’re using a phone that came out before Android 10 was released, you may have to adjust your system settings to bump up to this newer standard. Search your settings for “navigation” to find the option; on devices using something close to Google’s version of Android, it’ll be called “System Navigation,” while on Samsung phones, it’ll be “Navigation Type.”)
1. Learn a new app menu gesture
All right, first things first: One of the most frustrating flaws with Android’s current gesture setup is the way the universal Back gesture — where you swipe in from the left side of the screen — overlaps with other actions already present throughout the operating system.
The most common conflict is with the gesture for opening a drawer-style menu within an app, like what you see within Gmail or Google Drive. Google created an awkward mechanism for differentiating between swipes meant for going back and swipes meant for opening an app menu, but it’s clunky, inconsistent, and generally just too unpredictable to rely on.
So here’s the better way: When you want to open an app’s menu drawer, swipe in downward from the left side of the screen at a 45-degree angle. That’ll consistently pull up the app’s menu instead of activating the Back command, as frequently happens when you swipe across in a horizontal line.
Another option worth remembering: You can also swipe in with two fingers together to open an app’s menu every time. Or, of course, you can simply tap the three-line menu icon in the app’s upper-right corner instead of swiping at all.
2. Remember that the Back gesture actually works in two places
If you’re anything like me, you probably think of the Android Back gesture as living on the left side of your screen — but don’t forget: You can swipe your finger in from the right side of the screen, too, and accomplish the exact same result.
Strange as that redundancy may seem on the surface, the idea is to make the Back gesture convenient and comfortable to access no matter how you like to hold your phone. So if you’re more of a right-hand-holder, stop reaching across the entire device and try swiping in from the right side of the screen instead for an easier and more natural-feeling experience.
3. Don’t forget about the universal Assistant gestures
One of the most easily overlooked options in Google’s Android’s gesture setup is the Assistant-opening command, which actually works from anywhere in the operating system — regardless of whether you’re on your home screen or using an app.
This gesture, too, works in two different ways: by swiping upward at a diagonal from the lower-left corner of the screen or by doing the same thing from the lower-right corner. The lower-left corner seems to be the spot I veer to by default, but I’ve found the Assistant-opening command is actually more consistent and easier to access via the lower-right corner swipe-up option.
Unlike its left-living equivalent, the right-dwelling Assistant gesture doesn’t overlap with other common system actions (like that pesky app-menu opening command) and is basically guaranteed to work on your first try every time.
4. Master the Overview-opening timing
Android’s gestures make the Overview screen — that area of the software where you can see all of your recently used apps and move quickly between ’em — a little less accessible than it used to be. But the Overview screen is actually still pretty easy to pull up, if you take the time to practice and master the associated gesture.
The trick is to swipe up in a straight line from the bottom of the screen and then stop and lift your finger quickly after about an inch — right where the top of the shaded card with the search box and app suggestions appears in Android 10, as illustrated here with Google’s implementation:
You don’t have that same visual cue in Android 11 or in certain non-Google versions of Android, but the optimal stopping point is still the same — about an inch from the bottom of your screen.
If you do that enough times, you’ll get a feel for exactly where you need to stop, and you’ll be able to open your Overview area quickly and consistently, without fail.
5. Tap into Overview’s hidden swipe option
Make yourself a mental note: Once you’re in the Overview area, you can tap on any app’s card to open it — or, in what I find to be a faster and more natural-feeling move, you can swipe down on the card to accomplish the same thing. That way, you go from the quick swipe up to open Overview (and perhaps a short swipe over to find the card you want) right into another similar swipe gesture.
6. Don’t overlook Overview’s other card-swiping possibility
In addition to being able to swipe down on an app to open it from Overview, you can swipe up on any Overview card to dismiss it entirely out of view. Contrary to common belief, there’s really no real performance-related benefit to doing that — this isn’t Windows we’re talkin’ about, after all — but it can still be a satisfying way to clear out clutter and increase your efficiency, especially if you encounter an app in your list that you know you won’t be going back to anytime soon.
7. Swipe through apps in Overview the secret way
Another hidden Overview trick: While looking at your list of recently used apps, in addition to swiping directly along the cards themselves, you can swipe on the bottom navigation bar to move through your apps and find the one you want. A gentle, short swipe will move left or right one app at a time — while a harder, longer swipe (ooh, baby) will quickly move you from the start of the list to the end.
You can also achieve a similar super-speed fly-through effect by swiping forcefully on the cards themselves in that environment, if you’d rather.
8. Head home from Overview in a hurry
If you open your Overview screen and then decide not to move to another app, there’s a hidden shortcut for going back to your home screen in a jiff — at least, in Google’s own Android implementation: With Android 10, just swipe down on the shaded card with the search bar and suggested apps or tap the upward-facing arrow in that same shaded area.
With Android 11, you can tap on the blank area between the app card and the “Screenshot” and “Select” options to accomplish the same thing.
Samsung’s version of Android, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to have any real equivalent.
9. Swipe between apps in a smarter manner
One of Android’s most baffling gestures, if you ask me, is the command to swipe in either direction on that bottom-of-screen bar and move backwards or forwards in some sort of hypothetical “app continuum.” It’s a concept borrowed directly from iOS, and as is often the case with such instances of overt Apple borrowing, it’s one of the worst parts of Google’s setup.
The problem is that no normal person is ever gonna remember exactly what order their recently opened apps appear in — and so more often than not, you end up flipping blindly and hoping you eventually land on the app you want. It just isn’t an effective way of getting around, and it usually ends up requiring you to go through several recent programs before actually stumbling onto the right one.
Here’s a smarter way to use that gesture: Instead of just swiping left or right on that bottom bar, swipe and move your finger up at the same time. That’ll let you see previews of the apps in either direction and then intelligently decide if the one you want is there before just automatically opening it — kind of like a hybrid of the fast-swipe and the full Overview interface.
The higher you move your finger, the smaller the previews will appear and the more of ’em you can see at once — an effect that’s particularly prominent in Android 10:
When you find the app you want in the list, just slide your finger back down to the bottom of the screen — without ever lifting from the previous motion — to open it.
10. Embrace the new ‘Alt-Tab’ shortcut
Speaking of that bottom bar, that same area of the Android gesture interface can really come in handy when you want to jump back directly to the last app you used — something that, unlike that wacky continuum concept, actually is pretty easy to keep track of in your mind.
All you’ve gotta do is flick the bottom-of-screen bar to the right to open your most recently used app. It’ll work whether you’re in another app or on your home screen, even.
Here’s where things get slightly funky, though: You’d think you could then flick the bar to the left to go back to where you came from, right? Kind of like a back-and-forward sort of command? Well, you can — but only for a very limited amount of time. If you fast-flip to your most recently app and then want to go back where you came from within about five seconds, you can flick the bottom-of-screen bar to the left to go back.
After about five seconds, though, that app will change positions in that confusing-as-hell continuum (there it is again!) and move from the right of your current app to its left — meaning that if more than five seconds have passed, you’ll need to flick the bottom-of-screen bar to the right to go back.
It’s a bewildering system, without a doubt, but once you internalize that little distinction, it’s reasonably easy to take advantage of and use.
And with that, my friend, congratulations are in order: You’re officially now an Android gesture master. Well-done, you nimble little mammal. You deserve a swipe on the back.
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