Getting Started with Device Sensors in Android

Blair Fernandes
3 min readMay 14, 2023
Photo by Ana Cruz on Unsplash

Android devices come equipped with a variety of sensors that allow app developers to create innovative and interactive experiences for their users. However, utilizing these sensors effectively can be challenging, especially for those who are new to Android development. In this tutorial, we will explore the various types of sensors available on Android devices and learn how to use them in your apps.

Types of Sensors

Android devices come equipped with a variety of sensors, each with its own unique capabilities and use cases. Some of the most common sensors include:

  1. Accelerometer: Measures the acceleration of the device in three dimensions.
  2. Gyroscope: Measures the rotation of the device in three dimensions.
  3. Magnetometer: Measures the magnetic field around the device in three dimensions.
  4. Proximity Sensor: Detects the presence of nearby objects without physical contact.
  5. Light Sensor: Measures the ambient light levels around the device.

Using Sensors in Your App

To use sensors in your app, you must first obtain a reference to the sensor manager, which is responsible for managing sensor registration and events. You can then use the sensor manager to register your app as a listener for a specific sensor and receive updates whenever the sensor data changes.

For example, to use the accelerometer sensor, you would first obtain a reference to the sensor manager and then use it to register your app as a listener for the accelerometer sensor:

sensorManager = getSystemService(SENSOR_SERVICE) as SensorManager
accelerometer = sensorManager.getDefaultSensor(Sensor.TYPE_ACCELEROMETER)

// Register the sensor listener
sensorManager.registerListener(this, accelerometer, SensorManager.SENSOR_DELAY_NORMAL)

In the above code this refers to the class that has implemented the SensorEventListener interface. In our case it is the MainActivity class. To implement the SensorEventListener interface we need to override two methods: onSensorChanged and onAccuracyChanged.

Once your class is registered as a listener for a specific sensor, you can receive updates in the onSensorChanged() method:

override fun onSensorChanged(event: SensorEvent?) {
if (event?.sensor?.type == Sensor.TYPE_ACCELEROMETER) {
x = event.values[0]
y = event.values[1]
z = event.values[2]
updateTextViews()
}
}

We get the sensor data in the values property of the SensorEvent object. The number of values depends on the sensor you are listening to. In our case its the accelerometer. So we get three values for the three dimensions.

Here we have used the accelerometer sensor but you can use other sensors in a similar way, using the SensorManager and SensorEventListener classes provided by Android.

Best Practices for Using Sensors

While sensors can provide a wealth of information to your app, it’s important to use them wisely to avoid draining the device’s battery or causing unnecessary data usage. Here are some best practices to follow when using sensors in your app:

  1. Use sensor batching to reduce power consumption and improve performance.
  2. Use the appropriate sensor delay for your use case to balance power consumption and responsiveness.
  3. Don’t use sensors unnecessarily, as this can drain the device’s battery.
  4. Respect user privacy by requesting sensor permissions only when necessary and clearly communicating why they are needed.

You can find the complete code demonstrating the use of sensors here.

Conclusion

In this tutorial we saw how to use device sensors in Android app and some of the best practices to do so. By following these best practices and understanding the capabilities of the various sensors available on Android devices, you can create apps that provide rich and interactive experiences for your users. With a little creativity and a solid understanding of how sensors work, the possibilities are endless.

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Blair Fernandes

I am a passionate programmer 💻, geek 🤓 & an avid gamer🎮