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ME4213 Human perception of mobile phone vibration study

David Browne NT090461M


The majority of mobile phones have the ability to be switched into silent mode. On this setting
the phone uses vibration alerts in place of audio alerts. Most phones use an electrically powered
motor with a rotating unbalanced mass to achieve this. The rotating mass induces acceleration
throughout the motor, which is then transferred throughout the phone into vibrations of the
whole phone body which are detectable by the user.

The purpose of this experiment is to investigate what factors influence the perceptibility of a
mobile phones vibration and to indicate some ideal conditions.

Equipment & Method

The basic method of this experiment was to give a vibrating mobile phone to a person and ask
them to rate the percievability of the vibration on a scale of 1 to 5. For this experiment a sample
size of 20 students was. From these 20 students, 5 of their mobile phones were selected for
testing. These were the Apple iPhone 2G, Sony U10i, LGKE850, Nokia 6700 and Nokia 3660
(Fig.6). The human perception of the phones vibration was measured twice; once in the users
hand and once in the user’s pocket.

Prior to the experiment the RMS of the acceleration and the frequency of each phones vibration
was recorded to be used in the analysis of the percievability results.

A number of factors were initially identified which may impact on the percievability of the

- Individual

Each student used their own perception scale to rate the vibration of each mobile phone.
As the scale is approximate it is unlikely to be consistent with other students scale.

Additionally an assumption may be made that the human perception of the vibration is
related to the natural frequency of the user’s body, which is also likely to be inconsistent
between students. This may be related to height, weight, age, gender or clothing.

Another factor related to the student is the gripping force on the phone. However, if this
is kept constant by the student then it will have no effect on the relative scoring on the
percievability scale (Ref. 1).

- Phone

Each phone has a range of factors that may affect perception; Frequency, RMS
Acceleration, Size, Form and Weight. The RMS Acceleration of the phone multiplied by
the Mass can be considered to be the RMS Force exerted on the user.
- Vibration Pattern

The Nokia Research Centre have published a paper studying the effect that varying the
duration of vibration pulses has on the users perception of the vibration. That is, the
frequency of the vibration was held constant, whilst the vibration pulsed on and off in
different durations. The study concluded that the duration of each pulse should be in
the range of 50-200ms (Ref. 2).

This experiment will assume that each individual’s perception scale is consistent throughout the
duration of the experiment and therefore all individuals’ ratings are directly comparable. The
percievability of a phone will be found by taking the mean rating given to it across the 20
individuals. Due to the scale of the experiment, the vibration pattern factor will also be
neglected. This is because in this experiment real phone models are being used and so there is
not an option to keep this factor constant across the range of phones.


The results of the experiment are first analysed by considering each factor individually:

From Fig.1 it can be seen that the two phones with the highest mean perception rating (MPR) –
the LG and iPhone – both vibrate at a similar frequency; 172Hz and 180Hz. Across the three
other frequencies of vibration the MPR’s are all low. The high MPR’s of the LG and iPhone are
unlikely to be solely due to the frequency of the vibration as the Nokia 6700 which also has a
similar frequency of 184Hz has a far lower MPR.

The force exerted by the phone should correspond to the frequency of vibration according to
the graph shown in Fig.4.

Fig.2 shows no clear correlation between the RMS force exerted by the phone and the user’s
perception. The iPhone and LG which vibrate at a similar frequency and have similar perception
ratings exert a force with a difference factor of 4.6.


Fig.3 claims that a human hand will experience resonance when it is driven at a frequency in the
range of 50 to 200Hz. This would mean that with all other factors held constant any phone
which vibrates in this range should theoretically be more perceivable than if it vibrates beyond
this range. The phones in this experimented vibrated within a frequency range of 68Hz to
229Hz which would mean that all models other than the Sony would generate a resonant
response, and therefore the frequency of vibration should not be the key reason for the
difference in perceptibility between the LG/iPhone and the two Nokia’s. It is worth noting
however that the two phones vibrating at a frequency closest to the high and low limit of the
resonance range – the Sony and the Nokia 3660 are also the two phones with the weakest user

The amplitude/acceleration of a body undergoing vibration is related to the frequency of the

vibration compared to the natural frequency of the body that is being vibrated as shown in
Fig.4. For this reason the two factors are always going to be interactive and coupled together.
Despite the results showing no correlation between RMS force and percievability of vibration, it
can still be assumed that there is a minimum force threshold for which this observation is true.
The mobile phone manufacturer must therefore carefully balance the frequency of the
unbalanced mass so that it is above approximately 0.5 times the natural frequency of the phone.

One further interesting observation is that the LG and iPhone both use a very similar form; A
rectangular model with the front face being entirely a touch screen. The two Nokia’s on the
other hand both use a traditional form with the front face shared by a keyboard and a screen,
whereas the Sony uses a slider design whereby the screen is placed over a keyboard.


This experiment draws no conclusion as to what factors make the vibration of some mobile
phones more perceivable than others. It does however indicate that mobile phone
manufacturers have taken previous vibration research into account and are aiming to provide a
frequency that will induce a resonant response in a human hand.

For future work it is recommended to study the LG KE850 and iPhone alone to investigate
which properties they share other than frequency compared to the other phones in the test that
makes their vibration rank so highly in MPR. Two possible factors that this experiment suggests
to be worth investigating are the vibration patterns and the form (touch screen).

Rather than using real phones, future work should use test dummy phones with controllable
vibration. The vibration pattern should then be kept consistent to see how this affects the
different in percievability between all the phones. A larger range of phones should also be tested
in order to test for a correlation between percievability and touch screen design. Another
recommendation that is highlighted in referenced articles is to mask the test user’s hearing with
white noise so that the noise of phones vibration does not affect its percievability.
Fig 1. Frequency vs Perception
LG KE850 iPhone 2G

3.5 iPhone 2G
LG KE850
Mean perception rating

Nokia 6700
2 Sony U10i Hand
Nokia 3660 Nokia 6700 Pocket
1.5 Nokia 3660
Sony U10i


0 50 100 150 200 250
Frequency (Hz)

Fig 2. Force vs Perception

LG KE850 iPhone 2G

LG KE850 iPhone 2G
Mean Perception Rating

Nokia 6700
2 Sony U10i Hand
Nokia 3660 Nokia 6700 Pocket
1.5 Nokia 3660
Sony U10i


0 0.05 0.1 0.15 0.2 0.25 0.3 0.35 0.4 0.45 0.5
RMS Force (N)
Fig.3 Mass-Spring-Damper model of the human body (Ref. 3)
Fig.4 Plot displacing a plot of Vibration amplitude with respect to the frequency ratio

M=Mass of body

X=Amplitude of vibration

m=Unbalanced mass

Fig.5 A table of measured values
Fig.6 Photos displaying the form of each mobile phone

Fig.6a LGKE850 Fig.6b iPhone 2G

Fig.6c Sony U10i Fig.6d Nokia 6700 Fig.6e Nokia 3660


1. Grip force; Jung, J. Choi, Seungmoon. (no date). “Perceived Magnitude and Power
Consumption of Vibration Feedback in Mobile Devices”

2. Kaaresoja, T. Linjama, J. (2005). “Perception of Short Tactile Pulses Generated By A

Vibration Motor in a Mobile Phone”

3. Rasmussen, G. (No Date). “Human Body Vibration and its Measurement”, Available from