|Abstract Background Even though the BCI field has quickly grown in the last few years, it is still mainly investigated as a research area. Increased practicality and usability are required to move BCIs to the real-world. Self-paced (SP) systems would reduce the problem but there is still the big challenge of what is known as the ‘onset detection problem’. Methods Our previous studies showed how a new sound-imagery (SI) task, high-tone covert sound production, is very effective for onset detection scenarios and we expect there are several advantages over most common asynchronous approaches used thus far, i.e., motor-imagery (MI): 1) Intuitiveness; 2) benefits to people with motor disabilities and, especially, those with lesions on cortical motor areas; and 3) no significant overlap with other common, spontaneous cognitive states, making it easier to use in daily-life situations. The approach was compared with MI tasks in online real-life scenarios, i.e., during activities such as watching videos and reading text. In our scenario, when a new message prompt from a messenger program appeared on the screen, participants watching a video (or reading text, browsing images) were asked to open the message by executing the SI or MI tasks, respectively, for each experimental condition. Results The results showed the SI task performed statistically significantly better than the MI approach: 84.04% (SI) vs 66.79 (MI) True-False positive rate for the sliding image scenario, 80.84% vs 61.07% for watching video. The classification performance difference between SI and MI was found not to be significant in the text-reading scenario. Furthermore, the onset response speed showed SI (4.08 s) being significantly faster than MI (5.46 s). In terms of basic usability, 75% of subjects found SI easier to use. Conclusions Our novel SI task outperforms typical MI for SP onset detection BCIs, therefore it would be more easily used in daily-life situations. This could be a significant step forward for the BCI field which has so far been mainly restricted to research-oriented indoor laboratory settings.