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Galaxy S8 security: Which unlocking method should you use?

We think everyone should lock their phone and be sure to enable a find my phone feature that can erase it if it gets lost or stolen. This is the best way to make sure someone can't just pick it up and rifle through all your stuff. The Galaxy S8 has a handful of different ways to do it and they are a great balance of convenience versus security. We're here to help you pick the best method for you.

Passwords and PINs

This is always the best way to make sure only you can unlock your phone, but they are also the least convenient method and require you to type your passcode every time you need to look at the screen if your phone was locked.

If you use your phone for business or just have stuff on it that you think is worth protecting the best way you can, you'll want to use a password. Always use a strong password and follow a few basic steps:

  • Don't use a single word no matter how obscure you think it is.
  • Choose a password that's a minimum of eight characters.
  • Use numbers, special characters and both upper and lower case letters.
  • If you need to write it down just in case, don't write it on something you carry with you. Phones and backpacks get stolen, unfortunately.

You can use a password generator if you want something completely random. A strong password on an encrypted phone is a tough nut to crack even for law enforcement, so it's also difficult for you to bypass it. Do what you need to do so you remember it.

Your birthday makes a horrible PIN so don't use it.

If a company issued your phone to you they might have specific requirements or give you a password. Treat it the same way and don't write it down on a slip of paper in your wallet or purse.

For most practical purposes a 6-digit PIN is almost as good as a full-on password but has the bonus of being easier to remember. Just don't pick any number attached to you like a birthdate or numbers from another ID.

Biometrics

Samsung introduced the iris scanner with the Note 7 and improved it for the Galaxy S8. For the most part, it's a secure way to unlock your phone.

The mix of convenience and security makes fingerprints or your iris a good choice for locking your phone.

More testing needs to be done but it seems like it's difficult to "fake" your phone into unlocking with a photo of your eye. The iris scanner uses more than just photo matching here. In any case, the chances someone else would have a high-resolution photo of your eye to use and unlock your phone is pretty slim, so even if it can be done it probably won't happen in the real world. Plenty of people love the ease and speed of unlocking their Galaxy S8 using their eyes so you definitely need to give it a try.

The fingerprint scanner is still there, but it's been moved to the back. It works the same way fingerprint sensors work on most high-end phones and provided you take the time to set it up carefully it's a convenient way to unlock the screen without having to type anything.

One thing to know about both of these methods is that in some places law enforcement can force you to unlock your phone using a fingerprint or iris. Regardless of how you feel about this issue, you need to know that it's possible.

How to set up the fingerprint scanner on the Galaxy S8

Because they offer a nice mix of convenience and security, we think using your iris or fingerprint is one of the best ways to secure your lock screen.

Face unlock: convenience above all

You can also use your face or a pattern to unlock your phone. Just know that Google and Samsung both acknowledge that these methods are fairly easy to bypass.

Face unlock can be fooled, but only by someone who already has a high-resolution photo of your face.

Face unlock on the Galaxy S8 has been refined over the way it's done in stock Android, but it's still pretty easy to get around. This is because it's simply matching certain features and areas of your face that it has stored during setup with what it sees in the camera. A high-resolution photo is good enough to fool face unlocking. One thing that doesn't get mentioned when people talk about bypassing face unlock is that chances are someone who finds or steals your phone won't have a high-resolution full-size photo of your head. While it's not very secure, not having access to that photo makes that a moot point.

Pattern unlock isn't insecure by nature. Drawing a pattern between nine random dots has plenty of combinations and isn't going to be easy to guess without special equipment. But your fingers make it pretty easy: they leave a trail of grease.

Your skin secretes natural oils to keep it from turning into leather. We've all seen how a phone screen can be smudgy and icky from fingerprints, and when you are tracing the same pattern to unlock your phone all day that leaves a nice trail for someone to follow with their finger. It's not easy to do, but you can do it on your friend's phone if you try a couple of times. And you can bet that thieves know to look for the tell tail smudge lines when they nab an Android phone.

Smart Lock

Smart Lock is the easiest of all ways to unlock your phone because it's automatic.

Smart Lock works for anyone when it's within range.

Using your location or a Bluetooth device like a key fob or wearable, you can set your phone to stay unlocked under certain conditions. When you want to use it the power button takes you right to your home screen or a swipe to unlock screen.

Smart Lock is a great way to unlock for people who have a smartwatch or a Fitbit. It's accurate and doesn't drain the battery very much. Just remember that anyone with your watch or within Bluetooth range can unlock your phone.

Using Smart Lock on the Galaxy S8: Everything you need to know

Your choice

Locks were invented to keep honest people out of things. We can never depend on a lock screen to guard our privacy alone, but it is part of the basics and something everyone should be doing. Just remember that there is always someone working on bypassing any security feature and we don't have to make it easy for the bad guys. Or sneaky little brothers or roomies.

How do you lock your phone? Are you digging the iris scanner or improved face unlock on the Galaxy S8? Holler in the comments and let us know!

Jerry Hildenbrand
Jerry Hildenbrand

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

42 Comments
  • I have mine set to secure startup which forces the pin/password at boot. The phone cannot be unlocked with iris or fingerprint until it passes that gate.
  • Interesting.
    I disabled Secure Startup by setting it to: 'Do not require' on both my Tab S2 (running Marshmallow) and S7e (already running Nougat).
    Both devices still require Pattern unlock after a reboot.
    Any idea of why this is happening? I must be missing something.
  • Interesting.
    I disabled Secure Startup by setting it to: 'Do not require' on both my Tab S2 (running Marshmallow) and S7e (already running Nougat).
    Both devices still require Pattern unlock after a reboot.
    Any idea of why this is happening? I must be missing something.
  • The fingerprint scanner placement really makes this a whole mess.
    Its such a great phone otherwise I just can't grip why Samsung released the phone with such a usability flaw. Everywhere I've read say the iris scanner works, but it's still a somewhat inconvenience because you have to look at that angle.
  • I don't have much of an issue with the fingerprint scanner. It's not an ideal location, but after a week it's my go to unlocking method.
  • I've heard it's sort of okay on the s8, but the s8+ is really difficult?
  • Nah, I'm using the S8+ without much issue, and I have pretty average-sized hands. I think most reviewers blew it out of proportion. Once you get used to it, it works great.
  • I agree. I thought it would be a problem for me, but after I got use to it, I am able to unlock my phone quicker than the old way on the Galaxy S7 Edge​. The finger print scanner reponds a lot quicker on the Galaxy S8.
  • After a week with my S8+, you don't even pay attention to the fact that the fingerprint scanner is on the back. I've gotten used to it that I know how to use it now without touching my camera.
  • I've had my S8 for a week now and yes the fingerprint sensor is a bit of a pain but I soon found that slapping a case on the phone really helped in finding and using the sensor. I've gone for the Spigen Neo Hybrid
  • Ive have no problem with the fingerprint scanner. When you use it you don't even have to hit the power button to turn on screen first. I'm now use to when i put my hand in my pocket to pull it out my finger is already on the scanner & it is usually unlocked before i even get it out of my pocket.
  • Its not nearly as bad as some people are making it out to be. If you hold the phone in your right hand, the index finger is pretty much there. At least on the s8. Might be a different story on the plus. And the iris scanner is so fast that it almost seems unbelievable. I'll have to research how the technology works. I set up my irises without glasses but I wear glasses on a regular basis and it works almost instantly 90% of the time.
  • "Face unlock can be fooled, but only by someone who already has a high-resolution photo OR your face." Can it be any high resolution photo? The subject doesn't matter, it just needs to be high resolution? Nobody has my face, thank goodness.
  • Any high resolution image will do. A cabbage, some daffodils, a selection of artisanal cupcakes... A good picture of any of these can unlock your phone. Not technically true, but it is about how much faith and respect I've got for face unlock as a security method. And no one has your face *that you know of*, you'd be surprised.
  • If anyone else has my face, they have my sympathy.
  • I hear you. Someone once stole my identity,
    They gave it right back.
  • LMAO!
  • A man has many faces... And I'm sure you're very pretty!
  • Face unlock is working great for me.
  • No wonder those people wanted to take my picture. They're planning on stealing my phone!!!
  • What about that movie Faceoff?
    Nevermind, seems a lot to go through to steal a phone.
  • I keep a hall of faces, like the man with no name, just in case any of them lose their phone and I happen to find it!
  • May be I missed it but you should've mentioned that biometric unlock methods are not protected by the 5th ammendment in the U.S. Personally it's why I stick with a PIN or password.
  • You did miss it, he didn't specifically mention constitutional what-have-you, but it's in there.
  • I use the secure startup, but with a pattern unlock. I will never use the fingerprint nor iris/face unlock.
  • Most pattern unlocks are easy to crack. Just look for the fingerprint smears, and try it in two or more starting points.
  • I use a mix of pattern/fingerprint/iris/smart lock. Iris is incredibly convenient and rarely has an issue. I simply glance at the top of my screen and it unlocks, even when it's dark. The only real issue is direct, bright sunlight can cause it to not see your eyes clearly enough in which case I use the fingerprint. If you register the same finger twice it greatly improves your chances of not having a misread. When neither of those two options are viable, I simply put in my pattern and good to go. Smart lock is great for at home or at the office, or when I'm hooked up to BT in my car. Between those four options, I don't see how anyone can complain about the fingerprint scanner location. Sure it's not ideal but there are plenty of other options that are just as convenient.
  • I like iris and face recognition but I find myself always going back to fingerprint. One step and I'm in. Everything else is two step (I believe).
  • Have adjusted to the fingerprint locations so I use it as primary unlock.
  • I use the iris unlock, mainly because it's super fast once you setup the "unlock your phone with your irises as soon as the screen turns on tab". Face unlock for me was a little finnicky at times and I haven't setup the fingerprint sensor yet. And for me it's not that hard to reach since I have long fingers.
  • I use the fingerprint scanner. I'm left-handed and it works well.
  • I use both fingerprint and retina. It unlocks my phone so fast that it's scary in a way.
  • I use the fingerprint scanner. It's much easier to use with a case since it guides your finger placement. The placement is definitely not ideal but it works, and the rest of the phone definitely makes up for it.
  • The fingerprint sensor is in the perfect position on my s8. I haven't really used one before, but I love it. I also use smart lock when home or in the car, although I wish I could unlock via wifi, so I don't have to keep location on. Also, I have the keyboard case, so popping in my pin happens too sometimes.
  • Hey Jerry, might want to mention that smart unlock isn't exactly working reliably on the S8. The forum has several topics on this. It's not effecting everyone but in my case I have it set to stay unlocked at my home. Easy right? Sometimes it doesn't know I'm home and locks anyway. Other times like today, I'm 70 miles AWAY from home and it STILL thinks I'm at home and won't lock at all. Until this unreliable behavior is fixed I've simply disabled smart lock entirely.
  • Same here. Started not working with home after bixby update for me
  • Using finger, face and pin. Unfortunately the first few days the face unlock was great but reliability instantly dropped after the bixby remap lock update which was weird. Using finger mostly now. Smart lock is great with watch but with bt 5.0 range being so long it's a bit shady too. Accidentally Left my phone with close friends to use bathroom far away and return with funny text to the wife. Aholes!!
  • Iris scanner for me, but I'm still not convinced it's secure because of how quickly it unlocks. Once and a while it's not a quick, but for the most part it's almost a quick as finger scan.
  • I'd pay real money for an app, (or maybe Samsung can add it as an extra layer of security) that will encrypt the entire phone and demand an alphanumeric password if I use a certain finger to try to unlock it. That way, if a law enforcement officer ever tried to force me to use my fingerprint to unlock my phone, I'd use the "duress finger" to encrypt it. They won't be able to force me to give them the password.
  • I must say I got the s8 plus yesterday and am using iris scan. I read many stating that it was slow, not accurate etc. Im shocked at how fast and well it works. I took the initial iris scans with my contact lenses in and it worked lightning fast all day. It even worked in a dark arcade that i took my son to last night.....I was shocked it worked there. I then put my eye glasses on and still worked which surprised me. The only time it didn't work is when my eyeglasses lenses transitioned to dark when i was out in the sun. I am totally impressed by how well it works.
  • It does work very well and very fast, even in a pitch dark room, works without a glitch
    But as soon as you come out in the sun, it doesn't work at all, so it's great as long as you're indoors
    The face unlock is the opposite works great in the sun but doesn't work in the dark
    Only thing that works everywhere is the Fingerprint sensor (if you can reach it without dropping the phone)
    S8 plus here
  • People talk about pattern unlock being so easy to figure out but my screen rarely has smudges that could be figured out and I'm far from fastidious about keeping it clean. When it does get smudged, usually I have so many other smudges from other actions on it that you couldn't figure out the pattern. There might be sophisticated ways to look at these things closer but to the naked eye mine couldn't usually be done.