Lock screen customization is dead

If you don't like a launcher on Android, you get a new one. Hate your keyboard? Use a third-party keyboard. After all, Android is all about choice, and customization is an essential part of the Android experience… but lock screen customization is bad. Third-party lock screen customization is especially bad. There was a very, very brief moment in history when it was less bad, but it's bad today.

And that's OK, because it's not worth your time.

Do you even see your lock screen anymore?

Lock screens used to be something we'd see dozens if not hundreds of times a day, so customizing them made a little more sense. These days, though, lock screens are more of a "blink and you'll miss it" part of Android — quite literally on phones with Iris scanning like the Samsung Galaxy S9. With fingerprint sensors in most Android phones these days, you can go days without seeing the lock screen; you press your finger to the sensor while you're picking the phone up, and by the time you put it up in front of your face, the phone is awake and unlocked.

You don't see anything.

Even before biometrics and widespread fingerprint sensors, though, the lock screen was already something we were seeing less and less thanks to Smart Lock and its many forms. Smart Lock can keep your phone unlocked while connected to a Trusted Bluetooth device — like the stereo in your car or your trusted smartwatch. It can keep your phone unlocked while you're carrying it around, and you can unlock it with your voice using Google Assistant's Voice Match. It can even keep your phone unlocked at your house or workplace — though you'd need to be very trusting of your coworkers to enable that.

Long story short, we don't spend enough time on lock screens to bother customizing them anymore. And thank goodness, because lock screen customization was a hot mess.

Bad theming and worse security

Lock screen customization faced a lot of hurdles, but the only one that really mattered was this: most of the time it flat-out didn't work. Third-party lock screen widgets were only really supported in the Jelly Bean era, and the vast majority of lock screen replacement apps that sprung up after that died aren't worth the ads they come with and certainly aren't worth paying any money for.

Next Lock Screen from Microsoft

App screen replacements come with another set of security headaches since most require you to disable the system lock screen in order to use them. If you have any apps that require your phone to have a locking method — like Google Pay or corporately managed email accounts — lock screen replacements aren't an option. Even if you don't, they're just a bad idea, and most of them aren't as fast or as functional as the lock screen your phone came with. It's not worth it.

The only lock screen theming worth your attention or time

Use Smart Lock. Use fingerprint scanners. Use iris scanners or face recognition if you want. Just don't use a lock screen replacement, and don't bother with any hacky lock screen widgets that haven't been supported for years. It's not worth your time. It's not worth your effort. Just. Don't.

Get a nice clock

If you really, really, really want to customize your lock screen, here are the things you can do:

  • Set a custom lock screen wallpaper — most wallpaper apps and third-party launchers will let you set a wallpaper on the lock screen separately from the home screen wallpaper
  • Add text to the lock screen via the Contact information option in the lock screen settings. Most people will set this to "If lost, contact X,Y, or Z", but you could sneak a motto or quote in there instead.
  • If your phone allows you to pick the style clock on your lock screen — Samsung and a few others do this — then go ahead and pick a lock screen clock that suits your wallpaper.
  • Samsung also has what it calls "FaceWidgets", a couple of simple, task-minded widgets that you can scroll through on the lock screen like Music controls and Next alarm.

But let's face it, folks, the lock screen is something you're going to see less and less of as Android continues to roll out quicker authentication methods and continues to expand Smart Lock. Just pick a wallpaper and clock style and get on with your life.

Ara Wagoner

Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.