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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 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.

37 Comments
  • I actually had to look to see what picture I had on my lock screen.
    Maybe if I used face id or iris scanning I might get a glimpse of it but with a super fast FPS on the back it's open before I even look at the phone.
  • Nah, even they are too quick to actually see the lock screen (when they work)... Which is bad if you actually want to look at the lock screen lol. My lock screen has the same image it's had for years... The words "DON'T PANIC" inscribed in large friendly letters. It's very comforting.
  • I find that lock screen to be mostly harmless.
  • You mean you've been using your phone for years?
  • Can't agree more about using that line or lines of text on your lock screen, assuming your device allows for it, as an "if found feature." I've got mine set up with my partial name, email and phone number of a friend to try and get my phone back. I work in the lodging industry and not a month goes by that we either get a guest or guests asking if we've found their phone or a lost phone turned in to our front desk. A send up text would tell us who it belongs to and how to get it back to that person...
  • I used to change my lock screen app every month or so because they all seemed to just fall short. Eventually I realized (as your article alludes), that I just don't care, and many of the apps destroyed my phone battery and didn't add anything to my phone experience. The lock screen on 7.0 is fine enough.
  • I use my lock screen all the time. I reply to, dismiss, and delete notifications from the lock screen daily without even unlocking my phone. I have no desire to jump straight to my home screen every time I get an SMS or email. I do the same thing on iOS and Android. So, while I don't need to customize my lock screen, I do need it to be there and be functional. The reason I'll never buy a Huawei device is because you can't even interact with notifications on the lock screen of their devices.
  • I am very similar, I use the lockscreen controls constantly. Currently running AOSPExtended Rom as it allows mid-screen shortcuts to be added to the lockscreen, so handy. Android is now becoming so much like iOS, restrict everything that made Android great, not a fan.
  • Android is nothing like iOS, you still have way more freedom than iOS ever will. There's nothing wrong with Android being more secure. Everything that makes Android great is strictly there, except one aspect which most people don't care about, me included as lock screen customisation has never been something that's really appealed to me.
  • "The reason I'll never buy a Huawei device is because you can't even interact with notifications on the lock screen of their devices." Which for some people is a good thing as no one else can interact with your notifications either.
  • Sure...
    But think of it as a landing page that has the info you care most about at a single glance... I'd like if Android let me customize it a little but more. Especially since most launchers don't really provide any meaningful glancable info on them, so dropping me on my home screen means I need to DO stuff.
    Google's solution to give me a notification every hour with the weather sucks, and so do the inconsistent look of the weather widgits. It'd be nice to customize the Always On display too.
  • I mean, there are plenty of informative widgets you can put on your home screen as needed. Calendar widgets, news widgets, weather widgets, music widgets... For consistent weather widgets, I like 1Weather, but you can build one that fits your own tastes using widget makers like KWGT.
  • I believe Samsung addresses this with their new Good lock 2018 app. Its available in South Korea atm, with an apk available for other countries. But, I only really glanced at this so I can't say for sure.
  • It's available in the Samsung Galaxy store now. There is a thread on the N8 forum.
  • All customisation on Android seems to be dying, everything is slowly becoming homogenous. I still kinda miss lock screen widgets.
  • Customisation is still alive and kicking on Android, the only customisations that are "dying" are the ones that aren't necessary, Android has enough customisation unless you've one of the few people that still root their phones.
  • You literally do not know what you are talking about. All customisation by it's very nature is "unnecessary", it's an element which adds individuality, flair and style. And your last sentence is basically "Android bas enough customisation, except when it doesn't". I haven't rooted a phone in over a year, yet somehow customisation options are being taken away from me, what am I doing wrong?
  • I knew exactly what I'm talking about, you can still customise to your heart's content with Android except for the lock screen which the Majority of Android users apart from you and a few others which are a small minority. For me, as long as Google docs close off Android and stop us from downloading apks from outside the Play Store and stop us from using different launchers then it's all good.
  • See, you claim to know what you're talking about, but you can't even get your tenses right. You don't even know that I don't use custom lock screens because they're terrible, and that my point is about customisation in general and not this specific issue. Although I do actually feel bad for the prime who did use them... I know how it feels to have something you like taken away. This is called "empathy".
  • I didn't know you don't use custom lock screens, I feel bad for those that do but I think Google is trying to clean up Android's reputation and making it more secure and there's nothing wrong with that.
  • Beno just wants to be able to get free movies by sideloading showbox.
  • Oh please, i can't even change the system font without hacking it (aka rooting).
  • That hurts, Fuzzy.... I don't think home screen theming is homogenous!
  • It's not... Yet. Wait til they decide custom
    Launchers are also a security risk... I know, I know, not gonna happen... But the trend is anti-customisation, not Pro. Google killing substratum has left a bitter taste in my mouth regarding Android... This is just another nail.
  • Too many adwares abused the lockscreen to show ads (without giving a clear identification which app was responsible, looking at you Peel Remote), so I'm kinda glad it's going away.
  • It'd be nice if there were an option to unlock and NOT immediately go to home screen or whatever your last used app was. I'd much prefer to be able to use my fingerprint to simply unlock sensitive notification content on the lock screen and let me decide to swipe or not (similar to iOS).
  • Try Squarehome - you see all your notifications on one screen just as you unlock.
  • Thanks, I'll give it a look.
  • Other than a quick glance at the time I never see my lock screen. I'd be ok if the screen stayed black until I log in. Face Unlock and fingerprint readers are fast enough.
  • I remember back in the gingerbread days using a lockscreen that had like 6 or 8 sliders on it that would open to each app I set. I don't miss it much but the customization was pretty cool if you liked to do that kind of thing. I assume the customization is dead simply because Apple doesn't do it and Google is a follower.
  • Yeah, pretty much. Options are messy... It seems they'd rather Android be clean and idiot proof than include "power user" features and risk confusing people who stumble across them.
  • Samsungs upcoming "Lockstar" app for Android P makes your lock screen very customization!
  • I really only customize the wallpaper. There's something about the lock screen wallpaper working with the color/theme of my case or phone that pleases me to look at when I want to know what time it is or check notifications. (I don't use AoD, as I don't always use phones that support that.)
  • I don't really think that lockscreen widgets and replacement lock screens are worth what they once were... I mean I've had enough Android devices long enough to remember the time when you could use some custom lock screen widgets that you'd find in the Play Store and even then I think I only ever used a calendar widget once just to see what all the fuss was about but eventually just did away with it... And replacement lock screens? What are they supposed to do that's oh so important? That hasn't through successive generations of Android devices been taken over by the actual lockscreen? The only reason that I've ever been interested in a replacement lock screen was because the generation of phone I had at the time didn't offer music player controls on the lock screen. However I delved into the Play Store and eventually found a music player with a lock screen widget that overlaid when you were playing music and the problem was solved. When I want into my device I hit a button on the overlay and it kicks me to my lockscreen. It doesn't even bother me that my car doesn't support Android Auto (it supports Apple CarPlay though!!!) because I just plug in my phone, start the player and then swipe the widget forward or backwards depending upon the song. Now it seems just about every music player has a music widget making it that much less of a problem. Heck, now the lock screen even supports music player controls so whether or not your player has a lockscreen widget isn't even much of a matter for some... Other widgets? Then I say aww, poor baby...you have to fingerprint or swipe your pattern or enter your PIN which only takes a second for most folks. Like most folks the most important things I use on my device are there on the first page just waiting to be tapped after that second it took me to unlock my device... Now what I'd be interested in would be changing things around on the lockscreen. Changing the clock face used on the lockscreen or the type used or the positioning.... I theme my device, the Moto G5 Plus, and right now I just happen to have some gothic girl action going on it. The clock face is right in the upper middle everything and as big as ever. You really want to make a changes? Allow the user to change the clock face, type and positioning. I heard that Samsung will allow you on some devices, but it should be allowed on all devices. I'd put it up in the corner and out of the way if I could...
  • Since I had put face unlock on my p20 pro I bairly even see the lock screen,although I do love the covers
  • I want notifications but I don't want notification displayed on the lock screen. Being unable to make this simple modification forces me to choose between not receiving notifications or having a privacy problem. You're right, I don't look at the lock screen, but other people can look at the lock screen.
  • Thanks for this. Gaps in my app drawer has been a thorn in my side. Btw, there's also a way to extract icons from icon theme apks, by renaming an icon pack apk as a "zip" folder, then by opening it and opening/renaming the correct folder. Just Google it! I do this to use icons with other apps that use icons, but not in the standard way (like a notification app that puts custom app icons/shortcuts in my notification drawer)