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The Pixel 3 should have had face unlock as an example for OEMs to follow

Google's Pixel 3 and 3 XL are easily the two best Android phones you can buy right now. They have gorgeous AMOLED displays, deliver a phenomenal software experience, and provide the best camera package currently available in a smartphone. Add that together with wireless charging, a fast fingerprint sensor, and proper water resistance, and you end up with one hell of a value proposition.

The Pixel 3 series isn't perfect, however, and one of its biggest omissions is a face unlock system. This is something we've seen other OEMs dabble with, ranging from Samsung to Honor, but for whatever reason, Google chose to completely sit this one out.

The Pixel 3 straight up ignores that face unlock is a thing.

The lack of face unlock may not seem like that big of a deal when looking at the Pixel 3 on its own, but when you consider that the Pixel series still serves as an example of what Google thinks Android phones should look and feel like, it becomes a much bigger problem.

Face unlock exists in the Android world but in a messy, non-organized manner. Samsung has its own version that uses a combination of iris scanning and facial recognition. OnePlus's face unlock isn't very secure, but works blazingly fast using just the front-facing camera. Some phones like the Oppo Find X rely solely on facial recognition and have ditched the fingerprint sensor entirely.

Some of these work really well while others could still use some time in the oven, but no matter how they perform, they all share one thing in common — they're mostly useless once you've moved past the lock screen. If you want to use your face to log into a password manager, banking app, or anything else, you're probably going to be out of luck. Samsung does have something called Samsung Pass that can use your fingerprint or face/irises to log into an app, but the support for it is so minimal that it doesn't really matter (not to mention that it only works on Samsung phones).

Face ID is still the best face unlock platform the market's seen — and it's only going to get better.

Face ID is still the best face unlock platform the market's seen — and it's only going to get better.

That's all to say that while face unlock does exist on Android, its implementation is sorely lacking. We've yet to see anything that even comes close to Face ID on the iPhone, but that's not so much the fault of Samsung, OnePlus, and other OEMs as it is Google's.

With Android 9 Pie, one of the new features is something called BiometricPrompt API. Here's what Google had to say about it on the Android Developers Blog:

Starting in Android P, developers can use the BiometricPrompt API to integrate biometric authentication into their apps in a device and biometric agnostic way. BiometricPrompt only exposes strong modalities, so developers can be assured of a consistent level of security across all devices their application runs on.

In other words, this API makes it easier than ever for developers to offer biometric authentication with their apps for both fingerprint sensors and face unlock systems. Not only that, it cuts out the hard work for devs and provides a clear standard for what facial unlock data qualifies as strong enough for use beyond the lock screen.

The software is in place with Android Pie for Google to finally deliver something that can compete with Face ID, and if Google had created a secure facial unlock system on the Pixel 3 + 3 XL that other OEMs could model on their own phones, we'd be looking at a future where every Android phone can ship with the ability to use your face for unlocking it, logging into apps, and authenticating payments.

Instead, Google simply ignored that face unlock is a thing and stuck with the tried-and-true fingerprint sensor — giving other OEMs no clear example to follow for another year when it comes to facial recognition.

In-display sensors are the current hotness in Android biometrics. They're fine.

In-display sensors are the current hotness in Android biometrics. They're fine.

I don't expect fingerprint sensors to die out anytime soon, and looking at devices like the OnePlus 6T, it's evident that we're only going to see more phones that go the route of using slow optical in-display sensor. I'm fine with those sticking around for the interim, but it's time Google makes a concentrated effort on pushing a streamlined facial unlock system and perfecting it to the same level (if not better) than Face ID.

That's something that simply needs to happen if we want to keep pushing forward towards a future with no bezels. Here's to hoping Google addresses this with the Pixel 4.

Google Pixel 3 review: Fewer features make for incredible phones

Joe Maring was a Senior Editor for Android Central between 2017 and 2021. You can reach him on Twitter at @JoeMaring1.

52 Comments
  • The Huawei Mate 20 Pro disagrees with quite a few of your 'opinions' there Joe
  • Sorry, still don't like them.
  • Face ID is one reason why I disliked the iPhone X. It failed too many times for my liking and doesn't work in the horizontal orientation, which is what I need every morning and night.
  • If phones are really pushing for a true bezel less design, shouldnt the under the screen fingerprint sensor be the way to go? Given the sensors it needs at the moment for good face unlock to work, there wont be a true bezel less screen on the front. am i wrong here?
  • I don't want face unlock. Do you know what a pain in the rear it is to put down your sandwich and pick up your bloody phone every time it locks during lunch? It's that, or rise up off the seat to lean over the phone. I don't mind so much at work, but on Saturdays when I escape to a coffee shop to read and ponder physics and quantum entanglement? I'll keep my train of thought, and my FP reader on the bottom front. Was there a massacre where bezels killed and maimed people? Never got the irrational hatred.
  • I like a little bezel. It's more comfortable for my thumbs to not reach to the very bottom of a display
  • I like a little bezel as well. Having the touchscreen controls right at the edge of the phone makes gaming difficult. That, combined with gestures on the iPhone, make games like Leo's Fortune and Riptide GP2 downright difficult. We have both Androids and iPhones, and iPhone gaming is frustrating now. My U11 is a delight to play in comparison.
  • I like big bezels. I can not lie. Them other bloggers can deny.....
  • I went with a Pixel 3 (not xl) because it retained finger unlock...why do i need face id? Not important to me so i dont care its missing
  • Not a fan of FaceID for above listen reasons. FaceID is too needy (angle of face etc.). It's nice when it works, but very annoying when it doesn't. Fingerprint reader is a good compromise.
  • If Google were to implement a better face unlocking system in a future phone, I truly hope it would not be to the exclusion of including a fingerprint sensor. The only situation I can imagine where I would actually prefer and find face unlock to be more convenient that FPS would be when wearing gloves. Living in the deep south, that just generally isn't an issue for me, but I can understand how those who live in colder climates might see more benefit. Something to remember, though, is that... just because something can be done doesn't mean that it necessarily should. These new under-display FPS we're starting to see - what is the benefit? They aren't as ergonomically placed as one cannot 'feel' where to put your finger (something that makes phones like the Pixels, imo, the easiest to unlock, as it's almost intuitive placement when pulling it from one's pocket); they are - at least for now - substantially slower; it is not known (at least that I've seen) whether their function is diminished or completely impaired if there is a crack over that part of the screen. The only benefit seems to be the 'wow' factor, in which the OEM seeks greater sales by offering a feature - whether it's actually better for the customer or not -- because it will entice sales. Also, I've never heard of someone's phone erroneously unlocking to a sibling or close look-alike's fingerprint. Edit - one last thing... "something that simply needs to happen if we want to keep pushing forward towards a future with no bezels"
    Rear fingerprint sensors are, and for years have been, an incredibly secure, fast, and reliable security measure that do not in any way interfere with the pursuit of a bezel-free phone.
  • Is this article for real? Pixel and Android have face unlock and have had it for a long time....it also works ..perfectly fine....sure it isn't used across the system ...for puchases and the like but to unlock the phone Android's implementation works fine for me.
  • I was thinking the same thing. Trusted Face has been in Android since Lollipop.
  • It's gone since Pixel 3
  • Thankfully its still on my pixel 2 :)
  • Wow...really? Why would they take it away? It was easily turned on or off as an option..I like it to use when my phone is sitting on my desk.
  • Why do we need face ID because Iphone has it. I think that is the worst reason in the world. As many others have stated many times there are so many draw backs to it. What are the benefits and why is it needed? It just seems like another app that samsung adds to their phones to say they are different and want to sell devices. I know people who have the new iphone's and are not using face ID and just using the simple pin because of how dumb it is. The biggest complaint I hear from those users is why did they have to get rid of the fingerprint reader. If you create a phone with both on it and give it out to users and do a study to see how many use one over the other. I would bet you would see the finger print reader used a lot more. Just my 2 cents.
  • As a user of an iPhone X, I agree that no, Android does not need to follow the lead here just because Apple is doing it. Face unlock is hugely overrated and I find it more annoying to use than a fingerprint reader. It has its moments sure, but I don't think its that great for everyone to start doing it. Personally, I would like both options honestly, as there are times fingerprint scanning makes more practical sense and other times Face ID does.
  • I'm with you. Add it if you must but don't take away FPS.
  • As long as the fingerprint sensor is kept on the back where it belongs. Not a fan of face id. Had the X fir two weeks and it was successful most of the time, frustrating when it didn't work for no apparent reason. Only time fingerprint doesn't work is when hands are wet. Plus face id can be slow. Google may be able to do something with the dual camera set-up, but would not be my primary choice. Definitely not looking for face id to explain the notch on my XL, as it doesn't bother me at all. "That's something that simply needs to happen if we want to keep pushing forward towards a future with no bezels. Here's to hoping Google addresses this with the Pixel 4." - How do we get to bezeless phones and retain all the hardware that is needed for face unlock sensors and cameras? Seems like under screen fingerprint sensors make more sense, can't imagine an under screen camera that would take selfies as good as a unblocked view. Although, Google had that photo software they showed off two years ago that removed screen doors and fences from the foreground, so it could be possible.
  • The OnePlus Face Unlock is not in any way slow. Most times your phone is unlocked before you even get a chance to see your lock screen. You pick up your phone double tap to unlock it sees your face and you're seeing your home screen. Custom roms can you say something it's been around since the lollipop days, and there's an option in many cases to automatically unlock your home screen without any swipe, just like the OnePlus, and it's pretty much just as fast, for nearly so. The only possible issue is that both OnePlus is Face Unlock and the Google one that's part of Smart Lock are easily fooled by a picture of the person. Therefore it doesn't work or any sort of biometric API oh, so your banking apps and Android pay and things of that sort still rely on the fingerprint sensor. And I would absolutely hate to have a fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone I'll keep it on the front, but it does a little as my home button or put it under the screen either one is fine as long as it's on the front.
  • I've tried face unlock on various platforms, and always find it comes up horribly short and in the way. I don't have time for the futzing required. Fingerprint and passcodes/passwords are reliable and fast--neither of which I have found any face unlock implementation to be. BTW, not sure how having cameras for face unlocking would lead to a bezel-less phone. Perhaps a typo?
  • Did you try the OnePlus face unlock?
  • Maybe it's just me but I could careless about face unlock. I still use a pin #
  • I use the fingerprint sensor on the note 8 about 75% of the time but for that other chunk where my hands are dirty, or whatever, the iris scanner is phenomenal. At least in my usage.
  • They probably couldn't make it as secure as they would like without additional hardware. They made a Titan security chip a selling point. To then tout a much less secure unlock system seems a little at odds.
  • Are you suggesting that face ID is in practice more reliable and secure than a fingerprint sensor? I have yet to see a fingerprint sensor allow entry to a phone users brother, sister, twin, or other person who looks very very much like them.
  • I love face unlock on the 6t, it's fast as hell and normally beats the fingerprint sensor. Google should standardize it. I know it's not super secure in one plus's implementation, but really I'm just looking to keep casual friends and co workers out of my phone. I don't have anything that needs super security on my phone and the few things that do need more security like my lastpass account require a separate fingerprint authentication.
    On that front I'll say that I think AC is giving the fingerprint sensor on the 6t a bad rap, is it as fast as a normal sensor, no it's not. But it's fast enough and very consistent. It's actually better than the fingerprint sensor on my old Pixel XL which rejected my print every time my finger had any sweat on it.
  • they probably left it out for a reason and dont think face unlock is the way to go but just a gimmick, its natively less secure. and with the pixel 3 lowkey focussing on security with the ttian chip i think it wouldnt add up
  • I have zero interest in face unlock. When I reach into my pocket my finger falls onto the sensor and the phone is unlocked by the time I am looking at it. Or, when I reach for my phone in the dark. Works almost 100% of the time with no fuss. I don't understand the need or want for face unlock.
  • This is a first world problem - Face unlock or not. Really someone can't move his or her thump
  • I am more than happy that Google left out face ID. Don't want it at any price. I can have my phone unlocked with the fingerprint sensor before I can even get my face in front of it.....before it even leaves my pocket! Not sure why people see face ID as a desirable feature. Why would you want such a cumbersome system?
  • Haven't heard from the Google Trust API, or Project Abacus from a couple years back. It was supposed to combine all of the forms of security that the device has - fingerprint, sensors, front facing camera, typing patterns, ON DEVICE, to make sure it was you. Last I heard some banks or financial institutions were testing it out, haven't heard a peep since. Would love for Google to use something like this to blaze their own path.
  • I love FaceID on iphonee Xs Max. FPS seems so ancient now. The gestures are nice too. Google don’t need to worry about facial recognition. They still need to work on basics like RAM management. I took a Lyft recently and the driver had a 3XL. He was playing music and running his GPS App. Every so often the music would stop and he would have to close GPS app to get music app playing again. What a lousy user
    experience. Complete opposite from Apple.......
  • Yeah, Apple is doing so great with its latest software... bricking their own watches.
  • It may make you feel better (give you the validation you need in your tech choice), but it really is disingenuous and misleading. An extremely small percentage of watches were bricked--so small it wouldn't have even been a blip on the radar for we Android users--and Apple had it fixed in 3 days and the software update rolled out to all users. If this would have happened in the Android world we may or may not have seen a fix, and it would have taken months, not days.
  • I gotta agree, the fact Pixel doesn't have face unlock is pretty lame. For $1000 that's not acceptable. Google really needs to do something besides a superior camera, come up with something to combat what Apple is doing, or lower the price and stop charging apple iphone prices... simple.
  • I had face unlock on my Pixel 2. I don't miss it at all. What exactly is Apple doing that is so much better? FaceId is a minor feature at best. I'd take the superior camera any day.
  • I think to have viable face unlocking that is consistent and secure you are going to have to define the hardware that it uses. That's tough with Google/Android's approach of licensing to OEMs, as opposed to Apple's controlling the whole shebang. I'm sure Google could do it on Pixels, but would OEMs, who are all about differentiation, going to be willing to adopt the hardware it takes to make use of the Google 'standard' face unlock? I think this is one area that Google can't be the leader, without also being the dictator.
  • No face unlock, no true zoom, no 10W wireless charging without Google's charger, no headphone jack, no ability to keep several apps in memory, no option to shoot in 60 fps, picture frame not working with the dock, dramatically unbalanced speakers, poor audio quality for video recording, buzzing/distortion and clicking noise on speakers, ambient notifications broken, double notch bug... But it's the best Android phone you can buy, right Andrew?
  • Facial recognition is still not secure. I'm glad they did not focus on it. Unless they have a facial recognition that is as secure as fingerprint which is still not 100% as nothing is, i'm glad they just left it. From the several people i know that have iphone x they say the unlock is not good or just never admit that apple does anything wrong. I'll stick to fast and secure fingerprint.
  • I couldn't disagree more. Face unlock is a mess on Apple, unreliable to use and INSECURE. I've tried both Apple and Samsung variants, and to use a technical term, they both suck. Google has a pretty good record with security, and as of now, implementing face unlock would be a big security vulnerability. Face unlock has no business being on any phone until it's vastly improved, both security-wise and experience-wise.
  • Great opinion piece, though one I hope we don't see Google push towards. Between my daughter's Xr and my wife's X I've seen facial id fail as much as succeed. Which is shame. I would really like to take a moment to point out that it's really no more secure than a finger print, and if Google did want to push forward maybe the proper path would be a dual biometric face and finger print system that would be much harder to bypass... Or at least the option for it.
  • I don't want face lock.. that's why I have a Pixel! Why is this a desired feature? Even older iPhones 8/7/+ sell more than the X/XS/XR because people opt for the fingerprint.
  • Fingerprint >>> Face BS
  • I believe your answer lies in the very beginning of your own article: “but when you consider that the Pixel series still serves as an example of what Google thinks Android phones should look and feel like, it becomes a much bigger problem.“ Clearly Google thinks Android devices are fine with finger print scanners... and for the most part I agree. I gave up my Galaxy Note because of the incredibly frail (read fail) design and started using an iPhone 8 plus. I love android and if I was on Verizon I might consider the Pixel, but I don’t have Verizon, my AT&T pricing is too good (discounted). But here is the real point. I would rather have a finger print scanner so I chose the 8 plus over the X and would do it 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 times. Also Android trying their hardest to copy the iPhone is just sad. PS. Bezels are great for my chunky fingers. Not having bezels would be a deal breaker for me.
  • As much as I love my S8+, Huawei has face unlock down. Their implementation is so crazy fast and accurate. I realize it may not be the most secure but dang its quick. My cheap Honor 7x is blazing fast with fingerprint and face unlock. Google couldn't care less about face unlock.
  • Untill face unlock works properly and securely I will never use it.
  • First time I've seen a comments section where almost everyone is in agreement and contrary to the author....very refreshing.
  • Since the age of dawn, we've all been told that your fingerprint is as unique as a snowflake and that no two are alike. Yet when rotten fruit companies come out and say "We've made security better by using your face!" Sorry, I don't buy it. The fact that Google didnt run to copy anything makes me love my Pixel 3XL more (notch withstanding LOL) The scanner on the back is fine. It doesnt impede my camera or Qi charging. Why is it such a big deal that Google didnt copy rotten fruit? Can the bezels be less, sure. Can they find a way to make a thinner speaker at top for front facing cameras and not have a huge face Notch? Sure can (look at essential top speaker) If you dont like this years evrsion, then cool, your entittled to your opinion, but don't dare for once tell us about how its bad cause of this one feature and call it a problem when its only your opinion.
  • Such a fanboy and childish comment 😂
  • « when you consider that the Pixel series still serves as an example of what Google thinks Android phones should look and feel like, it becomes a much bigger problem«  That was the Nexus program. I don’t think it’s the case anymore with the Pixel.