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

The Galaxy S8 is a great phone with a lot of ways to unlock the screen. That stems from the fact that Samsung relocated the fingerprint sensor from the front below the screen, which is easy to reach, to the back next to the camera, which is considerably harder. Then it added two new ways to unlock the phone with one's face, but neither of them are as easy and seamless (though they're pretty darn close) than a fingerprint sensor below the screen.

So what's a person to do? How do you overcome this? Well, you could just adapt and learn to live with it, but that's no fun, right? We like to complain and then find better ways to do the same thing! If that describes you to a tee, then let's talk about Fitbit.

Fitbit? Daniel, you crazy

Hear me out. Samsung has included a popular Android feature called Smart Lock that uses an idea called persistent authentication to temporarily disable the phone's lock screen for a period of time. The idea behind persistent auth is that once you prove to the phone that you are you, you shouldn't necessarily have to continue doing so as long as that cycle of trust isn't broken.

You can wear a Fitbit, or any Bluetooth wearable, to safely bypass the lock screen at any time.

So Google figured out a way to do this, and integrated it into Google Play Services a couple of years ago. It's not necessarily the most popular Android feature, which is why it's often overlooked, and perfect for a phone that makes it just a bit too difficult to quickly unlock using a biometric passcode.

While wearing a Fitbit, or any other Bluetooth-enabled device that has a persistent Low Energy (LE) connection to the Galaxy S8, Smart Lock allows users to bypass the unlock process entirely. This makes it easy just to push the invisible home button on the front of the Galaxy S8 (it's always on, even when there's nothing on the screen) to get to the home screen, or press the home button after quick-launching the camera without having to wait for the phone to unlock.

Smart Lock isn't a perfect fix to your Galaxy S8 biometrics troubles, of course: for security reasons, you're forced to re-enter a lock pattern or PIN after four hours of inactivity; and it doesn't always detect the Bluetooth device, even when it's right next to the phone. I wore a Fitbit Alta HR the entire time I reviewed the Galaxy S8 and only had this happen a couple of times, but it was annoying when it did.

Of course, you don't have to use a Fitbit, or even a wearable, to engage in Smart Lock's Trusted Devices feature. It can be any Bluetooth device, including a speaker, selfie stick, or something else entirely. As long as it is connected to your phone, it will work. I just recommend a wearable because, well, it's generally attached to you and harder to steal than a selfie stick or a speaker. It would also be great if Trusted Devices worked with biometric persistent authentication, so it would automatically disconnect not with the Bluetooth connection but with the cessation of a readable heart rate.

See Fitbit Alta HR at Amazon

Other ways to Smart (un)Lock

Trusted Devices aren't the only way to bypass Samsung's lock screen hell. Google has incorporated three other methods, too, and all can work for you.

  • On-body detection keeps the phone unlocked when the proximity sensor is engaged. The idea is that the phone is in your pocket, so Google trusts it's you who has possession. Once you remove the phone from your pocket, you have a few seconds of freedom before the lock mechanism springs back into place. This doesn't always work consistently with every phone, but it's done a good job on the Galaxy S8.
  • Trusted voice is a way to unlock your Galaxy S8 with your voice by saying "OK Google", and it works well, but the screen has to be turned on (but still locked) for the feature to engage, which isn't as useful.
  • Trusted location puts a geofence around an area — your house, your work — where the phone will stay unlocked (for four hours, at least) when you're there. Because it uses an approximate location to save power, Trusted Location isn't a particularly secure method for maintaining authentication, but it's convenient. Only use this when you're sure your device is safe.

How to enable Smart Lock on your Galaxy S8

Want this on your phone? Here are the steps to enable Smart Lock.

  1. Swipe down from the notification shade on your home screen.
  2. Tap on Settings icon (cog shape).
  3. Tap on Lock screen and security.
  4. Tap on Smart Lock.
  5. Enter your unlock code.

  1. Select On-body detection, Trusted places, Trusted device, or Trusted voice.
  2. Configure your Smart Lock settings.

No cure for the common outrage

None of these methods are complete solutions for your Galaxy S8 unlock vitriol. If you can't overcome your absolute hatred for the placement of the fingerprint sensor or the perceived slowness of the iris scanner, you probably shouldn't buy the phone.

But I can assure you that, after using both the Galaxy S8 and the S8+ for a number of weeks, the combination of fingerprint, facial and Google's own Smart Lock procedures is a recipe for certain success. Even without Smart Lock, I've found a fairly good rhythm just using a combo of face unlock and the fingerprint sensor, but the addition of a trusted device like the Fitbit Alta HR improved that process immensely.

What do you think? Would something like Smart Lock be enough to overcome your hesitation in buying a Galaxy S8? Let us know in the comments!

Daniel Bader was a former Android Central Editor-in-Chief and Executive Editor for iMore and Windows Central. 

79 Comments
  • My problem with the horrible placement of the fingerprint sensor is not unlocking, as I have a smart watch, but apps that use fingerprint authentication. I have several of these apps that I use all the time, and the placement of the fingerprint sensor is a major deal breaker for me.
  • Then the S8 is not for you.
  • Oh man. I thought it was. :(
  • Many of them use a Samsung API for the Fingerprint. So shouldn't it be possible to use the iris scanner as biometric authentification in apps as well?
  • Hopefully LastPass uses them soon.
  • LastPass does use the fingerprint sensor on this device. Works wonderfully.
  • I was wondering about that. If that is the case, then I would not care about the fingerprint sensor.
  • Yeah it's crap. Like you I use my smart watch to unlock it but need the finger print sensor for banking apps etc. The fact the sensor is stretched vertically and you're finger comes to it from an angle so it's not getting very good coverage makes it a real problem.
  • Have you tried using a case with the fingerprint sensor. I have one on my s8 plus and I have no problems reaching, just a suggestion.
  • That would definitely help.
  • Unless you're holding it with the left hand...
  • Did Fitbit pay you for this article? You pointed it out right, ANY Bluetooth device can be used with the smart lock, so why not say that outright to begin with? Mine is a Gear S3 Frontier, btw, but pretty much any of my most used devices were added to my smart lock. This is getting ridiculous, AC.
  • +1
  • Or Fitbits are about the most common Bluetooth wearable around, so most people would have one.
  • Probably not. As you say, it does mention you can use any Bluetooth device, and for this purpose a fitbit is probably your best option unless you already have a smartwatch or can somehow find a Moto keylink... Compared to the s3 frontier for example, a fitbit likely offers longer battery life for a fraction of the cost.
  • exactly.....totally plugged fitbit when not at all necessary. someone got paid lol. I use my Gear S2 3g or my headphones or just my homeaddress which all work perfectly for this. but fir payments of course if i dont use my watchI need a fingerprint but I rarely use pay anyways. I use cash 99%
  • Exactly. I have a fitbit but only because my wife got it for me. I'd jump back into a Gear instead, for S Health integration.
  • The comment to which I'm replying had a score of 8 and right after giving it a +1 it changed to 1. Bug?
  • For me the fingerprint sensor's placement is only really a problem with the S8+. Unfortunately that's the one I want. There's just no way my index finger could reach it.
  • I don't get the hype over the sensor placement. Yes it could've been in a better place but it's not hard for me to use it at all. I have the s8+ by the way.
  • Have you tried it? If Not, then......
  • Why? Is there something wrong with your index fingers? Are they tiny little Trump fingers? Lol. Just joking. All depends on how you hold the phone.
  • Yeah... Like... Holding it with the left hand... What an uncommon thing to do...
  • Just came back from the store empty handed. I really wanted to buy S8 but this ridiculous placement killed it for me :-(. Screen is beautiful though.
  • You must be incredibly retarded. The placement is fine. If you have no trouble with the heart rate sensor on the much larger S7 edge you can't possibly have trouble with the scanner on the S8.
  • Because the heart rate sensor provides identical function as the fingerprint scanner...
  • Yea, cause calling someone retarded really helps. Jerk
  • Simmer down Francis. or Sgt Hulka will break his big toe off in your ass.
  • The fingerprint sensor placement is not fine. It's pretty much in the worst place they could have put it.
  • I seriously doubt that its in the worst place ever, it could have been on the top ; ). Also both my right and left index fingers can reach that spot easily on my Note 4 which is both wider and taller than the S8. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Maybe because the wider the phone gets, more at the center the fingerprint gets...? Just a thought. I'd have to see it with my own eyes to be sure if that's the explanation in the case of the Note 4 when compared with the S8...
  • How many times do you check your heart rate in comparison to unlocking your phone? Heart rate once a day, maybe. Unlocking your phone? Up to say 30-40 times a day.
  • Only a Samsung employee could say that ish with a straight face...
  • Wow... People are really losing it over the fingerprint scanner. I've adapted just fine.
  • Me too. After using it for only a couple days it's getting easier and easier to use.
  • Yes... When the S9 comes out, you'll all be more conscious of how ridiculous the fingerprint location is. Who knows? Most probably you'll be the first ones to jump into the new device...
  • Yep, I have an S3 Classic and my wife has a Fitbit, works great. Been using this methodology for a couple years now. As far as the finger print reader I do believe this issue is way overblown. I have the S8+ and my wife has the S8. If you don't use a case it might be a bigger problem but we both got Samsung cases that have cutouts specifically for the fingerprint reader, suuuper easy to find now and no camera confusion. Get a case with separate cutout and I'm telling you these devices are perfect (with the exception of not being able to map the Bixby button, but I used a package disabler to disable Bixby so it never launches even if I accidentally hit the button).
  • My wife got one of those cases while I didn't, but even without it, it's still in a cut out and the finger print scanner is always on the left. So as long as anyone gets a case for their S8 or S8+, it won't be difficult to deal with an odd placement.
  • Package Disabler Pro RULES!!! I have all my tmobile, knox and other crap I dont need (bloat) disabled and it makes a HUGE difference. Just have to be careful what you turn off....some things have to be on or you can cause issues of course but its awesome they made it not require root. I wont root my s7 edge. the current process sucks and slows it to a crawl even after all the patches and fixes. Not new to root whatsoever (member of xda since 2008 as a recognized Contributor) and tried it 3 times in one month increments hoping itd get better and it sucks so thus app does what I was rooting to achieve. well worth the 5.00 or so to buy. +1!!
  • I think folks are missing out.......If you set the iris scanner to auto pop when the screen lights up it's much easier and quicker than the finger print sensor. You don't do anything but look at the red light and bam.... Done....I thought I would hate it but turns out to be my fav aspect of the phone.
  • Have you had any "misfires"? Ive read some reviews that they had to do it a second time or open their eyes really wide for it to work...curious....
  • How do u set it to do that?
  • The cheap MiBand 2 is also a nice option. I don't care about the fingerprint position because it's just a matter of getting used to it and the Iris scanner works very well when you look at the text too. To some degree even better than my previous experiences with fingerprint sensors.
    What I like about the MiBand 2 is that it can show text as well since the developer of Tools & MiBand found a workaround for it so you can for example see who is calling you or who is writing you a whatsapp messages. Sure, it's not as cool as a S2/S3 watch but offers more functionality than a fitbit for a much cheaper price.
  • It does not offer more functionality than Fitbit in terms of fitness but yeah it's pretty good for step counting and letting you know who is calling. The heart rate sensor is useless though, I have mine disabled.
  • I simply choose not to use lock screen security at all, but it's still more annoying to unlock this phone than my Pixel XL. At least Samsung doesn't force you to have a secure lock screen to use Samsung Pay.
  • Main reason I didn't jump on it. My 6p has the best finger sensor in the game. Back of phone and in the middle. My daily driver is an s7e and I don't use the heart rate and etc bc it doesn't work unless I take my case off. Figured I would have the same issue just this time not able to unlock my phone.
  • I agree with the 6p it HAD the best fingerprint scanner placement site it was the first one. But now all kinds of phones have that. And oh yeah if I were you I wouldn't hold that phone for much longer, it can die suddenly for no reason with no resuscitation possible. I was lucky and had Huawei replaced mine under warranty and I sold it right after. Posted via the Android Central App
  • TO me the finger print scanner works better than the old way. It is faster. As soon I place my finger on the scanner the phone comes on and is ready for use. The old way I had to press the button and hold my finger on the scanner a few seconds to use the phone. Sometimes I would have to press the button several times to get my Galaxy S7 edge to recognize my finger print. Occassionally, I would have to enter my password because the phone would not recognize my finger print. With the Galaxy S8, I have yet to have that problem.
  • Agreed. It's one tap now, not two. I always wondered why the S-series devices required that. When I switched from the Edge to the Pixel XL I was briefly concerned. I shouldn't have been. It's super easy and I'd argue less awkward than trying to grip the phone with one hand and tap the bottom front facing sensor. The front facing always felt like something I had to be consciously aware of. On the back, it seems effortless. I grip the phone and my finger slides right to the sensor with one tap. I'm surprised people are losing their minds over the move.
  • I have the s7 edge and it wirks everytime first attempt. Its never not worked on first try ever. weird....
  • I find it's gotten more accurate and way faster recognizing my finger after the Nougat update (I also have the s7 edge).
  • I never used to use the smart lock because fingerprint unlock was damn fast. But with my S8+ I have reverted to smart lock and added my Gear S3 as trusted device. Iris is great but again doesn't work all the time, also need to hold it up, bring closer, farther etc. I just don't want to think while unlock. Fingerprint is much better than Iris for me on the S8+ even with it's awkward position. But even that's not great and fast/reliable compared all other fingerprint scanners on other phones.
  • The iris scanner is soooo fast ,you don't have to hold phone up to your face or some awkward way these authors make it out just look towards your phone then boom unlocked...love it!!!
  • Exactly. I was saying this before launch. Now that I have the phone the iris scanner is jus as fast as the fingerprint.
  • I may have an odd opinion, but the finger print scanner on the S8+ is SO much better than the previous iterations. When using a thin case, your finger just goes there naturally, unlike maneuvering the phone around to reach the bottom like on the note 7.
  • I used to do this with Samsungs Gear Circle and I did it with my Gear 2 Neo smart watch, quit using the feature once they perfected the finger print scanner.
  • Why did they not place it in the same location Google placed it on the Pixel? Seems like such a more natural position. My wife got the S8+ and loves it--except for the sensor...
  • Use a case and fingerprint scanner will be very easy to use and even without a case it wasn't really that hard. Iris scanner is very quick too.
    Its only because of reviewers that I was worried about the fingerprint scanner location but now I know that it was all bullshit.
    Having both Fingerprintscanner and Irisscanner activated at the same time is wonderful, there are times when the Iris scanner is 100 times more useful than a fingerprint scanner
  • Holding your phone in front of your face in never, ever more useful or easier than picking up your phone and have it lock for you when you place a thumb or index finger on a scanner.
  • Its all just change people. when they make screens better and add features **** gets moved.... damned if they do,damned if they dont. You will get used to it just like every other smartphone you bought that they chabged something on. its nit THAT bad especially with a case. You can reach right to it no problem. after a week or so you wont even think about it.
  • Although I'm sure for some people this is an acceptable solution... I suspect it is lousy for me people than realize it. I don't want my phone sitting on my desk at work to be able to be picked up by anybody and unlocked. I don't even want my kids to be able to pick up my phone and play with it. It is always with me but often sitting on the desk etc. Using BT to keep it unlocked would basically keep it unlocked all the time which I do not remotely want, and I suspect many people don't want when they actually get down to it.
  • My first phone with a fingerprint sensor is the Nexus 5X, which has it on the back, right below the camera. For the first week, I was putting my index finger on the camera lens because it's more prominent, but I learned where it is and it's not difficult to reach at all. Maybe it's different for a phablet, but for me, hitting the sensor is just a matter of curling my finger in a bit. My experience with Smart Lock has been mixed. The location sensing isn't reliable, and it doesn't always recognize my voice as me. But it doesn't matter because I'm in such a habit of waking my phone with the sensor that I'll usually use it even when I'm at home where it's usually but not always been automatically unlocked. In fact, I use the optional "swipe the sensor to lower the notification shade" and I'd like to be able to set it to go to the home screen when the device is awake and double tap to open the app drawer, but the third party apps that add extra gestures turn the actual unlocking function to mush.
  • Or just not buy the phone and get one that does it right? Lol
  • So the Pokemon go plus should work as well?
  • Or... Wait for the Note 8, or... Buy a S7/Edge.
  • The first thing is you design the phone that way so your users don't have to buy additional smart band or other to unlock the device. Or if they have to you should include it in the S8 box. This is really ridiculous, just because some engineers were drunk while designing the fingerprint reader placement we have to buy additional devices in order to be able to unlock the phone fast and secure way lol...
  • Just a legal point that has already gone to court, police can force you to unlock your phone through biometrics but not through a PIN, password or pattern http://www.bankinfosecurity.com/blogs/police-collect-fingerprints-to-unl... and there are several other articles if you google police and biometrics.
  • I have had zero problems with the FP unlocker on the back of my S8+.
  • I have no problems with finding the fingerprint sensor on my s8+
    And indoors the iris scanner is as fast as fp sensor. I haven't setup trusted devices even do I use a gear s2. The fp sensor is faster then push the home button and swipe up the screen, so I don't se the use of trusted devices.
  • Such hyperbole for the sake of a fingerprint sensor being off centre. This must be the firstest of first world problems ....
  • I unlock my Moto G4 using face recognition. Isn't easy that way?
  • I still wish Google would include "Trusted WIFI"
  • My son showed me face recognition unlock. It's instantaneous. That's what I'd use. I'm not afraid of anyone taking a picture of my face and stealing my phone.
  • I started using my Gear Fit 2 as a Trusted device with the S7 Edge and continue to use it with the S8+. It works well and cuts down on the number of times I have to unlock my phone. After putting a case on the S8+ I hit the fingerprint sensor almost every time.
  • Loving the unlocking now I've discovered it has Double Tap To Wake (kind of). I use smart unlock(trusted device) to bypass using the fps or Iris sensors. And if you have the virtual home button always on in always on display you can double tap the home button then swipe to unlock.
    Yeah you can keep the home button held to unlock it but I've missed DTTW from past phones.
  • I've been using this for years (since it first launched) . . . also, you can set Samsung's rather excellent iris unlock to do a lot of the things you normally would do with a fingerprint reader (saved passwords and what not). All of these things make me care a lot less about the fingerprint scanner placement, as I rarely ever need to use it.
  • so great that you made this article to spread some awareness about this feature. i've used it (with my smartwatch and car's bluetooth as trusted) for years, and i never have to actually unlock my phone...except when i wake up in the morning, because my watch was on the charger overnight (hit 4 hours+ of inactivity). and with the s8 series phones, it's even better, because there's that new option to turn off the swipe requirement!!...so literally all i have to do is hit the home button on the AOD and...i'm right into my home screen! so awesome.
  • Day one s8 user and no fingerprint issues.
  • Fitbit? Or any Bluetooth device? I use smart unlock with my S3