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Smart lock screen security options in Android

When Google first showed off what would become Android 5.0 Lollipop at Google I/O 2014, they gave us a sneak peak of what it had in store for the new Smart locks. Things have grown quite a bit since then, and now there's a whole list of ways you can secure your phone in ways that aren't a hassle when you're the one using the phone.

Here's a quick look at Google's Smart Lock options, and how to use them.

Smart Lock Trusted Face

Trusted Face

Introduced in Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, Face Unlock was a feature that would allow the user to have their device memorize their face and "quickly" unlock their device without the need of entering your password. The problem with this feature is that it just did not work well and when it did work, it was faster to just go through whatever type of security you had already setup. The biggest vulnerability with using face unlock at the time was that it was very easy to spoof. With nothing more than a photograph of the owner, anyone could gain access to the phone or tablet.

Over the next couple of Android builds we saw the added functionality to include a "liveliness" check that made the user blink while setting up the security feature. Now when you tried to access your device you had to blink while attempting to unlock the device but this just required more time staring at your screen hoping that it would unlock rather than just entering a password.

When Google released newer builds of Jelly Bean and Android 4.4 KitKat we got no real indication that Google was going to continue working on Face Unlock. To everyone's surprise, Google improved upon face unlock and added it to Android's new Smart lock bundle. With Android Lollipop or higher, notifications can now be seen and interacted with directly on the lock screen. With Trusted face activated, you can interact with your notifications and you phone or tablet will attempt to match your face and unlock without causing you any interference. If you want to unlock it before it has identified you, your lock screen will slide the security input up instead of attempting to identify you with Trusted face.

On-body detection

On-body detection

If you're the kind of user who regularly sets their phone down on a table or desk when going about your work day, the on-body detection lock may be the kind of smart lock you're interested in. When you pick your phone up from the desk and unlock it, on-body detection keeps the phone unlocked for as long as the phone is in your hand or pocket.

As long as your phone continues to detect motion or a less than perfectly flat surface, you'll be able to glance at your phone and get all the information you want with no need to unlock multiple times. When you set the phone down again, it immediately locks and requires your unlock code of choice to start the process over again. It's a small thing that decreases the amount of steps between your and your data while keeping you relatively safe, though clearly not as safe as having to enter your pin or password in every single time you touch your phone.

Smart Lock Trusted Places

Trusted Places

Android uses your GPS location to power the next smart lock — Trusted places. This Smart lock is one that runs in the background that you tend to not notice as it relies on zero input from the user — just as long as you have GPS turned on that is.

Once in the the Trusted places settings you are greeted with the option of turning on the security feature at your home and or work addresses or adding a custom location. Once turned on, each of these locations are areas where your device will no longer have any security except the simple swipe to unlock feature on your lock screen.

This Smart lock is perfect for anyone that wants to keep their phone or tablet secure and locked if someone gets a hold of it while out but feels safe keeping their device unprotected while at home, work, or any place that they add into their Trusted places. The only downside about Trusted places is that you have to remember to keep your GPS turned on which is something I and many other Android users do not do unless they are using Google Maps or some other application that requires their location.

Trusted Voice

Trusted Voice

If you're a fan of Google Now, and your phone allows for "OK Google" to trigger Now anywhere on your phone, there's a good chance you've already set your phone up to listen out for your voice to access all of the great things Now offers. Trusted Voice takes this one step further now that there are phones with "OK Google" detection even when the phone is off.

Trusted Voice listens out for your voice, and if there's a tone match your phone will unlock automatically, making it so you can pick up the phone and get right to business. This isn't the most secure option in the world, as Google warns with a bib popup when you enable the feature that anyone with a voice similar enough to yours can also unlock the phone, but if you don't feel like that's a problem for you this feature will listen all the time and let your voice do the unlocking for you at very little cost to your battery.

Smart Lock Trusted Devices

Trusted devices

The third and easiest to use Smart lock is Trusted devices. The concept is simple — the user connects a Bluetooth device to their phone or scans an NFC tag, and then their device will no longer be protected by the user's lock screen security. Using a Bluetooth trusted device is the easiest route of using this Smart lock because it requires so extra steps to use after the setup process. If you choose to scan a NFC tag you must turn on the display of your device and then tap it on the tag itself. In the time it took you to maneuver to phone or tablet to successfully trigger the NFC tag, you probably could have already unlocked your phone with whatever type of security that you have.

To make it even easier for you, Google made it so that anytime you pair a Bluetooth device to your phone or tablet, you will get a notification asking you if you would like to have it setup as a Trusted device. Currently, I have my Moto 360 and Google Glass as Trusted devices because I can trust my phone being unlocked when when I am wearing either one. If I ever step far enough away from my phone that the Bluetooth connection drops, my phone's lock screen security enables so others cannot access my data.

At this point, there is no excuse for not adding some level of protection to your phone or tablet. While it's recommend everyone does add more than the swipe to unlock security, if you are running Android 5.0 or higher you'll find having a pattern, PIN, or password on your device will no longer hinder quick access to your device.

46 Comments
  • One of the few good additions to lollipop. Just waiting for that damn Motorola keylink to launch here now. Wubba lubba dub dub!
  • These are so sweet. Can't wait for the M8 to be updated. Its sitting collecting dust while my iPhone 6 gets all the use. This would cause me to switch back for a while.
  • I have had face unlock since the Droid maxx now the Turbo. It is so slow and doesn't work about 50% of the time I just stopped using it. The trusted places is good. I like my phone unlocked at home.
  • Trusted places and devices are two of my favorite features. However I don't have GPS on and trusted places works just fine for me. I keep my location settings on battery saving mode (wifi and cellular only). Posted via the Android Central App
  • I still don't get how/why they didn't added trusted Wi-Fi. The system can match SSID n Mac address and it's more narrow then than the 100 or so meters error of location. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Because you can easily spoof a SSID and MAC address?? Posted via the Android Central App
  • But they allow trusted Bluetooth... Am I wrong, or is that almost as easy to spoof? Wubba lubba dub dub!
  • No, because you won't be able to forge the keys exchanged for the Bluetooth pairing. If they did Bluetooth near, like Tasker, then you could spoof. This has turned out to be the killer 5.0 feature for me. My N5 crashed in a conference call today, but I'm addicted to smart unlock and can't go back to 4.4.3. :(
  • I can recommend simple aosp, it's on 5.0.2 and I haven't dropped a call since I've been using it (I did have that issue on stock lollipop). And my proximity sensor works. And I've themed it black. Wubba lubba dub dub!
  • SSIDs and MACs are easy to spoof, though, so it's not enough to just be within range of it. Trusted WiFi that you've previously authenticated with and have auto-connected to, though, is very secure and is something that I agree is missing and should be added in an update.
  • Was wondering about using Wi-fi too. Didn't know about either of these points, so thanks for the info.
  • Budius, there is an app for that. "DisLock" Rooted LG G2.
    Rooted GS3, Stock Galaxy Note 4
    If it ain't Tech, it ain't Right!
  • Smart Unlock has been my absolute favorite Lollipop feature (well, after ART by default). Before Lollipop added the feature I had been relying on Tasker and the SecureSettings root apps to do pretty much the same thing, except that I was disabling secure lock when connected to "Trusted WiFi" networks instead of BT + GPS + Face. Why did Google not add Trusted WiFi anyway? As long as you're connected, vs just near, there's no SSID spoof issue, since you previously authenticated, and most people leave WiFi on more consistently than BT or GPS since it doesn't waste much battery anymore to leave it on. So now the only thing I really use Tasker for is setting my display to 100% brightness when charging (yummy OLED), and reverting to auto when not. THIS should be an option baked into the OS too, IMNSHO. (Just checked, and I guess I also use tasker for a netflix setup shortcut, and a task to revert my phone to some defaults before my alarm goes off)
  • Same, but I was using Delayed Lock instead of Tasker before the trusted Wi-fi was built into Lollipop
  • This is awesome. I have Tasker setup to do awesome things when I get in and out of my car, but the "disable keyguard" never worked right and I'd always have to repeatedly unlock the phone dulling some of that Tasker magic. This should now make it awesome again. :D Posted via the Android Central App
  • Anyone know if trusted devices unlock feature works for passcode locks that are enforced by work admin profiles?
  • THIS. It's all theoretical for those of us at bring-your-own-device workplaces that enforce security policies requiring a password or PIN. At least I'm assuming that will continue. I'm at a health care institution, for instance, and I'd be surprised if they trusted employees to implement smart unlock features correctly. Tho it seems trusted Bluetooth should be pretty safe in combo with device encryption.
  • It does work for me. Corporate email enforced pin lock is bypassed. Posted via Android Central App
  • Just use Nine or Touchdown for Exchange email and set it to lock only the app, not the entire device. You'll only have to enter a PIN when you access the app and can use whatever lock method you want for securing the overall device.
  • My company uses Airwatch for an MDM (I use Touchdown for Exchange), which enforces a complex password (not even just a PIN) on the phone itself. Thankfully, trusted places and devices bypasses that. They've disabled trusted face though, which i'm ok with. But I wouldn't be surprised if they eventually figured out how to disable the trusted places and devices as well.
  • I have been loving smart unlock on my Nexus 5 but it still has a few bugs. It hasn't happened recently but for a while my locations were randomly getting turned off as options. Also, if you reboot the phone, it requires the phone first be unlocked with my pass code st least once before it unlocks like normal when I have my Moto 360 connected
  • What case is on the Nexus 6 in the pictures? Looks like a thin bumper but I haven't seen any like that in my searching.
  • I wish Google would provide a scramble pad for the keyboard unlock. My niece figured out the 4 and 6 digit codes of all the phones in the house by observing the general order as the hand moved and then looking a the finger smudges later.
  • Trusted Places would be great if it worked. I've had little success with it. Posted from my Nexus 7 2013 via Android Central App
  • Same here Posted via the ACA on NEXUS 6
  • Same problem on my Nexus 4. I was really excited for this feature but have yet to experience it. Good to know that facial recognition is much better now. I never bothered to try since it's original arrival.
  • Smart Lock doesn't work at all. I have trusted locations at home and work. GPS fully on and the damn phone doesn't lock itself when I leave those areas. Posted via the ACA on NEXUS 6
  • Exactly my experience. Google knows where I am too as the "parking location" card is dead on. I miss skip lock. Posted from my Nexus 5 via Android Central App
  • I tried using this to unlock my tablet with my Moto 360, but since my watch is typically connected to my phone, this messes up some of the Bluetooth stuff. Any tips to get this working?
  • How about Google Giving us the option to turn off Mandatory Enabled Encryption on the Nexus 6, as it slows down the device because of a design flaw in the security software. I shouldn't have to hack my phone for an option all other Android devices have had the ability to turn on or off.
  • Let's not forget to add that every time you go to unlock your phone the gps triggers and if you unlock your phone hundred + times a day the battery difference is VERY noticeable. What's really annoying is if I just have trusted BT on and gps trusted device OFF my GPS still fires up every time I unlock my phone. And on a Nexus 5 it's a big hit at the end of the day. So for now I am sticking with tasker.
  • I have been using Lollipop for weeks now and I didn't even know this was there.
  • i love smart lock it stays unlocked as long as my bluetooth is near but let me turn that sucker off or walk away from the bluetooth . LOCKED DOWN!!
  • Trusted places is the best. Posted via Android Central App
  • I just want a pattern to unlock. NOT swipe up THEN pattern, just pattern on its own!
    Why on earth did Google think we needed two steps in Lollipop?
  • any ideas as to why I am sometimes forced to enter my pattern when my device is in a Trusted place, could see my Trusted face, and is connected to (usually multiple) Trusted bt devices? I am NOT locking it (by power button or tapping the lock symbol). Stock Nexus 5 on 5.0.1. m.
  • W00t on the Ford. Escape?
  • I'm surprised no one has mentioned the ridiculously large Bluetooth range which leads me to believe that there may be something wrong in my setup. I paired my LG Smartwatch with the Nexus 7. Both are running lollipop. I can be two rooms away from my watch and it still didn't lock the tablet. In Google IO, it seemed that it covered a range of 5 or 6 meters. Which is also too much. I thought it would use BLE's proximity to do a smart unlock over 1m or 2m and lock it out of that range. Anything more than that is not safe.
  • They need to ad "trusted WiFi networks". Posted via Android Central App
  • I just need fingerprint ID. But a touch based one, not swipe. The others are just not my cup of tea. Posted via the Android Central App with SM-N910G
  • Have recently been updated to Lollipop but after setting up Trusted places it doesn't work at all. Set up on body which generally does work. Needs trusted WiFi to really make it easy. Have a Bluetooth watch but still doesn't work! I wish Google wouldn't advertise these things until they actually work.
  • /agree. It works well with my Pebble watch, been using it for over 6 months this way, but why would they add geo-fencing but NOT the ability to add WiFi networks? If I'm home and connected to WiFi why should I need GPS on? What if GPS reception sucks, like it does in my garage? Typical Google though...they take a concept already done spectacularly well by a 3rd party, implement a half-ass version of it, and then never update it again. I used a Pebble/Android Wear app to do "Smart Locking" before L was even announced and it worked PHENOMENALLY. Then L is released completely removing the ability for an app to unlock a device in this way (without root), and forcing me to use a less-polished, less-useful baked in version that requires GPS to stay on, often requires me to toggle BT/GPS on/off to re-register my device/location, and that will only receive updates when my carrier and MFG decide to (G4 is massively bootloader locked). Smart Lock is a MASSIVE fail for me since the app i used previously cost me $3, worked better in every single way, and was constantly updated.
  • You nailed it. We're on Android 7.1 and they have yet to implement such a simple thing as WiFi. And yet the GPS smart lock doesn't work for me. It still locks my device regardless.
  • google "how to use smart lock in android lollipop kickiteasy" and open the link of kickiteasy, to use the smart lock feature.
  • I'm just hacked the facial rec isn't a Samsung option. Grrrr...
  • Definitely need a Wi-Fi connection ability for smart lock . Very very surprised it hasn't happened yet