Trusted Bluetooth devices: A must-have for every smartphone going forward

Smartphone manufacturers are paying more and more attention to how you unlock your device — and as such, so are we. That brings us to another installment of "What do I miss?" when moving from one smartphone to another. Previously we touched on Motorola's Active Display versus LG's Knock-On. Today, we turn to Bluetooth. And, specifically, trusted Bluetooth devices. 

This is a feature that Motorola's baked into its recent line of phones — Verizon's new Droids as well as the Moto X. And, quite simply, it's a feature that needs to be baked into every smartphone going forward at the operating system level.

The lockscreen is password protected — for everyone but me.

Having switched between several phones in the past couple weeks — the Moto X, LG G2 and the HTC One — a common theme was that I didn't have to worry about entering a PIN at my lockscreen. That's good and bad, because only one of those phones had a PIN set — the Moto X.

Motorola's got a little piece of custom software that lets you designate a connected Bluetooth device as a "trusted" device. When your phone's connected to that trusted Bluetooth device, the lockscreen is bypassed. Hit the power button and you go right to the homescreen.

That's not to say the phone isn't secure, however. As soon as the trusted Bluetooth device is switched off or moves out of range, the lockscreen — and its included security, be it PIN, pattern password or whatever — kicks back in.

The only better thing than a Bluetooth device being near you is being on you.

So find yourself a Bluetooth device that's near you on a consistent basis — car stereo, Bluetooth speaker, home entertainment, etc. — and you can set them as trusted devices, the idea being that if you're with them, you're in a relatively secure place that doesn't necessarily need the added security of a lockscreen.

Trusted Bluetooth devices don't take away all your control, either. If you get yourself into a situation where you need to lock your phone, you can do so manually in the notification pull-down. No muss, no fuss. You still have options.

But even better than that, I think, is a Bluetooth device that's actually on your body. In my case, I've been using the Pebble smartwatch as my trusted Bluetooth device. It's on my person, as people who tend to talk about things being on their person like to say, and it's pretty conspicuous, latched to my wrist as watches tend to be. I'll know if it's gone missing. Moreover, it moves with me. No worrying about connecting to a new device when I leave the house, or get into the car, or get to work. For the purpose of serving as a trusted Bluetooth device, a smartwatch is ideal. 

(A Google Glass-type device would be another contender here. Or we could just go hard-core and embed Bluetooth devices in our bodies. That gets a little messy, though. This is also separate from the Motorola Skip or Skip Dots — which are manageable NFC tags that will automatically unlock your phone when touched.)

As of right now, Motorola's the only manufacturer offering this feature out of the box — and on the phone from the moment you boot it up is the way it needs to be. For the first time in my life, I'm using lockscreen security. (I know, I know. Do as I say, not as I do.) Only, I don't have to use it most of the time, because I've got a trusted Bluetooth device running interference and serving as a gatekeeper.

I'm using a secure lockscreen for the first time — and I rarely have to see it.

Switching from the Moto X to the LG G2 (and briefly the HTC One) over the past couple weeks, I didn't notice a difference at all — but that was the problem. I didn't have lockscreen security on two of the three phones. Not good.

All smartphones need to have some implementation of this. And at this point, with this sort of feature, there's no longer an excuse for not having a secure device.

Phil Nickinson
  • This is really a great feature,I use it with my Droid Roadster & Big Jambox as trusted devices.
  • There's a Droid Roadster? Posted via Android Central App
  • It's a Motorola Bluetooth handsfree system.
  • I love this ability to pass the lockscreen. I wonder if trusted devices will be a common android feature in the future?
  • I have been doing this for some time with my Pebble and Galaxy Note 2 (though it will work with any android phone). Free software for Pebble, called Pebble Locker. If the watch loses bluetooth connectivity with the Pebble, the phone locks. When the Pebble re-connects, the phone unlocks automatically. Fantastic!
  • simple and useful, great feature! I would love to have that kind of feature but with wlan... So whenever I am connected to my home wlan I don't have to bother about the lockscreen. I imagine it should be fairly easy to implement, I'd love to see these simply things on a Nexus... Back in the day I could do it with Tasker but that doesn't work anymore ;(
  • I don't have time to research this right now but Tasker won't do this? I have Llama set up to do this any time I connect to my home wifi. It turns off the pin security when I connect to wifi and doesn't reactivate it until I leave my home area (to keep it from switching back and forth repeatedly when the S3 disables wifi in power save mode). I assumed this would be a cake walk for Tasker (and probably secure settings). Posted via Android Central App
  • I use Tasker for this. Along with secure settings like you said. Posted via Android Central App
  • Did you use the default profiles to do that in Task?
    What are the steps?
  • As far as I know tasker and secure settings only work with pin lock NOT pattern lock. Unless you have root!!!
  • Yes. I am sure you could do this with tasker as well. Motorola is just making it easier for people that cannot or will not root their phones and learn to use tasker.
  • Tasker works well for this. I've basically duplicated Moto's trusted device functionality on my HTC One using Tasker. Anytime my Pebble is connected to my phone via bluetooth, no security. If my Pebble moves out of range or is shut off, I automatically have to enter my PIN upon unlocking.
  • how do you do this with Tasker?
  • The Moto X has so many great features that i want on a modern smartphone. Google needs to add these features to the next nexus for sure. I will be switching to ATT soon so i want the best thinking about getting the Moto X right now
  • I agree 100% Phil. Now my problem is finding a bluetooth device to keep with me at all times.
  • this.
  • Or a BT device that your phone is always connected to when you're in a relatively secure environment. My phone is always connected to a Jambox when I'm at home, and it'd be nice to have this feature so that my lockscreen would effectively always be unsecured when I'm at home, but would secure itself when I leave.
  • Definitely a good feature, should be in 4.4 (but won't). only problem is, if someone mugs you or something, chances are they're taking your watch as well as your phone. Posted via Android Central App
  • This feature is already available in an app which also includes WiFi as well as BT
  • Woah! Great find! Thanks man!
  • You've been able to do this with the free plugins to DelayedLock2 for a while now as well: Any Android phone can do this with BOTH Bluetooth AND WiFi, right now.
  • Thanks. Trying this right now!
  • Doesn't work on 4.3 I've been trying BlueUnlock, but it hasn't been consistent.
  • Fir those using a pebble. Pebble profiler can offer this feature to you on at least any +4 android phone.
  • You forgot to mention that you must be running Cyanogenmod for it to work.
  • Darn. I was just about to look into this. I'm running SlimBean :(
  • Your right. Sometimes I forget I'm not running stock, should have known better
  • So what about the new KEVO UNIKEY and Lockitron door locks that are coming out? Would we need them to be "trusted devices" in order to avoid having to take my phone out of my pocket and unlocking it in order to unlock the door?
    Or will it still connect to the door lock even when the phone is locked?
  • Ingenious feature. One that never occurred to me to so simple it's brilliant. It should be standard in the Android OS as an option.
  • First I thought the same way, until I thought more about Apples new Fingerprint System. The first question should be why people protect their phone?
    - jealous partner?
    - stupid roommates at highschool?
    - police and government?
    - robbery? In most cases a fingerprint or truested device makes it easier for them. Truested Devices are usually in range and a fingerprint is no problem if the person sleeps, is drunk or the finger is simply forced to touch the reader. Nothing is as secure as a thing that just exists in your head, a good passphrase. There are many ways to make it easier and not everyone wants the highest security, but no company should make the same fault as Apple does and telling people it's more secure...
  • We should be required to say "My voice is my passport. Verify me."
  • You can easily do that with tasker on any android. Or Am I missing something ?
  • My thought exactly. Control the lockscreen by a variable and any number of events/states could control security (BT device, WiFi, etc).
  • We get it Tasker can do everything blah blah blah. Posted via Android Central App
  • I think the issue is battery consumption. Using BLE devices may make this a bit easier on the battery. Posted via Android Central App and the Moto X
  • Word on the Moto X G+ community is that BLE devices aren't supported. Have no confirmation on this though as I still have to import a Moto X to Europe
  • My mom will never use Tasker. Being built in is key. Posted via Android Central App
  • Thanks for looking out for those of us who have no desire to root.
  • Wouldnt you need root to accomplish this with tasker? what normal user is going to do this?
  • Phil, Will this work with AES or other corporate policies that impose a pin lock on the phone, or can it be disabled by policy. I'd buy a Moto X just to not have to type a pin every time I want to use my phone, but it would be useless if it can be overridden.
  • Properly not. AES is built into the OS and don't think Moto has been messing with that.
  • I have a moto x and a security policy from my company. I tried pairing the phone with my computer and while that worked and it is listed as a trusted device it still is getting locked and I am required to put my PIN in. So annoying.
  • I wish i did this long ago before someone robbed my note 2 :'( Posted via Android Central App
  • Can you just use a Bluetooth headset as your trusted device? I always have one of those on me anyways. At least until the Sony SmartWatch 2 comes out.
  • should we expect to see this feature in Android 4.4? and is it simply a matter of adding it to the OS or will some devices be unable to take advantage of this?
  • Let's hope so. Posted via Android Central App
  • Phil, do you ever have pocket unlocks with this? A lot of time I pull my phone out of my pocket and the display is on, who knows what it would be doing in there if it was on the home screen.. if it made it so you just had to swipe to unlock I'd be ok with it
  • Phil: How does a secure bluetooth device work when the phone is encrypted (using Android encryption)? Would an encrypted device still require a password, even if the secure bluetooth is within range?
  • Droid Maxx Forum:
  • That's cool, but what is someone else borrowed your watch? Wouldn't they be able to access your phone easy? It's still cool though. But I think I'll settle for the nymi.... If I could afford it :p. Though I do think it would be more secure. :n) Posted via Android Central App
  • My fear is when someone steals both your phone and your wearable trusted bluetooth device.
  • It does pose an issue for Muggings and carjacking. On the other hand IF I get carjacked and it is synched to my headset instead of the car I can rest easy while bleeding at the side of the road, knowing that the phone is secure.
  • For me the Pebble has great range. That seems like a problem for this use.
    If you were to walk away from your phone to use the washroom anyone would be able to unlock your phone. I guess this is only intended to work if someone literally takes your phone far away from you?
  • I agree this, would be an issue.
    I wonder however if one could instead of simply on/off pick distance or signal strength, I mean if it is for unlocking the phone, the clock would be within very close proximity.
    I would like to know how some of the people here who say this can be done in Tasker, if they would tell how this could be done in Tasker, and perhaps one could add a parameter with signal strength.
  • I use "tasker" and "secure settings" to do the same thing with my car and my Jawbone headset. When either of them is connected, I must enter my lockscreen pin. As long as they stay connected, I don't need to re-enter my pin. This is way cool. This is also one of the reasons why I want my phone to be rooted. I can't do that on any phone that isn't rooted. The new Moto phones built it in.
  • Good selling point for a Pebble... I'm def gonna try this with the stick'n'find indegogo project, and perhaps hide one of those in my wallet.
  • I so dig the Moto X. Posted via Android Central App
  • I'd like something like a Bluetooth fob to act as a trusted device. I really only use a Bluetooth headset while driving and I already have a watch I like to wear so something like the Pebble is out of the question for me.
  • I'm with you, MrB85. A fob would be great. I'm wondering if a bluetooth fob like the Tile would work? Or maybe the bluetooth fob that's a part of the home door lock system from Kwikset?
  • I would like to see this expanded to include jewelry or something to that effect. The more devices in your trust in circle the better the security. Include heartbeat from watch and brainwaves from some detector on glass and we could be on our way to something secure IMO for voting (think Daniel Suarez Darknet community in daemon and freedom books) allowing for more b participation.
  • Pebble Locker was mentioned above, but I had to chime in because I recently started using it and it works great. Posted via AC App on HTC One GPe
  • I don't have Pebble watch but used Pebble Locker Premium ($2.99) to keep my device unlock with my LG tones BT headset. Works great.
  • This is a great feature except that even when you're in a trusted location or a trusted device is nearby, it auto-locks after 4 hrs of non-use.
    Question: I have my car blue tooth and a blue tooth ear piece as trusted devices. Smart Lock automatically connects with my car when I first get into it in the morning (even with my ear piece in the car) but when I leave my car, use my ear piece (for less than 4 hrs), then return to my car, Smart Lock requires my pin to reconnect with my car. Are the two blue tooth trusted devices competing/interfering with one another in the program? Thanks, Sharon