We unlock our smartphones countless times a day without thinking about it. But that doesn’t make typing in a PIN or passcode, waiting for your phone’s facial recognition to kick in, or swiping your finger across your phone’s fingerprint sensor, any less monotonous. If you happen to own an Android device running version 5.0 Lollipop or later, then you can save some time with a handy feature called Smart Lock which can automatically unlock your phone without prompting you to do anything.
Here’s everything you need to know about Android Smart Lock, including how it works and how to use it.
How to enable Smart Lock
Google introduced Smart Lock alongside version 5.0 Lollipop of its Android smartphone operating system, and it has evolved slightly since then. Smart Lock lets you specify conditions when it’s safe to bypass the PIN, pattern, or any other hoops you’ve set up to unlock your phone.
The path to enable Smart Lock is slightly different depending on the phone you have and the version of Android it’s running. If you have a stock Android phone or close to it, you’ll want to go to Settings > Security > Smart Lock, or maybe Settings > Security & Location > Smart Lock. If you have a Samsung Galaxy, then look in Settings > Lock screen and security > Smart Lock.
You’ll be required to enter your smartphone’s PIN, pattern, or password before continuing further.
With Smart Lock enabled, you’re ready to start configuring it to automatically unlock your phone. There are five possible options: On-body detection, Trusted places, Trusted devices, Trusted face, and Voice Match. Note that not all of these options are available on every device, so you will have to check with your phone’s manufacturer to see which works and which doesn’t.
How to use On-body detection
On-body detection, perhaps the easiest Smart Lock option to configure, uses the accelerometer and other sensors to keep your phone unlocked when it detects that it’s being carried in your hand, pocket, or bag. The caveat? If you give your device to someone else while it’s unlocked, it might stay unlocked. On some phones, though, On-body detection goes so far as to learn the pattern of your walk and lock your phone if it detects one that seems different.
Here’s how to enable On-body detection:
- In Android’s Smart Lock menu, tap On-body detection.
- Toggle on On-body detection.
On-body detection isn’t perfect. It can take up to one minute to lock after you’ve stopped moving, and between 5 and 10 minutes after you get into a vehicle, like a car, bus, or train.
How to set up Trusted places
If you’re not thrilled at the prospect of your phone unlocking whenever you’re out and about, Trusted places is a good compromise. It uses geofencing — or geographic boundaries defined by your phone’s mapping software — to detect when you’re at home, work, or another location where you feel comfortable leaving your phone unlocked. As long as your phone has an internet connection and access to your location, you never have to worry about unlocking it again.
You have to check a few things before you can enable Trusted places. First, enable location mode on your phone. Here’s how:
- Tap Settings
- Find the Location section (may have a different name, depending on your device, for example, on a Samsung Galaxy it’s Settings > Connections > Location).
- Tap Mode or Locating method. Then choose between these three options:
- High accuracy uses GPS, Wi-Fi, cellular networks, and other sensors to get the highest-accuracy location.
- Battery saving mode uses sources that use less battery, like Wi-Fi and mobile networks.
- Device only uses GPS to determine location.
Once you have enabled and selected a location mode, you’re ready to enable Trusted Places.
- Add your home location by tapping Trusted Places from the Smart Lock menu. Tap Home, and then tap Turn on this location.
- Add a custom location by tapping Trusted Places from the Smart Lock menu. Tap Add trusted place, and a map will open to your current location. (Pick a different location by tapping Search.) Name the trusted location, and tap OK.
Switch jobs or move to a new house? Not to worry. Here’s how to edit or remove a place:
- In the Smart Lock menu, tap Trusted Places. From the list of trusted Smart Lock options, pick the place. Next, choose whether you want to delete it, rename it, or edit it.
How to assign Trusted devices
Trusted devices lets you use a paired watch, fitness tracker, or car speaker system as a kind of wireless key. When you designate a Bluetooth device as “trusted,” your phone automatically unlocks the moment it pairs to it.
Here is how to add a trusted Bluetooth device:
- In the Smart Lock menu, tap Trusted devices.
- Tap Add trusted device > Bluetooth.
- On the list of connected devices, tap a device. The list will show only paired devices.
Often when you pair a new device via Bluetooth, you’ll be asked if you want to add it as a Trusted device.
Trusted devices isn’t without limitations. Someone could keep your phone unlocked by imitating your Bluetooth connection, and if your phone determines that your connection isn’t secure enough, Trusted devices will fail altogether. There is the issue of range, too. If someone takes your phone and Trusted device with them, they could gain access to it. If the range of your paired Bluetooth device is long enough, a person might be able to unlock your phone from up to 100 meters away.
Smart Lock originally supported NFC-based unlocking, but as of September 2017, the option has been deprecated. Trusted near-field communication (NFC) tags, which have a range within inches rather than tens of feet, offered a more secure alternative. For example, you could set up an NFC sticker in your car or at your bedside, so that when you tap the sticker with your device, your device unlocks. Users who set up Trusted NFC tags can continue to use them, but they won’t be able to modify them or add new tags.
How to configure Trusted face
Facial recognition is not the most secure way to unlock your smartphone, but it’s certainly one of the most convenient. After you set a trusted face, your phone’s front-facing camera will search for your face and unlock it if it recognizes you. This option is not present on some phones and you should be aware it’s not anywhere near as secure as something like Apple’s Face ID which employs special hardware. Smart Lock’s Trusted face can be fooled by a photo of you.
Here’s how to set up a Trusted face:
- In the Smart Lock menu, tap Trusted face.
- Tap Set up and follow the on-screen instructions.
- When your phone starts looking for your face, you will see the Trusted face icon. If your phone doesn’t recognize your face, you can unlock it with the PIN, pattern, or password you’ve saved.
In some cases, your phone might have trouble distinguishing your face from someone else’s. Luckily, improving facial recognition is a cinch.
- In the Smart Lock menu, tap Trusted Face.
- Tap Improve face matching.
- Tap Next and follow the on-screen instructions.
How to add Voice Match
Want to unlock your smartphone with nothing more than your voice? Smart Lock makes it possible. Voice Match recognizes the unique intonation of your phrasing and automatically unlocks your phone without you having to lift a finger. You can access it in a couple of ways.
- From the Smart Lock settings menu, look for Voice Match.
- Alternatively, go to Settings > Google > Search > Voice > Voice Match.
- You can toggle on the “OK, Google” voice command in here and decide whether it should unlock your phone.
- If you already set it up, but it’s not working well, you can also choose to Retrain voice model to improve it.
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