Learn which of the various Google Smart Lock functions for Android is your safest best.
Few things are more delightful than finding a super ability you didn’t know you had. This could very well be the case for you Android users out there who have not yet enabled the Google Smart Lock. Read on, and add a new security superpower to your mobile lifestyle.
But first, let’s clear something up. Google has actually developed three different “Smart Locks,” and the difference between them can be confusing. Here’s how big G explains the function of each:
Smart Lock for Android automatically keeps your phone or tablet locked when it's not with you, and unlocked when your device is safe. You can choose to have Android unlock based on Bluetooth or NFC connections, trusted locations, when you're carrying your device with you, or when it recognizes your face or your voice.
Smart Lock for Chromebook automatically keeps your Chromebook locked when it's not with you, and unlocked when your Android phone is nearby and unlocked.
Smart Lock for Passwords takes the hassle out of keeping your accounts safe for your favorite apps and websites. Smart Lock can save passwords to your Google Account and then help you use your passwords securely and conveniently in the websites you use on Chrome and the apps you use on your mobile devices.
For this post, we’re looking at Smart Lock for Android. There are several security options available in Smart Lock, each one designed to make locking and unlocking your screen hands-free, seamless, and secure.
The research team at Dscout conducted a study from which they gathered that the average mobile user touches their phone 2,617 times a day. That’s, shall we say...a lot. How many times a day do you find yourself unlocking your phone? Google Smart Lock for Android was developed to eliminate “unnecessary” unlocking — that is, keeping your phone unlocked when it’s safe.
So, when is it safe to keep your phone unlocked? That’s up to you, but Google provides several ways to define these safe moments. Here are the options, how they work, and how we feel about each.
The Smart Lock menu offers On-body detection, which keeps the phone “unlocked as long as it senses that it’s on your body.” How does it sense it’s on your body? The internal scopes read and learn the cadence of your walk, and the phone remains open as long as the rhythm stays with a certain range. If the phone is placed down on a table, it locks within 60 seconds.
We can acknowledge that there may be times when this is useful, but on the whole we do not recommend this mode. If a pickpocket lifts your Galaxy from under your nose and continues the rhythm of your own gait, that phone is open to whatever their grubby fingers want to tap. If you make use of this function, do so only in a location where you feel 100% safe.
And speaking of places where you feel 100% safe, Google lets you use location services to allocate areas where you feel comfortable having your phone stay in unlocked mode. You can designate your Wi-Fi signal as the safety indicator or you can use GPS coordinates to geofence a location. When Google Smart Lock creates this “safe zone,” you have an 80-meter-wide space where your phone will remain unlocked.
We think this is a very useful feature, and can make life easier for you in the home. As long as you feel safe there, and you’re confident nobody else would abuse your phone in unlocked mode. We do not, however, recommend you designate your work as a safe zone. Only use this where there is no question of bad actors.
Another good option adding a trusted device by bluetooth, such as a watch or a car speaker system. Once your phone pairs with the device, its lock screen goes away and it remains unlocked for the duration of the pairing.
This is most likely the most secure Smart Lock option of the bunch. If the trusted device were wearable IoT such as a fitness band or a smartwatch, then your phone will essentially always be ready for you when you’re wearing the two together. If your phone is misplaced or stolen, the lock screen will engage as soon as the pairing signal is broken.
Yes, you can select the Trusted face option, which will unlock the phone when the camera sees your face, but there are risks involved with this one. Specifically, someone who looks similar to you may be able to unlock it. On the instructions page for Trusted face, Google has this warning at the top of the directions — Important: This facial recognition is less secure than a PIN, pattern, or password. Also, the technology is still rough. It can take a while for the software to learn to recognize your face. In light of all this, we do not fully endorse this Smart Lock feature.
This is the “Ok Google” feature. When enabled, it learns your voice and allows you to bypass any manual unlocking simply by saying, “Ok Google.” And though the vocal recognition technology is better than the facial recognition, it still may require some time before the system knows and recognizes your voice. Another mild annoyance is that once you activate your phone with “Ok Google,” it then waits for another vocal command. If you were looking to proceed with your fingers, you’d need to cancel out of the “Ok Google” vocal prompt. We don’t see this feature as a security risk, but we hold back on recommending it simply because it gets a little annoying.
You can find instructions on how to activate and deactivate each of these on the Nexus Help page on Smart Lock for Android. As always, we urge you to use common sense when selecting security options. If any of the above would bring more ease to your life, then by all means enjoy the convenience of Smart Lock for Android.
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