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Hate to Admit This, But I’m a Fan of Lock Screen Widgets in Android 4.2 [Opinion]

lockscreen widgets1

It took me a while to come around to the idea, but I’m ready to admit that I’m a fan of lock screen widgets in Android 4.2. Introduced back in October, I originally thought, “What’s the point? Can’t you just unlock your device and then get to home screen widgets? This seems redundant.” And now, I’m utilizing at least five of them, some of which I use regularly. I’m also using more widgets on lock screens than I am on home screens. Weird, right? Let’s talk about why. 

The Goods

From what I can tell, at least in my opinion, lock screen widgets are all about eliminating steps so that you can access information or accomplish tasks faster. Sure, skipping the swipe-to-unlock step and letting you check the weather with 1-less swipe doesn’t seem like much, but in reality, it is. Not only can it save a ton of time in the long run, it also eliminates errors or fumbling through home screens in a pinch.

For example, I use Google’s “What’s this song?” widget regularly when driving. Since accessing your phone while driving is incredibly dangerous and not something I’d recommend, I’ve got it set as my 2nd lock screen widget. A single swipe to the left followed by a tap, gets the widget listening for the track I’m trying to find. If I had this on a home screen, it would take an unlock of the phone, followed by at least another swipe to either the right or left, assuming I remember which home screen I placed the widget on (because I keep home screen number 1 almost empty outside of a clock). With lock screen widgets, there is only one direction – left.

And with the introduction of a Google Now widget that displays your upcoming cards, I’m finding lock screen widgets even more useful. Rather than having to swipe up from the tiny circle on my lock screen to fully access Google Now, I can simply set up a card that displays everything from Now that I need to know, now. As you can see in the image above, it’s displaying four mini-cards, a task the actual Now application could never do. In the Now app, I would need to scroll with at least two flicks in order to see this much information from my phone.

lockscreen widgets2

I’ve even added widgets like shortcuts to flashlights, so that if I’m ever in a dark situation, I can swipe a couple of times to the left and toggle my phone’s flash on or off. Again, I understand that this can be accomplished very quickly if it were placed on a home screen as well, but this seems to eliminate another step, especially now that I’ve made it a regular occurrence.

Lock screen widgets make sense for those who use a pattern or secure form of lock screen. Rather than having to swipe your pattern or enter a pin, you can still access some information with a couple of swipes to the left from widgets. This also comes in handy in times where you need to hand your devices off to someone to check a game score or see when you need to leave for your next meeting without giving them full access to your phone.

As someone that prefers to keep his phone home screens ultra minimal, lock screen widgets also allow me to add items that I haven’t used on a home screen in years. My home screen setup includes a clock on the main page and a calendar widget to the right. That’s it. The lock screen is now my garbage area.

The Not-so-Goods

It’s not all good though. Lock screen widgets need some work from both Google and developers. For one, Google needs to allow you to resize widgets or at least place more than one on a page if it only takes up one spot or line. For example, that flashlight shortcut looks ridiculous by itself. It would make much more sense for that screen to include the Google Sound Search widget as well, so that I could eliminate an entire page and utlize the empty space better.

We need more and more developers to build in support, or even create apps specifically designed for lock screens, similar to DashClock, the app released this week by Android engineer Roman Nurik. This is a new category that Google has created, giving developers an opportunity to once again innovate.

We could also do away with the glowing bars that remind you of your lock screen widgets and camera shortcut every time your phone is awakened. Google, I’m not dumb. I know the widgets are there after a couple of reminders. There should be some sort of a counter or timer that only displays these glowing bars every so often.

And last, card adjustments, removals and the swiping action that extends lock screen widgets up or down is finicky and confusing at times. I’m not exactly sure how it can all be fixed, but it needs to work better than it does now. I don’t know how many times I’ve swiped up or down, left or right and had absolutely nothing happen.

Overall, though, I’ve come around to enjoying lock screen widgets. I was the ultimate hater at one point, so trust me when I say that this is a big step for me to admit this.

What about you? Utilizing lock screen widgets? If so, what does your setup look like?

  • Ryan B

    The CM team needs to have a setting to be able to set any widget screen as the default unlock screen. Or am I missing a way replace my stock lock screen with this? I tried widget locker but when I resized the widget to full screen it didnt display the all of the information.

  • Dan

    All I have to say is that they really need to theme Now to look like the Song Search widget… that and everything else, I want all dark apps and widgets please.

  • WidgetLocker!

  • SecurityNick

    It stinks that I can’t even take advantage of this feature due to work email policies on my phone. As I’ve been reading about it, it’s not actually anything in the Exchange policy that prohibits it, but it’s something that gets switched on (or off) in the Email app that acts as the administrator. Also forces me to only use PIN or Password, so can’t use any other unlock method.

  • Dan Cole

    what is the name of the widget that shows the weather forecast (on the left of the second row of screenshots)? That one looks handy

  • Greyhame

    This article nails my exact feelings towards lockscreen widgets. (Even down to having only a clock and calendar widget on a two home screen setup. Eerie Kellex… very eerie. ;p

  • saint_stephen

    I use DashClock and the Google Now widgets–they are both extremely useful.

  • Been a fan from day one but that is primarily because I don’t “slide to unlock” as i have a pin on my phone for security. So it saves me more than just one click, it saves me 6.

    • joejoe5709

      This was my thoughts exactly. I finally have a way to have a password and the ability to launch the camera from the lockscreen without sacrificing much security.

      • Yeah even beyond the widgets that is HUGE. Also, you can swipe past the camera and see the pictures you’ve taken but ONLY the pictures you took while the phone was locked, it smartly doesn’t open up to your gallery.

  • Note 2 Fan

    Is there any way to get the DashClock on Verizon Note 2 with 4.1?

    • DanWazz

      Yes, root and flash a 4.2 ROM.

  • Simon Belmont

    I didn’t like them so much at first, but since I’ve been messing with them, I have grown to appreciate them. It also helped that there’s been an influx of new widgets to use on the lockscreen too.

    Dashclock is a great example of how to do a lock screen widget right. I love it.

  • Mordecaidrake

    Widgetlocker! Although I haven’t been using it lately.

    • Paolo_Ozaraga

      Exactly. I don’t use widgets on my lockscreen but I set it up so I can swipe and open to certain applications (i.e. Shazam, which is really useful when I’m driving and want to tag a song on the radio)

  • I have been using them since the beginning. i admit, i also wasn’t a huge fan of them (if they would just get rid of the “hints” they would be fine) at first. but now i have at least 3 in use at all times. flashlight, sound search, and google now.

  • Is it by design that widgets (at least on my phone) are condensed? Any way to change that.

    AOKP 4.2.2 (VZW Gnex)

    • not as of yet. you can slide down and show the entire thing, but you loose the lock ring. i know some ROMs have an “always expand lockscreen widgets” but again, it shows the entire thing right away, but you loose the lock ring…so you have to tap the lock icon, then swipe to unlock.

    • rslh

      I installed Apex Launcher and it lets you resize the widgets.

  • CapnShiner

    I’m still waiting for an official update to 4.2 for my Verizon GS3, so, for now, I’m just using the 4 shortcuts Touchwiz lets me use on the lock screen. That’s the only Touchwiz feature left on my phone, though, except their skinned dialer and contacts. I am glad I didn’t spend money on Widget Locker, though, because it will soon be redundant. I had a feeling Google would eventually bake those features right into Android’s core feature set.

  • NexusMan

    I’m glad you came around…lock screen widgets are the bomb.

  • mgamerz

    You should make a list of good lockscreen widgets, cause I can’t find any besides HD Widgets.

  • JMonkeYJ

    it seems to me that you are unnecessarily constraining yourself because of your “ultra minimal” home screen, which is forcing you to use lock screen widgets.

    just out of curiosity, why do you want an ultra minimal home screen? the only thing i can think of is that you post shots of your home screen quite often here on DL and you want it to look free of distractions. i think that’s a valid reason (for you, not for the average person) but i’m curious cuz maybe i’m way off base.

    • PSU_DI

      As an average user, I only have the analog clock, a camera shortcut & a folder of my most used apps on my main screen. I use widgets on my other screen but my main screen is very minimal. I simply want to see my background and I don’t like a cluttered look. I rely heavily on notifications for info. Emails all show up there for review and Google Now provides the weather so what else do I need on my main screen. Also now with the DashClock widget. I don’t have to even unlock my phone to see what the weather is, or to see my next appointment is etc. The lockscreen widgets are finally useful with the advent of this widget, beforehand they kinda sucked.

      • jbegs

        I agree with a minimal home screen. I have a “blank” home with 2 other screens with a couple widgets and some app groups. I like the idea of lock screen widgets on tablets. With phones, I would imagine the battery would run out sooner, especially if you have a weather widget updating itself and pinging your location.

        • JMonkeYJ

          why do you want that blank screen? it’s your prerogative, of course so do what you want, but do you really spend enough time looking at that blank home screen to make it worth keeping blank? don’t you usually turn on your phone, and then have to swipe off your blank home screen to do anything, making it a nuisance? i’m really not trying to attack you here, i just don’t get it yet.

  • Seth Schorr

    Kellen, I agree with everything in your article but…. why have you always hated the glowing bars? They last for a half second and then they stop. I personally don’t need them either, but they don’t disturb me as much as they bother you. Just wondering.

    • I suspect Kellen, like me, is a little OCD about his phone. they bother me to no end. almost to the point that i want to disable the widgets and camera just to get them to stop showing up…lol

      • joejoe5709

        They really bugged me at first. Now I hardly notice them.

  • S2556

    I have yet to keep a widget on my lock screen for longer than 20 min.

  • I think you’re missing the point on Google restricting you to only one widget per page. I think the point is simplicity. If you could put as many widgets as a regular home screen, you begin to lose some of the utility and differentiation between lock and home.

    I believe lock screen widgets are for quick glance-able information that’s easy to get to. In your car use case, if you had three widgets one of which was your music ID widget, you’d need to spend more time being sure you’re clicking the right spot which increases times your eyes are away from the road. With one widget per page, you quickly build muscle memory for how many swipes it takes to get to where you want to be.

    I’m not going to say Google shouldn’t do it, since obviously people want it, but I do think it was an intentional decision and not an oversight. What I’d prefer is them to push developers that make widgets always to have a 4 x 4 version for lock screens. This fills a spot that you can’t achieve with home screens, giving important apps a dedicated and quickly accessible screen of their own. You song ID widget for instance, could have the normal ID at the top and a list of recently tagged songs or show possible matches and song suggestions for artists you may like based on your search in the extra space.

  • James Jun

    Personally, I think having all the widgets on one screen as 4X1 (so 4 or 3 maximum widgets) with the lock on the button, and then expanding when clicked would be the fastest and cleanest way to implement lockscreen widgets.

  • Tyler

    It looks dumb until you try it, then you can really appreciate its value. I have:
    Lightflow toggle –> HD Widgets full weather –> DashClock

  • itsgonnalast

    The upgrade from Android 4.1 to 4.2 was much more useful than I expected.

    At first I couldn’t imagine why I would use lock screen widgets or Daydream but now I love them. Daydream is really a perfect desk clock.

    I don’t have Photosphere on my Nexus 7 but if I had access I’d love it I’m sure.

  • prestone1

    Need an option to disable them.

    • Jroc869, Nexus-Life

      Theres an app for that.

  • Micah Reese

    I’m fan of disabling the lock screen. Do you frequently pull your phone out of your pocket to find the screen on? I don’t and that makes the lock screen an unnecessary feature for me that is more of a hindrance than anything.

    • JMonkeYJ

      that’s what i did on my Droid X and my Nexus 7, but the shortcut to the camera is the sole reason i keep the lock screen now. it’s allowed me to get so many pictures that any other solution that i can think of would have caused me to miss.

    • NexusMan

      I do. And that’s precisely why I have to keep a sliding lock screen….used to wish I didn’t have to, but I was constantly pocket dialing.

  • Jigga_Z

    I hadn’t been a fan either, but I loved that with XenonHD, I could set my lockscreen to automatically maximize the widget (leaving the tiny lock at the bottom which I could longpress to unlock) making it super easy to scroll through lockscreens or just see a fully maximized lockscreen widget without having to swipe on it to see the whole thing. It still needs some cleaning up, but it’s definitely getting there!

  • Flyinion

    What do you need to do in order to add the flashlight one? Is there a specific app to do that?

  • Ray

    @kellex:disqus Why do you hate to admit it? It’s not like you are admitting to being an iPhone fan. lol

    • Akashshr

      Or is he.? O.o

      • Droidzilla

        They don’t have widgets, so no. Maybe if he said, “I hate to admit it, but I only use my app drawer nowadays.”

  • John Burke

    I’m a fan but until Google lets you place more than one per page, I’ll have to stick with WidgetLocker.

  • Bionic

    Type Ashlynn Brooke into Google. Seriously. You’ll thank me later.

  • Dashclock wouldn’t be so awesome if you had to pay for it, but since you don’t it’s sweet!

  • i just love the music lockscreen capability of swiping left to skip, double tap to pause. With all this customization for lockscreens now, all my music apps have had trouble overlapping the with their own lockscreen controls like PlayerPro or PowerAmp

  • “For one, Google needs to allow you to resize widgets”

    You can. It’s called “Every 3rd Party Launcher Out There”. I get what you’re trying to say, but it’s easy enough to “fix” it yourself.


    • He’s talking about on lockscreen lol, did you even read the article, or even the title?

  • BSweetness

    I’ve been loving lock screen widgets for years with WidgetLocker, so I was really excited to see Google embrace them.

  • Christian

    Have to agree with you on this one, Kellex. I’ll admit sometimes quickly flipping between different lockscreen widgets is a little clunky, but I’m guessing the whole interface will get cleaned up in Key Lime Pie. Also, DashClock is an amazing one to have, thanks for the article on that! Now, I hate to be that guy, but do you mind sharing where you got that wallpaper? 😛

    • Timothy McGovern

      I don’t know the name of it… but if you google the word “purple” I’m sure you’ll find something similar haha

      • Christian

        Lol you’re probably right, but I just love the gradient in that one and how it goes with the rest of the UI.

    • Justin Winker

      Lol. There was a similar comment on the article about the DashClock widget and the sole response was “the color purple…”. But seriously, google it – it’s gotta be out there somewhere. And on that note, the closest I could find was: http://goo.gl/6oiT4

  • I’m still sided with your original opinion Kellex. While I have often wanted some additional information immediately available on my lockscreen (without needing to swipe at all), I just don’t find it that helpful to remove the step of unlocking the device to see the same info. Throw in the fact that the current implementation just doesn’t look very good and I am decided against lock-screen widgets in their current form. I hope for something better in the future.

  • Justin Swanson

    The _only_ complaint I have had about lock screen widgets is that I have found it causes my phone to freak out when the screen gets locked. Sometimes it take a bit to flash off, then to turn back on seems to take forever. I don’t know what would be causing it other than lock screen widgets. It seemed to get better when I stopped using as many.

    Anyone else experiencing this?

  • Michael webb

    Great article!

  • 4n1m4L

    I miss just a lock screen. It shouldn’t be hard to make an option.

  • Greg Morgan

    I wasn’t a fan until the latest awesome widget, Dashclock, came out. Now i love it!

    • Dashclock is awesome – I feel like it’s the shining example of what the lock screen widgets are there for…too bad it wasn’t a part of the initial release.

      • DashClock is definitely awesome.

        • Justin Kos

          Thanks for posting that..I love it

      • EvanTheGamer

        Speaking of “shining”, finally getting that Shiny ROM installed on my G-Nex tonight! baldwinguy77(the dev) said he just updated his ROM with JB 4.2.2, so can’t wait to get that ROM flashed!

        • KleenDroid

          Have you tried anything else other than the old BB?

    • JetBlue

      Just wish it was supported for 4.1 so I could use on Widgetlocker or place on my homescreen.

    • Same here, that did it for me. I’m officially a fan of lockscreen widgets as long as they’re simple and elegant.

    • I wasn’t a fan until AOKP released their Hide Lockscreen Hints option. I hated the glowing edges on the lockscreen.

  • I’m glad others admit it, too. I have been a fan since the initial debut, simply because you can slap whatever you want on your main lock screen. Like a lot of custom ROMs have been doing for some time, but with so many more options now.

  • RampageDeluxe

    After seeing the article link on Twitter, I was going to leave a negative comments about the lockscreen widgets, but your pictures have me rethinking things.

    • Lock screen widgets win again. 😛