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An Overview of Android Lock Screen Security Options [Beginners' Guide]

android lockscreen

Since your phone is with you at all times, the likelihood of it getting left behind at a bar, restaurant, gym, or other location that you previously visited is probably pretty high. And since we live in a world that isn’t always filled with angels, the chances of that left-behind-phone getting stolen and fondled deeply without your approval is probably even higher. Your first line of defense against evil doers is your lock screen. 

In stock Android, you have six different options to choose from for your lock screen, all of which offer their levels of security. If you use a non-stock Android device like the Galaxy S3, you may see some differences in functionality between the types we’ll talk about in a minute, but for the most part they all act in a similar fashion.

First, to access your lock screen options, the universal location tends to be in Settings>Security. From there, you should see an option towards the top called “Screen lock,” which then takes you to your lock screen options once tapped.

As you can see in the screenshot below, stock Android offers options for None, Slide, Face Unlock, Pattern, PIN, and Password. Let’s talk briefly about each.

lockscreen1

Slide to Unlock

lockscreen2

Slide is probably the most commonly used lock screen of all – it’s basically the default. This lock screen is not secure by any means, and only asks that the user of the phone grab the circle with a lock inside and slide it outside of a larger circle to unlock the phone. There are no passwords or patterns, it’s simply a way to keep your phone from turning itself on and then accessing all sorts of info in your pocket or purse without your knowing.

The nice thing about using Slide, is that you can still access your notification pulldown without having to fully unlock your phone. None of the other lock screen options allow for this, as they are technically “secure.”

Face Unlock

lockscreen3

Face Unlock was introduced back in Ice Cream Sandwich as a fun way to unlock your phone using your face. In order to set this option up, you have to place your face inside of a face-shaped ring of dots using your front facing camera until the device decides that it knows your face enough to be able to unlock with it. Once approved, you’ll also be asked to provide a backup option in case the device cannot recognize your face. The two backup options are PIN or pattern.

With Face Unlock setup, you wake your phone and then set point your front facing camera at your face. If it recognizes you, it will unlock almost immediately. If not, it will ask that you complete your backup PIN or Pattern unlock.

People have found ways to trick Face Unlock from time to time, so I’d say that while it’s more secure than Slide, it’s not as secure as the next three.

Pattern, PIN, and Password Unlock

lockscreen4

Pattern, PIN and Password unlocks are exactly as they sound – you either create a pattern, a numeric PIN, or an alpha-numeric password that needs to be entered in order to unlock your phone. These are likely the most secure of them all. If you don’t know the pattern, PIN, or password, you are not allowed to access the phone.

So those are lock screen security options. Any questions?

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  • Genia Gartner

    so i was playing around with the encryption, set up a password and now i can’t figure out how to delete and go back to swipe to unlock screen… if i do a factory reset, will that work and, if i do it, will i lose apps i have paid for?

  • VivEk Jindal

    i have set owner info as dont dare to touch my phone.. lol..

  • traumadog

    Just an add-on: IIRC, if you encrypt the phone, it will only allow password unlock. At least, that’s what I have on my Razr HD…

  • brkshr

    Password unlock using Swype is awesome!

    I feel it’s more secure than pattern, because you don’t have an obvious smudge in the shape of the pattern dots. Just smudges that could be from me typing anything, like an email or text. I also find it faster than using the pattern, because there is only a small space & Swype recognizes the password very easy. I don’t even have to look at the screen most of the time. I just get close to my password & Swype is smart enough to know what I want after I saved it to the dictionary. I also feel it’s easier than PIN, because you don’t have to lift up your fingers for each number, also having to look at the screen while doing so.

    I also set up my N4 with CM10.1 profiles to set the lockscreen to password or slider depending on where I am. First, I set the lockscreen to password in settings. Then in my ‘home’ profile, I set lockscreen mode to ‘Use Insecure lock screen’. When I’m anywhere else (car,work) the lockscreen gets set to default (password). I don’t worry about my phone being stolen at home, so I don’t want to mess with the password there.

  • sean

    Hello. Does anyone know how many pictures the ” Improve facial recognition ” stores? It lets me just keep doing this but it just seems to get worse. I love the idea of face unlock because I only need minimal security. But half the time it doesn’t work! I don’t want to have to enter a pin each time.

  • ksat

    kellex – next article should reference helpful applications for that good Samaritan to get the phone back to its’ rightful owner.

    I found an iPhone sitting on a chair at the local Hollister’s. Luckily, it was unlocked which allowed me to weed through a couple of text messages to find MOM and/or DAD. I then TXT’d both of them with a quick message to know the phone has been found and to contact me to have it returned. The owner was very greatful… And, I was happy to get rid of it!

    • JoshGroff

      Cerberus works wonders, you can send a message to the lock screen of the device IIRC, and of course you can track the phone by gps and what not.

    • Austin Warren

      Hollister. …haha

      • ksat

        haha! yea, I know… It was for my 12yr old daughter – I’m too old for that crap!

    • Joey

      Nice work. Its a careful balance between security and return-ability in the “lost phone” scenario.

    • brkshr

      Set ‘Owner Info’ up with useful information. It will display on all lockscreens. I have mine set like this ” I.C.E. – ‘mothers name’ – ‘mothers phone#’ ”

      I.C.E. stands for ‘In Case of Emergency’. So paramedics know who to get a hold of if you’re incapacitated. This also doubles as a number that someone can call if they want to return your phone.

      • Christopher Chin

        I have my Owner Info as “If found, please email me at ___@___.com” That way I don’t give away anyone’s phone # that doesn’t want it distributed.

        • brkshr

          That’s a good idea as well. I have Cerberus on my phone, so I’m not so worried about losing my phone as I am emergency personal getting a hold of my family. With my phone requiring a password, no one would be able to find my family otherwise. Well, in a timely manner at least.

        • http://twitter.com/zaraki921 zaraki921

          distributed? it’s one hypothetical person getting in touch at max 3 times… if you’re going to think like that then you may as well think they will put your email address in a spam list.

      • http://www.facebook.com/eduardo.santana.58511 Eduardo Santana

        There is no “Owner Info” option on the Droid DNA

    • ksat

      I think it would cool to have a DashClock that I could configure to send a TXT Msg to a specific user with a specific message and also provides current location – be it a store name or coordinates.

      Personally, I have Lookout on my phone, so I believe it is also relatively safe. But, the functionality within DashClock would also be great!

  • rodney11ride

    man i have tried them all… really puts it into perspective how many times you look at your phone throughout the day.. always come back to slide to unlock. then i downloaded “wheres my droid” for the instance i lost it…

  • moelsen8

    How’s Solavei? Was thinking of trying that next since it can roam on AT&T.

    • JoshGroff

      I think it’s the first one I’m going to try when my N4 comes in. Unlimited with 4GB of data, sounds great for the price, I’m paying the same on a family plan atm to share 4GB. >.>

      • Austin Warren
        • brkshr

          It is. Do some research & there are tons of websites with their soul purpose of outing the founder of solavei. He has been involved in a few pyramid schemes.

        • JoshGroff

          You do realize the major carriers do the same bill credit thing right? Only, IIRC they offer like 25 per person? They even have little “I sold my soul to X carrier you should too” cards.

      • moelsen8

        let me know your name or whatever on it if you want (however the trio stuff works). if you’re on it before i try it i’d use you as the referral since i wouldn’t be using one otherwise.

  • Joe

    How do you put the weather, calendar and battery info on your lock screen?

    • JetBlue

      Pretty sure that’s Dashclock

    • Niall Fox

      it’s called Dashclock Widget, but it’s only available on devices running Android 4.2+

    • ksat

      Dashclock …. get it and all of the add-on’s from Google PLAY.

  • T4rd

    “People have found ways to trick Face Unlock from time to time, so I’d
    say that while it’s more secure than Slide, it’s not as secure as the
    next three.”

    In 4.1/JB, there’s now an option to require you to blink to ensure you’re real. Though I’m not sure if that’s easily circumvented too, but it definitely adds a bit more security to face unlock.

  • http://profiles.google.com/jtsurf18 Jason Downing

    I really can’t imagine having to put in a pin/password every time I want to use my phone.

    • http://twitter.com/kirilv Kiril

      I can’t imagine even having to swipe to unlock. I got rid of my lock screen altogether a long time ago.

      • Christopher Chin

        @twitter-168988932:disqus You obviously don’t care about the contents of your phone or you contact list information. We are human, and losing stuff and getting stuff stolen is all too common. You might want to rethink the security of your information and the information your contact list has entrusted you with. Just my 2 cents.

        • http://twitter.com/kirilv Kiril

          Thanks, mom. (Sorry, had to be done.) Really though, I don’t try to hide behind a false sense of security. I’d rather it be convenient for me to use my phone.

    • T4rd

      I do a hybrid setup. I have a pattern lock set up on my phone. But in the ROM I’m using, I can disable the lock screen in the notification bar. So if I’m home or somewhere private, then I’ll disable the lock screen and enable it if I’m anywhere out in the public.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1386061282 Kristian Tzokanow

        Which ROM are you using? AOKP?

        • T4rd

          Beans v12 on my (Verizon) Note 2 at the moment. Though most ROMs I’ve used have this toggle available in them. I think the AOKP ROMs did on my Gnex too.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1386061282 Kristian Tzokanow

            Gotcha, thanks again.

    • michael arazan

      I used to use it, but I’ve only once left my phone in a bar in the past 3 1/2 years and a waitress picked it up and kept it behind the bar for me, which I got back 20 minutes later after I got home and realized I left it.

  • Niall Fox

    is there any way of allowing use of the camera despite having a password, pattern or pin like in iOS?

    • http://twitter.com/kirilv Kiril

      Yes. Swipe from the right side to get into camera.

      • Niall Fox

        that was weird, didn’t work for me the first time, tried it again, it worked, thanks for the answer