How to use Smart Lock on your Android device
Life is a hassle, but unlocking your Android smartphone shouldn't be.
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There are many instances where I wish my phone would stay on and unlocked. In the car, for example, when I'm navigating somewhere new, or while hiking a trail, where I'm already struggling to pay attention to my footing.
If you're an Android user, Google's built-in Smart Lock feature is an integral part of the operating system. It ensures that your phone or tablet stays unlocked when you need it and that it's locked up when you don't. If you’re also a Chromebook user, you can enable Smart Lock to keep your Chrome OS device locked up either when it isn't in proximity to your phone. Here's a quick rundown of each of Google's Smart Lock features, how they work, and why you'll want to enable it on everything.
What is Smart Lock?
Smart Lock is a native setting on Android smartphones and on Chromebooks that helps you cut down on the number of times you're asked to input a PIN or scrawling a pattern to unlock your phone or tablet throughout the day. It's customizable from within the main settings panel.
You can choose from the following Smart Lock features:
Use this when you want your phone to decipher whether you're holding it or carrying it. It's a useful option for runners, bikers, or if you’re pushing a cart or stroller. It keeps your phone unlocked once it detects constant movement, though only after you initially input your password. As it detects you're tired out and sitting down for a pause, the phone will ask for your password before you can get back in.
Note that there is no second form of authentication for the On-body detection option, so proceed with caution. On the plus side, if your phone falls out of your pocket while you're running, it will lock up as long as it detects the moment it hits the ground.
If you use your Android device for casting entertainment at home, or you're just constantly nose-down in your favorite game, you might choose to enable Trusted places. This unlocks your phone based on your location so that once you're within feet of the door, you don't require authentication. Use this one only if you tend to stay rooted in one place for extended periods, and only if you trust those who are typically within the vicinity of your phone.
Note that you’ll have to have your device’s location on for this feature to work properly.
The Trusted devices option is helpful when you're using your smartphone in conjunction with Android Auto or an Android smartwatch. This lets you choose to keep a device unlocked once it's paired with a particular Bluetooth device.
Use this option if you're actively using the Google Assistant and have trained it to recognize your voice. Note that some devices, like the Pixel 3, offer an option that lets you display personal results on the Lock screen. This option is good if you're not always available to paw at your phone, but as with some of the other modes offered, it depends entirely on how much you trust the environment you're in.
There’s also an option to use Voice Match while driving, though it’s limited for use specifically within the Google Maps and Android Auto apps.
This option is only available on certain Android devices, and it's pretty self-explanatory. If you've stored your face for your device to recognize, you can use this option to keep your device unlocked as long as you're staring at it. Depending on the type of phone you have, this method is not always quick to unlock. And some phones can even be duped by pictures and 3D renderings.
How to activate Smart Lock
Smart Lock can be easily activated through the Android device settings panel:
- Select the Security & Location option
- Tap on Smart Lock
- Enter your PIN, pattern, or password
- A new screen with choices for Smart Lock options will appear
From here, you can set up each of the individual Smart Lock modes mentioned above. Tap on each one individually, and then follow the prompts to get them configured. Note that setting up Trusted places requires the input of a specific address while selecting Trusted Devices requires that Bluetooth peripherals and connections are already paired.
How to activate Smart Lock on your Chromebook
If you’ve also got a Chromebook in your vicinity, you can enable the feature to keep your Chrome OS-based laptop or tablet unlocked while your smartphone is nearby. To do so:
- Open up the Settings app in Chrome OS
- Under Connected Devices, click Set up to connect your Chromebook to your Android phone
- In the window that pops up, select Access & continue if you agree to the terms
- Enter your password
- A window will pop up to say you're all set
Now, click or tap back to your Chromebook's settings menu to set up Smart Lock with your Android phone.
- Under Connected Devices, tap on the name of your smartphone
- Tap on the Smart Lock option to set it up
- Tap on the Disable toggle to enable the Smart Lock feature, then input your password
- Select between Unlock device only and Unlock device and sign into Google Account
If you choose for Smart Lock to have the ability to unlock your device and sign you into your Google account, your Chromebook won't ask for a password as long as your smartphone is nearby.
Lock up when you need to
If your device is on Android 9 or later, press and hold the power button and then select Lockdown from the menu. This will immediately lock up your device so that it requires authentication next time you turn on the screen. It's great for when you need to immediately "lock down" your phone (hence the name), and especially for keeping errant fingers from tapping around in your apps and folders. It can be used even when Smart Lock is enabled, which is a nice compromise from having to go back into the settings to lock up the phone again.