How to use Android’s Smart Lock to unlock your phone automatically

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Unlocking your smartphone: It’s something we do countless times a day without thinking twice. 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 a relatively new Android phone, though, you’re in luck: A feature called Smart Lock can automatically unlock your phone without prompting you to do anything. It’s a little more complicated than that, but we’ve thoroughly reviewed the setup process and split it into bite-sized chunks. 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

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Google introduced Smart Lock alongside version 5.0 Lollipop of its Android smartphone operating system, and it has evolved slightly since. Smart Lock lets you specify conditions when it’s safe to remove the PINs, patterns, or any other hoops you’re normally required to jump through to unlock your phone.

To enable Smart Lock, head to Settings > 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 four options: On-body detection, Trusted places, Trusted face, and Trusted voice. Note that not all are available on every device, so you’ll have to check with your phone’s manufacturer to see which works and which doesn’t.

How to use On-body detection

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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

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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’ll never have to worry about unlocking it again.

Before you can enable Trusted places, though, you’ll have to meet a few prerequisites.

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).
  • At the top, tap the On/Off switch.

Here’s how to switch location mode in Android:

  1. Tap Settings
  2. Find the Location section (may have a different name, depending on your device).
  3. Tap Mode. Then choose between these three location modes:
    1. High accuracy uses GPS, Wi-Fi, cellular networks, and other sensors to get the highest-accuracy location.
    2. Battery saving mode uses sources that use less battery, like Wi-Fi and mobile networks.
    3. Device only uses GPS to determine location

Once you’ve 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

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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’s 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.

Oftentimes when you pair a new device via Bluetooth, you may get 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’s the issue of range, too. If someone takes your phone and Trusted device with them, they could gain access to it. If your paired Bluetooth device’s range is long enough, a person might be able to unlock your phone from up to 100 meters away.

Trusted near-field communication (NFC) tags, which have a range within inches rather than tens of feet, offer a more secure alternative. For example, you could set up an NFC sticker in your car or bedside so that when you tap the sticker with your device, your device unlocks.

Here’s how to set up a Trusted NFC tag:

  • In the Smart Lock menu, tap Trusted devices.
  • Tap Add trusted device > NFC.
  • Tap your device to the NFC tag.
  • Add a name for the NFC tag.
  • Tap OK.

How to configure Trusted face

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Facial recognition might not be 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.

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’ll 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 a Trusted voice

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Want to unlock your smartphone with nothing more than your voice? Smart Lock makes it possible. Trusted voice recognizes the unique intonation of your phrasing and automatically unlocks your phone without you having to lift a finger.

First, you’ll have to set up “OK Google.” Here’s how.

  • Update to the latest version of the Google app by going to the Google app page on the Play Store and tapping Update.
  • Open the Google app.
  • At the top left, tap Menu > Settings.
  • Tap Voice > “OK Google” detection.
  • Turn on “From any screen” or “Always on,” if your phone supports it.

Now, you can enable Trusted voice.

  • From the “OK Google” settings menu, look for Trusted voice.