If you’ve picked up any modern Android device recently, you probably noticed the lock screen is all shiny and new on Lollipop. There are notifications, plenty of new security options, and a few features that didn’t make the cut. Let’s go over everything you can do with Android’s updated lock screen.
Notifications and sensitive content
The Android lock screen has notifications on it now, which is a change from previous versions. While notifications were accessible by pulling down the shade (only on unsecured devices), now they’re staring you in the face every time you turn on your phone. The lock screen has actually become the notification shade in a lot of ways. If you swipe something away on the lock screen, it’s gone from the shade too. The quick settings from the notification shade can also be accessed from the lock screen as if you had the standard notification shade open.
Now that you can see full notifications on the lock screen, you might be wondering about privacy. That’s where notification priority scheme comes into play. A sensitive notification will not have the text visible on the lock screen of a secured device, but you need to set which apps count as “sensitive.” Note, you have to choose to hide sensitive content on the lock screen when you set your PIN, pattern, or password lock.
There are two ways to check the setting of your notifications. The standard way is to find the notification menu in your system settings. The location will vary by device, but you should find it if you want to tweak multiple apps. On stock Android it’s in Sound & Notification > App Notifications. This menu lists all the apps you have installed, and when you tap one, you get the notification setting. This is where you can set something as sensitive.
A quicker way to access the settings for a single app is to long-press on one of its notifications. Tap the “info” button that appears, and you’ll be in the same notification setting menu as above where you can set it to sensitive mode.
Google’s new Smart Lock system is the other big selling point of the Lollipop lock screen experience. This allows you to automatically bypass the secure lock screen when certain conditions are met. On many devices, you need to enable Smart Lock as a “trust agent” in the security settings. Do that before you go looking for any of the features below.
Smart Lock is actually a feature of Google Play Services on Lollipop devices. That means Google can (and does) add new components to it over time. I’m going to go over the Smart Lock options that currently exist, but be aware not all phones support all of them.
Trusted locations, devices, and face should be available on almost all Android phones and tablets. Locations is probably the most practical. Simply use this menu to pick areas you want you phone to remain unlocked. It pulls your home and work locations from Maps (if you have those set), but you can add more as well. Devices is good if you have some Bluetooth accessories or NFC tags scattered around. As long as one of the accessories you’ve deemed trusted is connected, your phone stays unlocked.
Trusted face is an interesting one — it’s a more advanced version of Face Unlock from older versions of Android. Because the lock screen now has notifications (as explained above), you might actually spend enough time there for trusted face to matter. Once you’ve added your face, Smart Lock will run in the background while you look at notifications. If it sees your face, the device will be unsecured and no code (pattern, PIN, whatever) will be needed when you swipe up to unlock. This one isn’t as secure as other unlock methods, though. Someone with a pciture of you can bypass it.
Recent additions to Smart Lock include trusted voice and on-body detection. Trusted voice requires that you have set up the Ok Google hotword to work on any screen. Not all devices support this, but if yours is among them, you can bypass the lock screen by saying “Ok Google.” Again, this isn’t very secure as someone with a similar voice could unlock your phone.
As for on-body detection, this is probably the least secure option in Smart Lock, but it might still be really useful for some users. The idea here is that when your phone is in your hand or pocket, it will not ask for the unlock code. It only locks when it detects it has been set down. If you’re using the phone and hand it to someone else, it remains unlocked. Yes, even if it then walks away with that person.
If you want to lock your device down, you can do so at any time as well. Simply tap the lock icon at the bottom of the lock screen to require the secure code the next time it is used. All Smart Lock features also have a four hour inactivity timeout, after which you need to enter the pattern or PIN on the next unlock.
What about widgets?
Lock screen widgets were a casualty of the Lollipop upgrade, but some devices from OEMs like Samsung had already scaled back support for this feature. Lock screen widgets were just never really adopted by users, so now they’re gone in favor of the notifications. Now you get an embedded clock widget designed by the device maker. Some devices might offer weather, steps, or some other data as part of this widget, and Sony actually offers several different clock widgets on its devices. For the most part, though, you just have to take what you get.
You can reclaim a little of that functionality by adding a few apps that include persistent notifications. Maybe a weather app or battery monitor might bring a little more data to the lock screen. There’s also Notifidgets, which allows you to embed a widget in the notification shade. This is far from an ideal solution for widget lovers, but losing widgets is probably worth it.