Android’s lock screen supports a variety of different unlock methods as well as widgets, which allow you to take action and view information from the lock screen. To really master your device, you’ll want to tweak your lock screen.
Lock-screen widgets can help you interact with your phone without unlocking it. They were added in Android 4.2, but older versions of Android can use third-party lock-screen widgets. If you don’t like them, you can disable them.
Disable the Lock Screen
Android’s lock screen can be enabled or disabled. If you don’t want to see the lock screen, you can disable it entirely. Instead, your home screen (or the app you left open) will appear when you press the power button and turn on your phone or tablet.
To control whether the lock-screen is enabled or disabled, open Android’s Settings screen and tap the Security option under Personal.
Tap the Screen lock option and select None. Your device will now skip the lock screen every time you turn it on.
Note that you can’t do this if you’ve enabled encryption on your Android device. It will prevent you from disabling the lock-screen, as that would defeat the point of encrypting your device. Encryption will also prevent you from using the insecure Slide and Pattern unlock mechanisms.
Choose Your Unlock Method
If you do want to use a lock screen, you can choose a variety of different ways of unlocking your device:
- Slide: Slide your finger over an icon on the lock screen to unlock your device. This method provides no additional security — it just prevents your device from becoming accidentally unlocked if it’s in your pocket or bag and the power button is accidentally pressed.
- Face Unlock: Face Unlock uses your device’s camera to take a picture of your face. You’ll then need to look at your device to log in. Google notes that Face Unlock is less secure than patterns, PINs, and passwords — someone could theoretically log in with a picture of you. It also doesn’t work perfectly, and may not recognize you or may recognize other people as you. This may be fun to play with, but don’t rely on it for security.
- Pattern: Slide your finger over a grid of nine dots in a pattern to unlock. It’s a convenient, fast way to unlock, but it doesn’t provide the most security. The pattern may be easy to guess by the residue of oil your finger leaves over the screen as you repeatedly slide it in that direction, and someone can easily see the pattern if they’re looking over your shoulder. It also provides many fewer combinations — for example, if you start at the top-right corner, the next dot you touch must be an adjacent dot. This narrows down the possible options and makes a pattern easier to guess than a PIN.
- PIN: Create a numerical PIN code to unlock your device. The PIN must be at least four characters long, but can be longer. A PIN is like a password, but can only use numbers.
- Password: You can use a password that can incorporates letters, numbers, and special characters. It must be at least four characters long, but can be longer. Most users won’t want to use a password, as it’s the most inconvenient way to unlock your device. However, if you’re worried about a business device with very sensitive data being accessed, using a password may be ideal.
Lock Screen Widgets
If you do use a lock screen, you can use lock-screen widgets for quick, convenient access to information and apps on your lock screen.
- Android 4.1 and earlier: If you’re using an older version of Android, you’ll need to use a third-party solution like WidgetLocker to use lock-screen widgets.
- Android 4.2 and later: Android 4.2 added support for lock-screen widgets. Simply swipe to the left on the lock screen and you’ll be able to add widgets (swipe to the right to quickly access the camera app). These widgets can be accessed from the lock-screen by swiping to the left. You can even replace the clock — which is the default widget on your lock-screen — with another widget, such as the Google Now widget for quickly viewing information, the Google Keep widget for quickly taking notes, or the Gmail widget so you can see your inbox on your lock screen.
Widgets can be used from the lock-screen without entering the device’s unlock code. However, you’ll have to enter the unlock code to add new widgets.
Android and Google’s included apps come with a variety of lock-screen widgets, and third-party apps can also include them. However, this is a fairly new feature and many third-party apps are not yet including lock-screen widgets.
- Quickly View Information: Google’s lock-screen widgets seem optimized for interacting with individual apps rather than quickly viewing information at a glance. If you want to view information on your main lock-screen, try DashClock. It replaces the default lock-screen clock widget with one which you can extend with other information. For example, with DashClock you can view your emails, the weather, and other quick bits of information directly on your main lock screen.
- Disable Lock Screen Widgets: If you don’t like lock-screen widgets and think they just get in the way, you can disable them entirely. Google provides a way to do this via device administration policies, but there’s no included option in the Settings screen. To disable widgets, you can install the Lockscreen Policy app — it just provides a simple interface you can use to toggle the policy option and immediately disable the lock-screen widgets. You can also disable the quick access to the camera from here.
You can access a few more settings from Android’s Security screen. For example, you can control how long after sleep your phone automatically locks. if your phone falls asleep in your hand, you can then tap the power button to quickly wake it without entering your code. You can also add “Owner info” that appears on the lock screen, which could be useful if your phone becomes lost and is found by a good samaritan.
Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.
- Published 06/16/13