My recent upgrade from Pixel 4 to 7 moved me from one to two biometric sensors; the thing unlocks with either face or finger. But the default setup is unsafe; making it safe is a little inconvenient, but worth doing.

I love fingerprint unlock, first experienced in 2016 on my then-state-of-the-art Nexus 5X. Its reader was on the back where your index finger naturally lands, had a physical target to guide your touch, and it never freaking failed!

My Pixel 4 replaced the fingerprint sensor with outstandingly great face unlock, even worked in the dark. But there was a huge fly in the ointment. One of my family responsibilities is the grocery shopping. Since I’m not stupid, I wear a KN95 mask in crowded public places, for example food stores. Thus no face unlock. When I (not infrequently) wanted to consult the phone, I had to tap in my (nontrival) PIN with one hand while holding stuff.

Thus, when I got the Pixel 7 I was all excited. The face unlock no longer has infrared, but there’s a fingerprint reader, so I figured I’d be home free, in the supermarket too. [Narrator: He was wrong.]

So I programmed my index finger, thumb, and face into the Pixel 7. Sometimes they work, when I awkwardly manage to hit the no-physical-target on-screen sensor. When I’m in bright light it usually lets me in instantly via face-recognition. But fingerprint access is, irritatingly, nowhere as near as good as it was in 2016.

What was even more irritating — maddening — was that the fingerprint reader went completely on strike when I was out shopping. Every freaking time, it sneered at my futile finger stabs and forced me into one-handed-typist mode.

But wait, something here doesn’t add up. I’ve enabled fingerprint recognition in a couple of apps. They almost always work first time, and when they don’t, another tap gets me there. Anywhere. Any time.

Android face/fingerprint unlock settings

It’s the mask, stupid · Yep. I disabled the face-unlock, and there you go. Haven’t typed the PIN in days. Oh wait, look what it says there in the preferences screen: “…your phone will ask you for your fingerprint when you wear a mask or are in a dark area.” Based on my experience, that’s just wrong: When I’m wearing a mask it won’t take my fingerprint.

I miss face unlock. A little. Maybe. But ain’t turning it back on.

Put another way, protecting yourself (and the people around you) from the pandemic disables biometric unlock.

Um, dear Google, I think this is wrong. Maybe there could be a setting to allow face to fail over to finger? Um, the KN95’s I wear are a stylish downtown black. Please don’t tell me the highly-touted Tensor silicon thinks masks have to be ugly institutional white?

Whatever. The way it is now is wrong.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: hawkse (Sep 23 2023, at 13:10)

I would even go so far as to say that face unlock is a completely useless and unsafe feature. It is the one single thing I really miss on my iPhone 12 mini.

It unlocks way to often (like when I just want to glance at the clock on the lockscreen) and that frequently leads to pocket typing.

The only option - turn face id off and go back to pin code. So stupid.

Not all features are good features.

Like you, I could live with having both features but a much more thoughtful implementation. Ie, touchid to unlock, faceid could be for convenience inside the authenticator apps but actually, I'd wish they'd just save the cost and hardware and simply leave it out.


From: Milan (Sep 24 2023, at 07:19)

Agree completely. I turned off facial recognition (which required deleting the existing face pattern, not just an 'off' switch) and suddenly fingerprint recognition stopped being flakey. Google absolutely got the precedence order for finger vs. face unlock backwards!


From: Wayne (Oct 16 2023, at 13:38)

Screen mounted fingerprint sensors are universally awful, and executives who allow them should be forced to use then to unlock everything in their life.


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September 19, 2023
· Technology (90 fragments)
· · Mobile (86 more)
· · Security (39 more)

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