Back in the early days of smartphones, security wasn’t a big deal. We weren’t doing too much with our smartphones; critical work still happened on computers. Texting and calling was limited, and your smartphone didn’t quite hold as much information as it does today. A lot of us didn’t even bother putting lock codes on our phones. It was quicker and easier to just unlock the device and get on with it.
But today, things have changed. Fingerprint sensors are on smartphones in practically every price category, and it’s made people think of smartphone security. Of course, with screens also getting bigger, fingerprint sensors are being forced onto the back of the phone. This has necessitated the concept of face unlock. In order to reduce dependence on the awkwardly placed fingerprint sensor (or no fingerprint sensor at all) face unlock offers a quick, usually reliable way to unlock your phone only when you are using it.
The trend started much earlier, but gained popularity with the launch of the Apple iPhone X in 2017. Soon after, Android smartphone makers have followed suit, and today, some of the most popular options feature face unlock. Today, we’ve tested face unlock on five popular smartphones: the Apple iPhone X, the OnePlus 5T, the Honor View10, the Samsung Galaxy A8+ (2018) and the Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro. The way face unlock works on each of the phones is a bit different, and we’ve figured out which one is the best. Read on to find out.
Apple iPhone X
The smartphone that made face unlocking popular, the Apple iPhone X did away with Touch ID – Apple’s fingerprint sensor – for an implementation that only involved face unlocking. It’s the most advanced form of face unlocking on any phone to date, as it analyzes your face and creates a depth map to match with when unlocking. Using the depth map and IR technology when scanning, it works effectively even in the dark. Furthermore, Face ID can adapt to changes in your face, such as facial hair or cosmetic make-up.
However, Face ID isn’t as quick to use, and certainly not as fast as Touch ID on other iPhones. You first need to wake the phone by pressing the power button, and then once the device has recognized your face and unlocked the phone, you need to swipe up from the lock screen to access the phone. The process is longer than it was before, but works well in practice.
The OnePlus 5T face unlock isn’t quite as technologically advanced as that of the Apple iPhone X. You have to save a face model at the time of setup, and the phone uses its regular 16-megapixel front camera to match your face against the saved data. A recent update also activated assistive lighting to help with face unlocking, which brightens the screen to light up your face in low-light conditions. While unlocking is usually on-point when there is some light, it isn’t always flawless in low-light conditions and you’ll have to rely on the fingerprint sensor.
However, when it comes to speed, the OnePlus 5T is the fastest phone on offer at face unlocking. You can additionally set the phone to either unlock to the lock screen where you swipe to access the phone, or directly unlock to the home screen for a quicker experience. Face unlocking is usually instant, and you can either use the power key to wake the phone or double-tap on the screen and go straight to the home screen with no perceivable delay.
Just like the OnePlus 5T, the Honor View10 also uses its front camera to facilitate face unlocking. The feature was updated to allow full unlocking after the launch of the phone through an update, and does not feature assistive lighting for use in low-light conditions.
Face unlocking is usually quick and in good lighting conditions, you’ll see no delay once you press the power button to wake the device. You can also set it to unlock directly to the home screen or to first take you to the lock screen. However, in anything less than bright light, you’ll first go to the lock screen before making it to the home screen due to the delay in unlocking. A neat trick that helps with face unlock on the Honor View10 is the gesture that wakes the phone when you lift it off a flat surface such as a table. You don’t need to press the power button or tap on the screen, simply lifting the phone with your face in view of the front camera will unlock it.
Samsung Galaxy A8+ (2018)
The Samsung Galaxy A8+ (2018) competes directly with the OnePlus 5T and Honor View10 on pricing, and also offers the face unlock feature as part of the package. The phone uses its capable dual-camera setup at the front to enable face unlock. However, like the other Android phones on offer, its effectiveness is reduced in low-light conditions.
Unlocking with your face is unfortunately a bit slow on the Samsung, and also falls short when it comes to accuracy. You have to hold the phone up straight in front of your face and look at it for a good couple of seconds for it to unlock to the home screen. However, the wake gesture of unlocking the home button on the always-on display aids in waking the phone quickly, saving you the trouble of pressing the power button. During our testing, at every point, the phone took about 2 seconds to unlock to the home screen, first going through the lock screen.
Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro
At Rs 13,999, the Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro is the most affordable device to feature face unlocking on test here. While the feature was not available on the phone at launch, it soon made its way to the phone through an OTA software update. It works in the same way as the other Android devices here, using the front camera to match the face with the data saved.
In terms of accuracy and angles, the Redmi Note 5 Pro works fairly well to unlock the phone directly to the home screen. However, there is a slight delay and the phone will first wake to the lock screen before unlocking and going to the home screen. It’s marginally faster than the Samsung Galaxy A8+ at this, but not as fast as the Honor View10. However, the feature functions well, particularly considering that the Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro is priced at significantly less than all the other phones in this test.
After our testing, we came to a fairly obvious conclusion. On the whole, the OnePlus 5T is the best smartphone when it comes to face unlocking. It strikes the ideal balance between speed and accuracy, and the presence of the fingerprint sensor on the device is reassuring for the few occasions when face unlock might let you down. The Apple iPhone X comes second thanks to better accuracy and the ability to work even in darkness, falling short only in speed.
The other phones in this test get face unlocking in varying degrees of capability, but special mention must be made for the Xiaomi Redmi Note 5 Pro, which is one of the most affordable smartphones available today to offer face unlock. In the coming months and years, we’re likely to see face unlock improve and make its way down to more affordable devices, just as fingerprint sensors have now become the norm for even very affordable smartphones.
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