Home / Technology / Pixel 4 turns up the heat on other Android phones and not because of the camera

Pixel 4 turns up the heat on other Android phones and not because of the camera


Face Unlock on Pixel 4 can inspire other Android phones.

Sarah Tew / CNET

With a moment, Google's Pixel 4 accomplishes something no other major Android phone manufacturer has. It finally got the iPhone Face ID – a biometric unlock feature that Apple popularized two years ago – to unlock the phone and buy things with a scan on your face. Now that a secure version is available in Android phones, face unlocking will be the killer feature that all Android users want.

The face-lock feature on Android phones has been around for years, but mostly as a convenience that has been thin enough to fool photos. Face ID's stricter process meant that it was secure enough for transactions.

Some Huawei phones, such as Huawei Mate 30 Pro use the same technology as Apple to unlock the phone, but they do not support mobile payments. In the year Samsung killed its iris scan after three years . That left Apple as the only real game in town.


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With consumers more aware of the value of their privacy it is possible to offer secure face locking even more conveniently than scanning your fingerprint or entering a PIN. Closing the gap with Face ID also gives Google an advantage over Samsung, LG, Huawei and all the others at a time when Google can sell its phones in all major US airlines which gives Pixel, as historically an opportunity has not sold well, more of a household name.

But even more important is that Pixel 4's adoption of this secure version of face unlock can have ripple effects in the rest of the Android world. If Google sets out the plan for this secure version of face unlocking in Android OS, it will only guarantee that every space and premium phone will use the feature, as about 90% of all smartphones run on the platform.

Why Face Unlocks Questions

Face scanning, along with fingerprint scanning, is one of the few biometric-safe methods to verify your identity. On a phone, it is thought to be a fast, convenient and mostly hands-free alternative to fingerprint readers. Using face lock instead of a fingerprint reader can free up screen space and prevent you from fumbling on the back or side of the phone to unlock it.

Advocates for face locking also claim that it is safer than fingerprint readers and harder to fool with images and synthetic attachments, such as thumbs. It has the power to authenticate autofill of passwords in addition to mobile payments.

The technology works by scanning your features and creating a stored image that the phone then compares to your face when you try to unlock your device. Less secure versions create optical images with the camera, which are easy enough to fool with photos, masks or other fake ones.

  google-pixel-4 radar

This is how Google visualizes Pixel 4's Soli radar sensor to detect your presence and movement.

Sarah Tew / CNET

Apple and now Google use an infrared sensor to project tens of thousands of dots on the face. This creates a 3D depth map with much more information about the length, shape, span and width of your unique features.

While the iPhone requires you to swipe up from the bottom of the screen to exit unlocking the phone (after it has verified your identity), Pixel 4 uses Motion Sense, a collection of motion-sensing features powered by radar to recognize when you reach your device. It will only trigger Pixel 4 to unlock the screen.

Using gestures and a look to unlock the phone should be faster than swiping it – at least according to Google. This is something we will be testing soon.


You can't see the radar chip inside, but it's to the right of the speaker grille.

Angela Lang / CNET

Why just now?

It's not clear why the Android competition has gone so far behind in terms of truly secure face unlocking. Qualcomm gathered support for a 50,000-point projector in its Snapdragon 845 chipset a year after the iPhone X was launched in 2017, but competitors were slow to pick up the technology.

Maybe some of these manufacturers lacked technology or software teams to get the feature safe enough, or maybe they wanted to put their own spin on the secure face locking area, as Google has now done.

Either way, Google's ability to innovate on hardware by pairing Motion Sense gestures on the face. The mechanism is not just a delayed way for the brand to flex its technical muscle. And it's not just a way for Pixel phones to move forward. Because of Google's significant resources and reach, its face-unlocking plan on Android phones has the potential to drive biometrics even further into the future.


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Originally published earlier today.

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