Does Google Pixel 7 have face unlock? Yes, with a catch
The next generation of Google’s Pixel smartphones has arrived. While the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro are mostly iterative improvements to Google’s now-established designs, the company packed some interesting surprises into this year’s models.
The Pixel 7 series will quickly feel familiar to anyone who has handled a Pixel 6 or Pixel 6 Pro, making it clear that Google now has a set aesthetic for its smartphones. Instead of making broader design changes, Google has added some nice touches where they count, moving to a matte aluminum and glass finish on the Pixel 7 and an even classier polished aluminum and glass look for the Pixel 7 Pro.
As attractive as the new design is, what really counts is what Google has packed under the hood in the form of the company’s latest Tensor G2 processor and Titan M2 security chip. This pair of new chips powers even more advanced computing photography and machine learning features and opens the door to more sophisticated security features, including the return of a feature we feared Google had abandoned.
Google’s first attempt at face unlock
Google made a big splash in 2019 when it introduced a new facial recognition system to unlock the Pixel 4. Unfortunately, the joy of this new feature was somewhat short-lived. Although Google had apparently put a lot of effort into developing a secure facial recognition system to compete with Apple’s Face ID, Google’s version was found to lack at least one critical aspect when it first launched – it worked even when your eyes were closed – forcing the company to catch up with later security updates.
So it didn’t come as much of a surprise when the Pixel 5 shipped without face unlock. Google had clearly decided it needed to go back to the drawing board, and the Pixel 5 didn’t even include the necessary infrared sensors, so there was no hope of it showing up in a later software update. While some rumors suggested it might come to the Pixel 6, it never materialized on that device, leading many to conclude that Google had given up on the feature altogether.
Can I unlock the Pixel 7 with my face?
Fortunately, these assumptions have been proven false and face unlock has returned to the Pixel 7 series. This lets you unlock your Pixel 7 or Pixel 7 Pro with just a glance, and it’s part of Google’s broader approach to device security.
Google notes that the new Face Unlock feature is powered by the company’s “advanced machine learning models” that are now possible with the Tensor G2 chip, though they likely also have something to do with the improved 10.8-megapixel wide-angle camera now included on both the Pixel 7 and the Pixel 7 Pro.
While last year’s Pixel 6 Pro had a comparable 11.1MP front-facing camera with a 94-degree field of view, the Pixel 6 was limited to a narrower 8MP camera. It’s an open question whether the inferior camera was enough to power Google’s facial recognition algorithms. Still, Google probably didn’t want to risk a face unlock feature working differently on the two models. After all, it had enough trouble dealing with the Pixel 6’s in-display fingerprint sensor.
Does the Pixel 7 still have a fingerprint sensor?
Probably in a desire to mirror Apple’s approach with Face ID, Google removed the fingerprint sensor in the Pixel 4, leaving the somewhat flawed Face Unlock as the only biometric authentication option.
Thankfully, it hasn’t made that mistake with the Pixel 7 series. People can choose to use the under-display fingerprint sensor, face unlock, or both.
While the fingerprint sensor on the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro had its share of issues at launch, most of these have been fixed in subsequent software updates, and the Pixel 6a delivered even more improvements. This gives us some confidence that Google has learned from its past experiences and ironed out the bugs so that the Pixel 7 fingerprint sensor will work accurately and reliably out of the box.
That’s important, as it turns out, since there are some things you’ll still need the fingerprint sensor for if you want to avoid typing in passwords all the time.
What can I use the Pixel 7 face unlock for?
Google seems to be taking a significantly more cautious approach to its facial recognition technology this time around, suggesting it hasn’t fully recovered from the bad experiences of the Pixel 4 era.
Unlike Google’s previous facial recognition security and Apple’s Face ID, with the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro, you can only use facial recognition to unlock the phone from the lock screen. Everything else requires you to enter a password or use the fingerprint sensor.
This includes using Google Wallet or other mobile payment services, signing in to Google accounts and unlocking secure apps such as password managers. For these, you must enter your fingerprint or which PIN code or password the app or service requires.
Face lock and fingerprint lock are also an either-or choice. You can use one or the other, but you can’t force the Pixel 7 to require you to provide both a face and fingerprint scan as some sort of two-factor authentication system.
Despite these limitations, Face Unlock is a welcome addition, and it’s nice to see Google giving people more options for biometric authentication. While it remains to be seen how well the face unlock will perform in real-world conditions, the in-display fingerprint sensor is still there to give you a backup.
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