How does the Google Pixel 7 compare to the Pixel 4?

How does the Google Pixel 7 compare to the Pixel 4?

Google Pixel 7 bezels and selfie camera

Robert Triggs / Android Authority

Google announced the Pixel 7 series last week, and there are a lot of smart features worth knowing. Between voice memo transcription, Photo Unblur and faster Night Sight, there’s a lot to like here.

Google has also added a feature that some fans have been asking for for a while, namely face unlock. This is the first time we’ve seen face unlock on a Pixel since the Pixel 4 series. But how does it work and how does it compare to the older Pixel’s face unlock? Here’s what you should know.

How face unlock works on every phone

Pixel 4 face unlock and soli radar sensors

For the Pixel 4 series, Google used a method called 3D face unlock. This allows it to register and authenticate a 3D map of your face using a series of dedicated sensors, seen above. These sensors include a dot projector (projects thousands of dots to authenticate a previously registered face map), IR camera and floodlight. The Pixel 4’s face unlock counts as a Class 3 (strong) biometric authentication security measure for Android, the strongest.

Meanwhile, the Pixel 7 series uses a simple, selfie camera-based solution also known as 2D face unlock. However, Google claims that the selfie shooter is a dual-pixel camera that can detect some depth, which is supposedly better than a generic RGB image. On top of that, Google uses its “advanced” machine learning models to support this solution. The Pixel 7 series face unlock is only a Class 1 (practical) biometric authentication method, the weakest.

Pixel 4 vs Pixel 7 Face Unlock: Which is Faster?

The Pixel 7 series unlocks at a similarly fast pace, as the clip above shows. By saying that, Android Authority Features editor Rita El Khoury felt that fingerprint unlocking was still faster in some situations, especially when the phone wasn’t directly in front of her face and she had to lift it first before triggering the face unlock. Nevertheless, a quick face unlock method is good news in the grand scheme of things, and it complements the Pixel 7’s improved fingerprint scanner.

When does it work? When does it not work?

Google Pixel 7 lock screen

Robert Triggs / Android Authority

The Pixel 4’s 3D face unlock technology makes it the far more versatile solution when it comes to environmental conditions. The addition of a floodlight and IR camera allows it to function in the dark.

In contrast, the Pixel 7 line’s face unlock solution only works in situations where a selfie camera can see your face in the first place. So a dark room or a pitch-black environment are both no-go situations for the new flagships – unless you crank up the screen brightness to 70-80% to create some artificial light. Nevertheless, both phones should unlock just fine during the day and in moderately lit environments.

The Pixel 4’s 3D face unlock technology also works in the dark, unlike the Pixel 7’s camera-based solution.

It’s also worth noting that the Pixel 4’s version of face unlock works from a variety of angles, such as when you’re looking at it from a slight angle or when the phone is on a table and you’re looking down at it. It even works when the phone is upside down. Fortunately, the Pixel 7’s face unlock solution offers similar flexibility in our tests, and also works at a slight angle or when the phone is upside down.

Does it work with sunglasses and masks?

Google Pixel 4 XL Motion Sense Light 4

The Covid-19 pandemic showed that face locks and masks did not play well together. This was evident for the Pixel 4 series as well, as the phone didn’t support face unlock with a mask out of the box. (You can try to register your face while wearing a mask, but I found that the face lock didn’t work about half the time when wearing one.)

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As for glasses, Google’s own Pixel 4 face unlock menu notes that glasses or lightly tinted sunglasses work just fine. Fortunately, the phone unlocked just fine when I wore a pair of cheap sunglasses or 3D glasses. Don’t ask why you want to unlock your phone when you’re wearing 3D specs.

Switching to the Pixel 7 series, the phone’s settings menu enables Face Unlock to work with glasses. This site also notes that the technology works best when you’re not wearing a mask or dark glasses. Our own testing confirmed that the phone locks up just fine when wearing glasses but not sunglasses, though you might have better luck with smaller or less reflective shades. However, face unlock didn’t work with masks at all on our review devices.

Does it work with closed eyes or a picture of you?

Pixel 7 face lock menu editor

Adamya Sharma / Android Authority

A glaring issue at the launch of the Pixel 4 was that Face Unlock worked even when your eyes were closed. This was a huge security issue as it meant someone could unlock your phone while you were sleeping and you would be none the wiser. Fortunately, Google introduced a switch in the following months that required a user’s eyes to be open for the phone to unlock.

Both phones have a switch to stop face locking when the eyes are closed.

Google has thankfully learned from this debacle, as the Pixel 7 line’s face unlock also offers this switch. And yes, it is enabled by default so no one can unlock your phone while you sleep.

The use of 3D face unlock means that the Pixel 4 series could not be unlocked with a picture. We’ve also tried unlocking the Pixel 7 series with photos of ourselves on another phone and another computer, and this didn’t work, lending credence to Google’s claim that a depth map is needed to trigger it.

Pixel 4 vs Pixel 7 face unlock: What can you use it for?

Google Pixel 7 series with face unlock

3D Face Unlock was the only biometric authentication method on the Pixel 4, and its Class 3 more secure nature meant it could be used for quite a few tasks beyond just unlocking your phone: authenticating purchases, logging into supported financial apps and password managers, and more.

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In comparison, Google specifically notes that Pixel 7 face unlock can only be used to unlock your phone. This is understandable as it is an inherently less secure method (Class 1) and easier to counterfeit than 3D solutions. So no logging into apps or authenticating purchases via this method.

So which solution is better?

Google Pixel 4 Face Lock Menu Editor

Hadlee Simons / Android Authority

Google’s decision to stick with camera-based face unlock on the Pixel 7 means it can get away with a small hole in the screen. But much like almost every other camera-based unlock solution out there, it comes at the expense of security and versatility. Aside from just being able to unlock your phone, the Pixel 7’s solution also doesn’t work in the dark and doesn’t play nicely with sunglasses.

Do you care that the Pixel 7’s face unlock is inferior?

460 votes

Meanwhile, the Pixel 4 series may have a thick bezel to accommodate all the extra 3D sensors, but it’s undoubtedly the superior solution. Google’s 3D technology works in the dark, doesn’t mind sunglasses, and can also be used for a variety of other tasks.

If there’s any consolation for the Pixel 7, it’s that the camera-based technology is quite fast in sufficient light. In addition, you always have a fingerprint scanner as a primary biometric authentication solution. Face unlock is just a nice bonus to have.

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