Pretty much every phone can use your face (as well as your fingerprint) as a key. But some biometric unlocking is also more secure, faster, or just a better experience overall.
Phones like the iPhone X, Galaxy Note 9 and LG G7 use biometric information to unlock your device, like your unique eye and facial pattern. Many people find it more convenient or more novel to use face unlocking versus their fingerprint. The iPhone X and Oppo Find X have done away with the fingerprint reader altogether, and rely solely on face unlocking using infrared light to map your mug.
At a time when phones are pushing into the $1,000 price tier, having cutting-edge software like secure face unlocking can bolster the argument that one phone is more technologically advanced than another.
Although face unlocking has existed as far back as 2011, with Google’s face unlock feature in its Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich OS and Samsung Galaxy Nexus phone, the feature was easy to bypass. Today, Samsung phons like the Galaxy Note 9 offer secure iris scanning alongside Google’s face unlock tool and a third method, a combination of the two to unlock phones faster and more accurately (but not necessarily more securely).
Apple’s method, called FaceID, uses an infrared camera, a depth sensor and a dot projector to map out 30,000 points on your face and create an artificial 3D scan. FaceID is secure enough to use for digital payments through Apple Pay.
The majority of Android phones these days don’t have this level of face unlocking, and don’t integrate the feature with digital payments. But some are following in Apple’s footsteps. Oppo uses a similar system for the Find X, and Xiaomi announced a similar infrared method in a recent phone. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 processor, which supports infrared mapping technology with 50,000 infrared dots, we can only expect more Android phones to better improve their face unlock feature in 2019.
In the meantime, check out our top phones that have facial recognition and let us know in the comments what you think about this technology. Do you like using it or do you prefer a fingerprint reader or PIN instead?
Editors’ note: This piece was originally published on July 18, 2018 and is updated continuously.
Samsung Galaxy Note 9
The newly announced Galaxy Note 9 is a big, beautiful phone with top-tier specs including a massive battery and an updated S Pen that doubles as a wireless remote. The phone has several biometric options that users can choose from to unlock their Note 9. In addition to the fingerprint reader and iris scanner, you can use Google’s less secure facial recognition technology common to Android phones. Samsung also offers a combination of iris scanning and face unlock, called Intelligent Scan, which isn’t secure enough for mobile payments, but is often faster and more accurate than iris scanning alone. Read CNET’s review of the Note 9.
Apple iPhone X
Apple’s iPhone X uses one of the more sophisticated and fastest methods of facial recognition. It’s not completely impenetrable, however, and it doesn’t work smoothly 100 percent of the time. But it works notably better than most. Read CNET’s review of the iPhone X.
Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus
Just like the Note 9, the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus have a handful of biometric methods for screen unlocking, including secure iris unlocking, and the unique Intelligent Scan. The phones also have wireless charging, a water resistant design and come in blue and purple. Read CNET’s review of the Galaxy S9.
The G7 ThinQ is waterproof, has an AI camera that gives your photos a boost before you snap them and a secondary wide-angle rear camera. Like its more high-end counterpart, the V35 ThinQ, both have face recognition. Read CNET’s review of the LG G7.
Motorola Moto G6
The Moto G6 is proof you don’t need to spend a lot for face unlock. It has a near-stock version of Android 8.0 Oreo, decent dual-rear cameras and its battery charges fast. It’s also remarkably affordable at $249, £219 and AU$399. Read CNET’s review of the Motorola Moto G6.
Known for making phones with high-end specs at a more affordable price tag, OnePlus continues to carve a name for itself in the Android phone space. Its latest OnePlus 6 flagship, which packs a 6.28-inch screen, dual rear cameras and a Snapdragon 845 processor, employs one of the fastest face unlock technology we’ve ever experienced. Read CNET’s review of the OnePlus 6.
Oppo Find X
The Find X’s beautiful and unique design mean you’ll need to pop out the phone’s camera in order to use its secure 3D face scanning. Oppo’s supplier boasts a 0.0001 percent false recognition rate and payment-level authentication. You’d think that this would mean it takes slightly longer to unlock the phone, but it takes less than a second from the moment you swipe up with the display turned on. Read CNET’s review of the Oppo Find X.
Huawei Honor 7X
As another affordable phone, the Honor 7X from 2017 features a 5.93-inch display, a depth-sensing 16-megapixel camera that can take portrait photos and a quad-core processor. But don’t let the mid-range specs fool you; Huawei is known to boast about its face unlocking technology, saying that the feature in its more recent Honor 7C and 7A works faster than Apple’s FaceID. Read CNET’s preview of the Huawei Honor 7X.
Xiaomi Mi 8
Though not well-known outside countries like China and India, Xiaomi has garnered a reputation for making high-quality phones for much less than other popular flagships. In June, it released the transparent Mi 8 Explorer Edition. It’s the first Android phone to feature the iPhone X method for face unlock, employing 30,000 infrared points on the face.