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The Pixel 8 Pro's face unlock is the best of both worlds
Whether we like it or not, Apple has cornered the market on smartphone facial recognition. Face ID, despite its bulky, notched (or island-based) hardware, sets the gold standard for security with its locked-down infrared setup. The best that most Android competitors now do, by contrast, is offering a less secure version to unlock your phone with the selfie camera, but it usually isn’t secure enough for mobile payments. Now, the Pixel 8 Pro has a way to rewrite the story with a little help from its Tensor G3 and some advanced machine learning, and it feels like the best of both worlds.
Google has offered Face Unlock for a few years on its Pixel flagships, though it’s had varying levels of security. It packed a secure, infrared setup into the Pixel 4 before dialing things back by the time the Pixel 7 rolled around. Now, security is back on the rise. The most important piece of the Pixel 8 Pro’s face unlock puzzle is that it’s secure. (Although we’ve already seen it being fooled by a user’s sibling, we haven’t seen many reports to confirm that issue.) Not just secure enough to unlock your phone but secure enough to make mobile payments and access banking apps. It’s even secure enough that if your phone is already unlocked and you go to make a purchase, you won’t have to re-unlock like you did with the Pixel 7 series.
Google's magic mix of machine learning and the Tensor G3 earns its Face Unlock a Class 3 certification, which is as good as it gets.
It achieves this level of lockdown thanks to a few advanced machine learning algorithms and the updated Tensor G3 chipset. If you’re starting from a locked screen and holding your Pixel 8 Pro up to a card reader, the face unlock is probably going to kick in faster than your thumb can find the fingerprint reader, too. Google’s enhanced security is most noticeable when opening a banking app. Gone are the days of reaching for the fingerprint reader right after you tap on the app — the Pixel 8 Pro’s face unlock is quick enough that you’re in your app almost immediately, no thumb calisthenics required.
On top of being more secure than the Pixel 7 series, the Pixel 8 Pro’s face unlock seems just a hair faster, too. I don’t have a good way to measure the difference — I’m not fast enough with a stopwatch — but the unlock message flashes almost instantly on the Pixel 8 Pro, as long as I have enough light. Whether it’s actually faster or not, the upgrade in biometric security level (the Pixel 8 Pro qualifies for Class 3, the highest level) is enough of an upgrade over the Pixel 7 series. Sometimes, it even seems to pick up on my face and unlock the phone without needing to swipe the lock screen like I usually do.
Despite being both simple and secure, face unlock on the Google Pixel 8 Pro still doesn’t work with sunglasses on, nor does it work in the dark (or in a harshly backlit scenario). This is the main drawback to Google’s selfie camera approach — it just can’t quite match Apple’s infrared reliability. That said, I’m happy to slip off my sunglasses every now and then if it means a tiny punch hole selfie camera instead of a Dynamic Island or a notch.
What do you think? Is the Pixel 8 Pro’s face unlock really good enough? Or does Google need to bring back its IR setup from the days of the Pixel 4? Let us know in the poll below, and check out the best deals on the Pixel 8.