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Pixel Watch Unlock is very neat on phones, but I wish it worked both ways
As part of the December Feature Drop, Google is rolling out a new feature that lets you quickly and automatically unlock your phone if your Pixel Watch is nearby and unlocked too.
The option showed up for me today. I quickly jumped on board and decided to test it out because, even though my Pixel 8 Pro already supports face unlock and fingerprint unlock, there are still those rare instances when both methods are inconvenient to use. Say when my face is covered with a large winter scarf, my hands are wet or dirty, or it’s too dark for face unlock to work properly.
How to set up Watch Unlock on the Pixel phone and watch
Setting up the phone-watch unlock is easy. You either tap the notification that pops up on your phone when the feature is available to you, or you open the Pixel Watch app and go to Watch preferences > Security > Watch Unlock. Then you enter your phone’s PIN code to verify it’s you, and enable the feature by tapping More > Confirm > Done.
Google’s onboarding explains how the feature works, and when exactly your phone gets unlocked, i.e. you still have to swipe on the lock screen or open a notification. It doesn’t just unlock the moment you turn it on.
When the phone is unlocked by your nearby watch, you’ll see a toast message (right screenshot above) explaining that the watch’s proximity unlocked it.
A notification will also pop up on the watch to alert you that it unlocked your phone and offer to lock it again. So in the rare chance that someone grabs your phone and remains nearby to gain access, you can still lock them out.
It works well, but why is it not a two-way setup?
I’ve been testing the feature all day today and I find it works very reliably so far. When I’m wearing my Pixel Watch 2 and it’s unlocked, I can pick up my phone from my desk and swipe immediately, without waiting to tilt the phone toward my face to trigger face unlock. If the watch is locked, though, the phone remains secure and requires me to enter my PIN, a fingerprint, or identify with my face to allow me access.
My only qualm about the feature is that it’s a one-way street: An unlocked nearby watch unlocks the phone it’s linked to. But why does it not work the other way around? Let me explain.
When I take off my watch to charge it or to let my wrist breathe a bit, the watch automatically locks itself (I’m using Google Pay on it, so I can’t disable that). When I put it back on, it’s a 50/50 toss between me remembering to manually unlock it or not… until I’m in a rush, I need my watch, and realize I have to enter the PIN code to actually use it.
I’d love it if Google made the security relationship between the two equal so that when I unlock my phone (face, fingerprint, or PIN) it automatically unlocks my watch too if it’s still locked. That’d be perfect for my messy and forgetful brain.
Until then, I’m really appreciating all these tight integrations that Google is rolling out between its watches and phones. The synchronized do not disturb and bedtime modes, common alarms, battery full notification, and now watch unlock are all fantastic links in the Pixel ecosystem. They should definitely come to more Android phones and Wear OS watches, though.