How To Make the Android Lock Screen Do More for You

By Ryan Whitwam

Making the Android lock screen a bastion of glanceable information.

There are things about Android we really like, and things we think need work. One thing we've always felt Google should improve on is the usefulness of the Android lock screen. Android has a great widget framework that lends itself well to glanceable information. That big empty lock screen could sure use some enhancements (which would be very suitable for tablets), and thanks to a few apps, that is possible on Android. 


WidgetLocker Lockscreen

WidgetLocker is an app that allows users to create a lock screen packed full of widgets. When you install WidgetLocker you'll be prompted to use a different Home link as your default. This pops up when you press the home button. This may be familiar to those that have used home screen replacements. The only difference here is that the WLocker Helper simply calls for the standard home screen.  

So now that you've got WidgetLocker set up as your lock screen, it's time to start customizing it. This is where WidgetLocker really stands out from the competition. Instead of relying on a series of custom widgets, you can add your own standard Android widgets to the WidgetLocker lock screen. The way you do this is exactly as you would on the Android home screen interface. Just long press to access the widget menu and add whatever you want.  

The default layout for WidgetLocker is slightly different from the stock Android unlock screen. The slider has been moved down to the bottom on the screen, instead of being about three quarters of the way down. This gives you a full 4x4 home screen grid to work with. There are also options for standard Android and Sense UI. Both of these will cut off a row of widget space, but make the slider easier to use. 

What really makes this app useful to us is that it does not obscure the standard lock screen, it replaces it. You don't need to disable the system lock screen, or deal with two unlock swipes. This is certainly interesting considering Google changed some security settings around the lock screen in 2.2 Froyo. Future updates might break this app, but it's fine for the time. If you use a pattern unlock, you'll still have to do that after swiping.  

You can also choose to have the system keyguard disabled so you can wake up the phone by clicking the trackpad/trackball. This also goes for the volume rocker, and camera button if you have one. We love this feature on the Nexus One, but if your phone has a two-step camera button, it could be easily triggered. 
We were worried about battery life when we first started testing WidgetLocker, but have been pleasantly surprised. Any widget processes are shared between the home screen and lock screen, so running a copy on the home screen and lock screen simultaneously has very little battery impact. Most of the time we're showing WidgetLocker using 1-2% of the battery if it registers at all.  

This app will cost you $0.99, but considering the functionality it offers, we'd say it's safe to give it a shot. Let us know if you try it. 

Flyscreen and No Lock

There are some problems with Flyscreen that you'll want to be aware of before getting your heart set on it as an alternative lock screen. You'll have to create a Flyscreen account if you want to use any of the social widgets, like Facebook and Twitter. The two standard Android widgets can only be one to a page as well. It's also a little clumsy at actually superseding the real lock screen, hence the need for No Lock. Without this app, you have to swipe to unlock the real lock screen after unlocking Flyscreen, No Lock is a free app that disables the Android lock screen. This allows you to run Flyscreen as your only lock screen. Just make sure you enable lock screen mode in the menu. 

Flyscreen can be a little sluggish, even on faster phones. This means that if you've disabled your lock screen with No Lock, you can sometimes see a flash of the home screen before Flyscreen comes up. One other issue we'd like to see worked out is that there's no way to disable the home button from skipping the unlock gesture. Still, both No Lock and Flyscreen are free, so take a look. 

Lock Delay and AutoLock

Lock Delay will cost you $0.99 and is just a simple time limit after which the phone will require you to unlock it. Before that turning on the screen will just return you to what you were last doing. AutoLock has the same function, but also ads in a Locale plug-in that can be used to trigger the lock normally, or with a delay depending on where you are. If you are at home, it can be set to wait before engaging the system lock. But if you're out, you can have it lock right away. AutoLock is available as a free app, or a $0.99 donation version. 

If you're on Android 2.1 or earlier, check these out. If you are one of the lucky few running Froyo, you'll have to wait and see if they can be updated to work on the new software. 

We are impressed with how developers have worked on making the lock screen more useful and user friendly. But really, Google should be bringing us this sort of functionality. Changing the timeout for system lock seems like easy, and useful functionality. But Google has not yet offered it, leaving developers to do so. We feel strongly that if Android is going to be on tablets, the widgets interface needs to find its way to the lock screen. Apps like Flyscreen, but especially WidgetLocker, give us hope this could happen. You get the feeling that these apps are a bit of a kludge, but if Google added this to Android, it could work magnificently. Do you know of any Android lock screen tips? Let us know!