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Google Pixel 7 and Pro might support secure Face Unlock

Updated Oct 17th, 2022 10:21AM EDT
Google's Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro are coming this fall.
Image: Google

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The Pixel 7 series is almost here, with Google’s launch event set for October 6th. However, we don’t have to wait another week to learn everything about Google’s two new phones. A new finding indicates that Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro might support more secure Face Unlock functionality. That’s despite lacking dedicated hardware like the iPhone.

Still, Google might have figured out a way to improve the security of Face Unlock functionality using only a single front-facing selfie camera.

Google’s Face Unlock history

Reports in April hinted that Google is working on face recognition support for its Pixel phones despite ditching its Face ID-like technology. Google introduced its version of 3D face recognition tech a few years ago. The Pixel 4’s Face Unlock was just as secure as the iPhone’s Face ID. And it had a radar component, which Apple lacks.

The downside was that Google had to compromise the Pixel 4’s design. The handset looked worse than the iPhone’s notch. The Pixel 4 had a massive “forehead” bezel at the top, which incorporated all the Face Unlock components.

Pixel 4
Google’s Pixel 4 smartphone. Image source: Zach Epstein, BGR

Google retired the feature after that, opting to give the Pixel a better hole-punch camera design. The Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro will also get the same all-screen design as the Pixel 6 series, complete with a hole-punch selfie camera. With that in mind, Face Unlock seemed out of the question.

Specifically, it seemed that Google might opt for 2D face recognition support, a feature that’s a lot less secure than Face ID. And one that was available on Android before Apple rolled out the unrivaled Face ID functionality.

Alternatively, we speculated Google might combine 2D Face Unlock with the under-display fingerprint sensor to enhance security.

However, Google has just added the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro to the Google Play Console ahead of next week’s launch. It’s in there that Mishaal Rahman spotted an exciting development regarding Face Unlock.

How Face Unlock might work on Pixel 7 phones

Both the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro have support for “android.hardware.biometrics.face.” Per Rahman, that means the handsets support “secure Face Unlock.” Even still, that’s not exactly 3D face recognition similar to all iPhone flagships released since the iPhone X.

The only other Pixels to have this feature are the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL, or Google’s only handsets to include 3D face recognition hardware.

Google Pixel 6 Pro Hole-Punch
Google Pixel 6 Pro Hole-Punch Image source: Christian de Looper for BGR

We’ll have to wait for Google to explain how Face Unlock works on Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro. But 9to5Google thinks they figured out how the feature will work. Google will use the selfie camera’s dual-pixel auto-focus (DPAF) to create a depth map. In turn, this could lead to some sort of 3D face recognition.

The blog discovered Google’s Face Unlock progress for the Pixel 6 and 7 series back in June. Last year’s Pixel 6 Pro might also support the feature thanks to a specific selfie cam, the dual-pixel auto-focus mode:

DPAF has been used since the Pixel 2 to generate depth maps for Portrait Mode and Google has kept improving its approach (with ML and more cameras) since. The company also has depth-from-motion algorithms that just need a single RGB camera, while it’s credited Tensor for allowing faster, more accurate, and power-efficient face detection in photography contexts. Google clearly has the hardware and software in components for face unlock.

That’s only speculation, however, as Google never explained this Face Unlock mystery. Come next week, we’ll learn everything about face recognition on the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro and how secure it is. And in the future, we’ll get to see what the Google Pixel Fold brings in that way too.

More Pixel coverage: For more Pixel news, visit our Pixel 7 guide.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.