Samsung Galaxy Watches & Watch Unlock: Convenience meets security

The Galaxy Watch5 and Watch5 Pro are among the first smartwatches to support the not-yet-live ‘Watch Unlock’ feature, originally introduced by Google as Smart Lock in Wear OS 3.

Last week, Samsung discreetly started rolling out Wear OS 4 to its Galaxy Watch5 and Galaxy Watch5 Pro. This update, known as One UI 5 Watch, introduced a plethora of changes to Samsung’s last-generation smartwatches.

The updates range from new watch faces and tiles to enhanced Samsung Health functionalities. Notably, it also incorporates a backup and restore option and several performance improvements. The update package ends with ‘BWH3’ and includes the 2023-07-01 security patch. This will remain until the next scheduled update in three months. Both the Galaxy Watch5 and Galaxy Watch5 Pro receive identical changes. Furthermore, similar updates are expected for the Galaxy Watch4 and Galaxy Watch4 Classic in the near future.

However, something else comes as part of this update. An unmentioned feature: Watch Unlock.

What is Watch Unlock?

Watch Unlock is a new security feature that allows a smartwatch to unlock a paired smartphone. This feature was first discovered by Android expert Mishaal Rahman. Unlike its predecessor, Smart Lock, Watch Unlock can actually unlock a paired phone, provided the smartwatch itself is unlocked using a PIN or other authentication method.

The Apple parallel

Apple Watch users have been enjoying a similar feature for years. The Galaxy Watch5 and Galaxy Watch5 Pro are now set to offer the same convenience. Google is also planning to introduce this feature in the forthcoming Pixel Watch 2. A formal reveal is expected in a few weeks.

The mechanics of Watch Unlock

The Watch Unlock feature is designed to offer a new layer of convenience in device security.

As detailed by Mishaal Rahman, Android supports various authentication methods, including PIN, pattern, password, and biometrics. The last on this list are classified into three tiers: Class 3 (Strong), Class 2 (Weak), and Class 1 (Convenience). Watch Unlock operates on Android 13’s new Active Unlock API and is essentially treated as a new form of biometric authentication, although it’s not as secure as primary or Class 3 biometric methods.

Watch Unlock

To use this feature, your smartwatch needs to be unlocked and worn on your wrist. Once these conditions are met, the smartwatch can unlock the paired smartphone without requiring any additional input, such as a PIN or fingerprint scan.

Watch Unlock

This feature is particularly useful in situations where traditional unlocking methods are inconvenient, such as when your fingers are wet or your face isn’t recognized.

Watch Unlock vs Trusted Devices

There’s a common misconception that Watch Unlock is similar to the Trusted Devices feature, but they are fundamentally different. Trusted Devices, a part of the older Smart Lock system, allows a connected Bluetooth device like a smartwatch to extend the duration your phone remains unlocked after you’ve manually unlocked it using primary or biometric methods. In contrast, Watch Unlock can actually unlock your smartphone for you, offering a higher level of convenience.

Watch Unlock

Google is in the process of testing the integration of Watch Unlock under Android’s biometric unlock settings in the upcoming Android 14. This suggests that Watch Unlock is not just a fleeting feature but is being considered for deeper integration into Android’s security ecosystem. Additionally, to avoid confusion with the new Watch Unlock feature, Google is rebranding Smart Lock to “Extend Unlock.”

Final thoughts

Given the increasing integration of smartwatches into our daily lives, Watch Unlock could potentially be extended to other platforms, such as Chromebooks. However, this remains speculative at this point. In any case there remains lots of potential.

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Watch Unlock is geared to enhance the user experience for those with WearOS devices by streamlining the smartphone unlocking process. By doing so, it successfully marries the often conflicting needs of convenience and robust security, making it easier to access your smartphone without compromising safety.

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Ivan Jovin

Ivan has been a tech journalist for over 7 years now, covering all kinds of technology issues. He is the guy who gets to dive deep into the latest wearable tech news.

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