Co.Design

A Clever, Hyper-Useful Overhaul Of Android's Lock Screen

A free app for Android reimagines what your phone can do when it’s “locked.”

There’s nothing worse than the butt dial. Your grandma calls, but when you answer the phone, you hear muffled speech and jostling. There are only two possibilities: She’s either been kidnapped or accidentally called during sex. You’re not sure which you’re rooting for. Then you remember--of course!--it’s just a butt dial. She didn’t lock her phone before tossing it into her purse! Or something.

The phone lock is a small miracle, but one has to wonder, can it do more than merely lock your phone? On the iPhone, it pretty much can’t unless you jailbreak. But on Android, all sorts of developers have built apps questioning this premise. Among the most ambitious is Active Lock Screen. It’s half-quick launcher, half-widget manager. In fact, it’s so ambitious it may defeat the purpose of your lock screen, but we’ll return to that.

No idea why this video is apparently being read by a robot.

At its heart is a ring. You can drag buttons to this ring, like a lock icon (to unlock) or a sound icon (to silence your phone). But when you click this ring, something unexpected happens. A radial menu appears, containing folders for contacts, messages, photos, and shortcuts to other apps. You can launch an app or call . . . grandma . . . with the flick of a thumb.

Keep in mind, you’re still “locked,” whatever that means at this point.

Additionally, you can download plug-ins (essentially widgets) for Active Lock Screen to run. CNN top stories or TED Talks can go here. You swipe left or right to search through the list. You can catch up with all the news and inspiring speeches in the world today.

Again, keep in mind, you’re still “locked.”

Now, I haven’t been able to test the app, as I don’t have an Android phone. But I’m equal parts intrigued and repulsed by the idea. On one hand, how great would it be to have a more informed lock screen, all without having to enter a passcode or fiddle with winter’s frozen thumbs. On the other, you can actually MAKE A CALL from this lock screen. And you can LAUNCH APPS. Doesn’t that completely ruin the point of a lock screen--as in, if a lock screen’s lock isn’t really a lock, is it still a lock screen?

No, it’s not. But as an Android launcher alternative for those who don’t fear the butt dial, Active Lock Screen actually has some decent ideas.

Download it here.

[Hat tip: Android Guys]

[Image: Hands via Shutterstock]

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10 Comments

  • Brian Bennett

    I think the point is that you can choose which apps you want to access quickly without having to unlock the phone. How many photos have we missed because we swiped our passcode incorrectly? This allows you to get to the camera quickly, if you choose.

    And as far as butt-dialing with the lock screen activated? Don't put the call option into the menu. Easy fix.

  • Marcus Agunloye

    These lock screen interfaces can be a bit annoying in real life. As Henry says your finger will most likely be covering one of the options, and also having the options hidden until you touch the screen can slow you down a lot. Worst case scenario - default android alarm clock. The alarm is snoozed/canceled from the lock screen, with the two options activated by swiping to the left or right from the centre  Seems fine in principle, but at 6am in the morning, half asleep with the alarm blaring away, holding your finger on the screen, trying to see both symbols and figure out which way to swipe to get that extra 15 minutes of sleep can be a real pain.

  • Andrew Lin

    One of the weakest entries on Fastco in a while! it might be a cool idea (similar ideas has ben around for a long time) but the video uses computer generated voice???

  • Gene Miller

    Sooo... You wrote a review of an app you've admittedly never tried? Come on, stop being a lazy writer. Anyways, WidgetLocker is a great option too. 

  • ejfarraro

    No, it still honors the lock.  It does provide some short cuts to apps/contacts.  After you select a contact to call, or app to launch, it then brings up your actual lock screen, where you have to enter your password.

    Frankly, I don't like any of these lockscreen replacements for that reason, but it's an OK concept.  I'd like it more if they integrated it into stock Android, and/or gave permissions for certain apps to run even in lock mode (such as Navigation).  For instance, I'd like to  check in on Foursquare without unlocking my phone, but I probably wouldn't want to leave Mail unlocked.

  • Steve Pender

    Looks awesome. Gonna give it a try. I think this is the future of navigation, as a "gestural path" rather than click click click.