Google Pixel 8 Gets Major Security Upgrade To Compete With iPhone 15

Google has souped-up its Face Unlock technology in the Pixel 8 to be secure enough to authorize payments and sign into banking apps.

Google previously introduced 3D facial scanning biometric security in the 2019 Pixel 4 and then dropped that technology for the Pixel 5. It worked through several sensors, including the company’s in-house Soli radar chip, a flood illuminator and a dot projector. The hardware and software combined to create a hyper-secure way of verifying your identity.

Google now says that same level of security is available in the Pixel 8 and 8 Pro, seemingly without additional hardware outside of the selfie camera. This, the company’s press release says, is “thanks to Tensor’s advanced machine learning.”

In short that means your Pixel 8 will be able to authorize payments and sign in to your secure services, like banking apps and password vaults, using the new upgraded version of Face Unlock. If this works in a similar way to Apple’s Face ID, a glance at your phone should be enough to access your secured services. The Pixel 7’s Face Unlock only takes a 2D scan of a user’s face, which isn’t secure enough for payment authorization.

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I’m yet to test this out properly (stay tuned), so we’ll see how well Google’s claims stack up, but this is a potentially a huge step forward for how AI is used in smartphones. The company has long used software to plug gaps in hardware, particularly when comes to computational photography.

Google hasn’t said how this works precisely, but I’m fascinated to see a more detailed breakdown. In the Pixel 4, a 3D image was taken of the user’s face during the Face Unlock setup, from which a unique token was created. This was stored in the phone’s Titan Security Module. Every time the user needed to verify their identity, a new 3D scan was taken and measured against the original token. Apple’s Face ID works in a similar way.

This all happens in fractions of a second. That speed was partly thanks to Google’s Soli radar chip, which registered if the user’s hand was reaching for the phone and would then prepare the other sensors for action. If Google has somehow managed to offload this entire process to AI, via its Tensor G3 chip, then that is impressive. Particularly since it saves some display real estate where the Face Unlock sensors would typically be around the selfie camera.

I have written extensively about how this was one of the best features of the Pixel 4— and remains a significant advantage for Apple over most Android phones—because 3D biometric security (or something mimicking it), is an important and wildly convenient security feature.

One of the main reasons it was so useful was the speed with which the Pixel 4, and the iPhone range, can recognise your face. It’s faster, less cumbersome and more consistently accurate than a fingerprint reader. This is one of the first things I’ll test when I get my hands on the new handsets, so stay tuned for more information as I get it.

In the meantime, check out the video below where Forbes’s Thomas Brewster and I put Face ID to the ultimate test.

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