A smartphone is a very personal device; I definitely wouldn’t want anyone fiddling around with my phone without my knowledge. Worse still, were anyone to steal the device, I wouldn’t want them to be able to access any of my data. That’s why I use a PIN code to lock my screen, and why I’ve installed Cerberus, one of four great anti-theft solutions for Android we’ve reviewed (our all-around winner, in fact). That said, repeatedly typing my PIN code all day long can quickly become annoying — doubly so when I don’t even really need my device locked, because I’m at home. This inconvenience may be part of the reason why people don’t use PIN codes as often as they should. So, wouldn’t it be nice were my smartphone clever enough to automatically unlock itself whenever I’m at a safe place? That’s exactly what free app Safe Areas offers.
A Free Solution That (Mostly) Works: Safe Areas
The need to automatically unlock your device when connected to a trusted Wi-Fi network is not a new one; we’ve covered an app called Unlock With Wifi way back in 2011. That app is still being maintained to this day, but it also costs a (relatively) whopping $5. Just for comparison, that’s more than what the all-powerful Tasker costs, for a tool that does just one thing. So, I set out to search for a free solution, found Safe Areas, and was pleasantly surprised by how straightforward it was to set up. The end result is a device that shows “slide to unlock” when I’m at home, and asks for a PIN code when I’m anywhere else.
The device I used is the Sony Xperia Z running Android 4.2.2 PAC ROM. The device was not encrypted, and did not have any restrictive corporate management policies. Under these particular circumstances, Safe Areas worked well. Just like call recording, automatically toggling PIN code lock is one of those things where your mileage may vary: Future versions of Android or different security arrangements may break things. In fact, even on this device, Safe Areas only worked some (most) of the time, yet sometimes forgot to relock or unlock my device.
Before you begin setting up Safe Areas, ensure you are connected to your home Wi-Fi network. Otherwise you won’t be able to complete the setup, as you’ll see in a moment.
First, Safe Areas asks for permissions:
What permissions would those be? Android tells you about it in the next screen:
Basically, you’re letting Safe Areas become a Device Admin so that it can set and unset your device’s password. This is not the same as root access, and indeed, Safe Areas does not ask for root privileges at any point in the process.
Once you grant it permissions, it’s time to set your password:
You can either use a PIN code or an alphanumeric password. You may not use a pattern lock or face unlock: This is a restriction put in place by Android itself, rather than by Safe Areas. Here’s where you set the password:
With your PIN code or password selected, it’s time to tell Safe Areas where to unlock your device. Ensure you’re connected to your home (or other trusted) Wi-Fi network, then tap Create Safe Area:
You will then be shown the network you’re currently connected to, and could tap it to set it as a Safe Area:
Note that you can’t see all of the networks saved on your device – only the one you’re currently connected to.
Tap the network, and… you’re done. On my device, the whole process took less than a minute. As simple as could be, really.
The End Result
With Safe Areas installed, this is what I see when I’m connected to my home network:
This is the lockscreen, but with no password protection – just side to unlock. I would prefer it if there were no lockscreen at all: Just turn the device on and you’re back where you last were. This doesn’t seem to be an option, though. Still, even “slide to unlock” is much, much better than having to key in my PIN dozens of times each day.
As I mentioned at the outset, this worked most of the time, but was not completely perfect.
Easier Than It Seems
Cancelling my PIN code at home is something I’ve wanted to do for months now, but kept putting off because it seemed like a hassle to set up. It turns out that with the right tool for the job, this is a straightforward affair. Do you have a PIN code on your device? If not, would an app like this convince you to use one? Let me know in the comments. I’m also curious to hear if Safe Areas worked for you, and if you figured out a way to completely remove the “swipe to unlock” screen when at home (and enable PIN-code lock when elsewhere).