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The skinny on the Google phone that knows your face (sometimes)


By Noel Young, Correspondent

November 23, 2011 | 3 min read

With excitement growing in the US over the new Google smartphone, the Wall Street Journal obtained a British version to try out its most novel feature: the ability of the phone to recognise its owner by his or her face.

The phone that knows your face!

The Galaxy Nexus from Samsung, on sale this week in the UK, is the first device to run Google's Android 4.0 operating system, known as Ice Cream Sandwich. It is designed to " iron out many geeky wrinkles". No more menus to perform tasks - instead more user-friendly icons!

WSJ writer Katherine Boehret , with the U.K. version in her hands, found that the facial-recognition feature - intended to let owners easily unlock their phones easily- was somewhat unreliable, however.

To set it up, she held the phone up as if she were taking a photo of herself with the front-facing camera, and a traced image of her face appeared on the screen.

" Whenever I wanted to use the phone, I held it up to my face and if facial recognition worked, it unlocked.

"But this only worked half the time, sometimes because of low lighting, whether outside at night, in restaurants or even in my own kitchen. Other times it just didn't recognise me."

To be on the safe side, Katherine also set up a back-up unlocking option: tracing a pattern on the screen.

Google says facial recognition isn't necessarily the safest method of unlocking the phone. And Katherine was able to unlock the phone by holding a photo of her face up to its lock screen - worrying if the phone was stolen or lost,

But Google said most people who find lost phones don't know what the phone's owner looks like.

Overall, however, Katherine praised the phone , which is expected to be on sale in the US in the next two weeks.

She says, "I enjoyed using Ice Cream Sandwich, which is the most well-rounded version of Android yet. My phone's battery lasted nearly a full day under heavy testing."


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