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4 min read 2 comments

Huawei Mate 20 Pro's face unlock seems worryingly imprecise

Huawei has given the Mate 20 Pro a technically sophisticated face unlock, similar to that of Apple in the new iPhones. But the test shows that it doesn't work that smoothly yet, because the Mate 20 Pro can't distinguish between two similar-looking people.

The Mate 20 Pro has two biometric unlock methods: a fingerprint sensor in the display and 3D face recognition. Both should be equally secure, but 3D Face Unlock doesn't work as it should on our Mate 20 Pro test device. It reliably unlocks my smartphone with the face of my colleague Christopher - and vice versa.

I noticed the behavior when I appeared in the editorial office with the brand new test device from Huawei. Everyone wanted to see and try out the smartphone - and Christopher suddenly unlocked it. It could happen, maybe my face saw it somewhere in the background. But after many, many attempts it was clear: It works reliably again and again, Christopher can unlock the Mate 20 Pro every time, although my face should be necessary for that.

In the video below you can see this issue being demonstrated: 

Editor's note: Steffen and Chris are part of our German editorial team, so don't be alarmed to hear their native tongue!

Admittedly, Christopher and I look alike, both wearing a full beard and comparatively short hair. But they are just two different faces, with different skin colors, different contours, eye colors, glasses versus no glasses, and many other differences. We are not twins, not even related, so the whole thing is not so similar.

It makes no difference which of the two faces we save as the owner in the Mate 20 Pro. Also, multiple attempts of deleting and fresh training brings the same result: At our latest and third attempt, the Mate 20 Pro can be unlocked by me as well as by Christopher via 3D Face Unlock. It doesn't matter whether we have activated the option that the eyes must be open during the test or not. This is supposed to increase safety.

The small print contains the restrictions

If you set up face unlocking on the Mate 20 Pro or other Huawei smartphones, you will find a disclaimer in the text. It says right at the beginning: "It is possible that your device will be unlocked by people or objects that look very similar". In the past, we have actually been able to easily reproduce this with 2D detection. But with 3D detection, the error rate according to Huawei is 1:1,000,000, this should not be so easy.

AndroidPIT huawei mate 20 pro notch
The wide notch of the Mate 20 Pro contains the hardware for 3D Face Unlock. / © AndroidPIT

With the Mate 20 Pro, everything should in theory be better than before when it comes to face unlocking. Instead of relying on simple 2D recognition via the front camera, Huawei has given its new flagship an infrared module that recognizes 30,000 dots on the user's face and compares them with the deposited face. At least on paper, the technology is identical to the one Apple uses for Face ID in the current iPhones. But we haven't managed to trick the iPhones yet, nor have we been able to trick the P20 Pro which uses the simpler way of recognition.

What does Huawei say?

Huawei is already investigating the matter and we will continue to test the phenomenon. A defect in our device is possible, but the Mate 20 Pro works otherwise completely problem-free and apparently error-free. Maybe a problem with the not yet final software on the smartphone is also to blame. Huawei emphasizes that he has not yet seen such a facial recognition behavior, not even in the elaborate test procedures that are even performed with twins.

What do you think of face recognition, is it practical for you or do you prefer not to use it?

2 comments

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  • storm 3 weeks ago Link to comment

    Looks like shoddy software and testing is endemic among the Chinese brands.


  • I suppose the iPhone is much better in your opinion. How can you provide such s report the phone hasn't been released yet! And those with review units know full well that it's pre release software! So why not wait until the device is released , more than likely with updated software and see how it works then? Bet your an apple fanboy?

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