Android Display and Lock Screen Settings are a Mess

Android Green Robot LogoA few weeks ago Ambient Mode arrived on my OnePlus 6T and much as I love my phone, Ambient Mode took way too long to get working properly: Android’s settings for displays and lock screens are a complete mess. There are far too many complexities and inter-dependencies.

(For those not familiar with Ambient Mode, it’s a dark lock screen that shows information based on Google Assistant, such as travel information.)

If you don’t believe me, let’s take a look at the ways we can configure the phone’s screen to do something when not actually in use. Starting with a rummage through Display settings within the normal phone settings app there is…

Menu itemsSleep which can be configured from as short as 15 seconds to as long as 30 minutes. On the 6T, it first turns off the backlight. If the phone is charging, it will stay like this with apps still visible, albeit dimly, but if on battery, the screen will go completely black a few seconds later.

Screen saver starts when the 6T is charging or docked, and the phone is sleeping. The phone will lock behind the scenes when the screen saver is running.

Ambient display  will display a clock and notifications when the phone is picked up or the screen is tapped, if your phone is already locked. It’s a dark (black) screen so won’t blind you in the night. Why is this even in Display settings when it’s a lock screen feature? It should be in with Security and Lock Screen.

Moving on, in the Security and Lock Screen settings, we have configuration for locking and unlocking the 6T.

Automatically lock after sleep gives the period of timing after sleeping before the lock screen kicks in. Varies from immediately to 30 minutes.

Power button instantly locks is a useful setting. Turned on, you can cut out some of the waiting around.

Smart Lock can be configured to not lock your phone in specific places, such as home. Normally this is useful when you’re safe at home, but if you want Ambient display or Ambient Mode to kick in when the phone is locked, it’s not so useful.

All of the above are in the standard OnePlus settings app. New kid on the block is Ambient Mode which replaces the standard lock screen with a Google Assistant-based dark grey lock screen. Turning on Ambient Mode takes a couple of screen taps. First, go to and open the Google app. Press More (the three dots), then Settings, then Google Assistant, next scroll down to Assistant Devices and finally choose Phone. Turn on Ambient Mode. That’s not hard to work out at all. Unbelievable.

Now, there’s one final “gotcha”. In the Developer Options, which is easily enabled by anyone, there is Stay awake which stops the phone from sleeping and locking if the 6T is charging. If this setting is turned on, none of the display or lock screen modes will kick in automatically. That’s Screen saver, Ambient display and Ambient Mode. If you are having problems in this area, check you haven’t got this setting on.

As I think you’ll see from the rundown above, there is plenty of scope for confusion and misunderstanding with display and lock screen settings. It took me a good twenty minutes to figure out why Ambient Mode wouldn’t kick in automtically before finally configuring it correctly. PITA.