Lock screen widgets have been around since Android 4.2, but it's not always easy to find apps that can take advantage of the feature, and many users simply forget that it's there. But lock screen widgets are great! You can check them without the hassle of keying in passcodes or drawing out a pattern, and there are more useful ones available than you might realize.

We've picked out a selection of handy lock screen widgets in the list below, but there may be other gems out there that we haven't spotted—if so, let us know in the discussion below. These instructions are for stock Android, so if you're running a Samsung/HTC/Sony/LG variant they should be good enough, but they might not line up exactly.

Getting started

You have to do a little bit of housekeeping before you can enable lock screen widgets on your device. From the Settings app tap Security and then tick the Enable widgets box under the Screen security heading. Obviously this is only going to work if you actually have a lock screen in place—the widgets won't appear if your device loads the home screen straight away.

On the lock screen itself, swiping left brings up the camera. Swipe right and you can add a new widget via the large plus icon. If the widget has any options to configure, these will appear next. Up to five widgets can be configured, and to remove (or re-order) one, tap and hold on it just as you would with a widget that's sitting on your home screen.

Hangouts and emails

It's no surprise that Google's own apps are ready and waiting to make good use of lock screen widgets. Google+, Gmail, the Email app and Hangouts all have widgets of their own, so you can stay on top of your messages with one swipe, no unlocking required. Remember that also means anyone who gets hold of your phone will be able to do the same, although to actually read messages in full and respond to them will require unlocking.

Several options are available in each of the widgets. In Gmail, for example, you can choose which label to sync and display on screen. Hangouts simply shows your inbox on screen with the most recent message on top. As for alternative services, you're mostly out of luck—neither the Outlook or Yahoo Mail apps offer lock screen widgets at the moment.

Weather and time

When you think of important, at-a-glance info, weather is at the top of the list. HD Widgets offers a number of lock screen widgets in its collection, as does the BBC Weather app (developed in the UK but available anywhere). Google Now has a lock screen widget, which usually has a panel displaying the weather.

Yahoo Weather is another option, and its widget can load up a suitable picture from Flickr if you'd like it to. As for widgets that display the time, there are a host to pick from. The Digital Clock one comes free with Android, or you can use something really radical like DashClock, which replaces your lock screen entirely and provides notification options for many different apps.

Music

If you've ever ripped your phone out of your pocket to try and find the name of a song playing at the bar, then there's some good news: The What's this song? Sound Search tool integrated into Android/Google Now does, so you can use it to quickly find out what you're listening to even if you don't have time to type out a passcode and launch an app first.

For music playback you'll have to turn to Rdio rather than Spotify or Google Play Music to get your tunes onto the lock screen. Rdio can display your synced playlists as a lock screen widget, and you can launch them with a single tap without having to unlock your device. Of course if your music is playing in one of these apps already, you can control it from the lock screen.

Social media

Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat don't have lock screen widgets but WhatsApp and Twitter are two that do. WhatsApp can show a list of incoming messages, while Twitter shows either recent tweets from your timeline or tweets mentioning you.

Another social app with a lock screen widget ready to go is Yo, so you can bombard friends, colleagues and loose acquaintances with the short message without having to go to the trouble of actually unlocking your phone. When you set up the widget you'll have the option to pick one friend (or one hashtag)—a single tap on the widget and he or she is Yo-ed accordingly.