Why Samsung Galaxy S22’s fingerprint reader puts the Pixel 6 to shame India News, The Indian Express
Despite the Pixel 6’s weird bugs and dodgy software updates, it’s arguably one of the best Android devices of all time. Customers have only one major complaint; the fingerprint reader sucks. In fact, it left such a bad taste in the mouths of critics that they now refer to the Samsung Galaxy S22’s fingerprint reader as its Pixel-beating feature.
At first glance, this may seem like an unfair comparison. The Pixel 6 is a revolutionary new phone with a custom Tensor processor, so we can’t expect perfection. But if Google wants to pin its upcoming Pixel 7 release, it has to learn from Samsung — a company that once found itself in this predicament.
Yes, the Pixel 6 fingerprint reader stinks
Within days of the Pixel 6’s launch, customers started complaining that the phone’s fingerprint sensor was unreliable or not working. Some people theorized that a bug was responsible for the problem, while others claimed that certain screen protectors messed up the phone’s biometric system.
Google took a different stance: Basically it told customers “you’re using the phone wrong”. Company has put together a support page explaining that you should press your finger firmly against the phone’s sensor and that taking your finger off the phone too quickly will mess up the “enhanced security algorithms”.
Now Google has given customers some useful tips. The company advised customers to keep their hands hydrated, which definitely improves the fingerprint reader’s accuracy (and your chances of scoring a hot date). But overall, Google’s advice wasn’t all that helpful: the Pixel 6 fingerprint sensor stinks, and no amount of moisturizer will solve that problem.
A few weeks after Google taught people to hydrate, Google pushed a software update to improve the Pixel 6’s biometrics. Anecdotally speaking, we believe this update was helpful. But customers are complaining about the Pixel 6 fingerprint sensor as much as they were in November 2021, so the update clearly didn’t do enough.
Maybe Google will use future updates to further improve the Pixel 6’s biometrics, but these updates will never fix the issues customers are complaining about. I can safely say that, because software isn’t the only thing that can make a fingerprint sensor slow or inaccurate.
Most smartphones with built-in fingerprint readers, including the Pixel 6, use “optical” sensors to verify your identity. These optical sensors are really just cameras – they light up your finger, take a quick photo and compare that photo with all the fingers in your biometric settings.
There are some serious drawbacks to optical scanning technology. If your fingers are dirty, dry, or wet, they may not look like “your” fingers anymore. Not to mention that the optical scanning process can be a bit slow and your fingerprint may look different depending on how hard it’s pressed against your screen.
Samsung gets around these hurdles with unique “ultrasonic” fingerprint sensors, which use sound waves to create 3D maps of your fingerprints. As you’d expect, these 3D maps provide a lot more detail than simple 2D graphics.
That extra detail leads to greater accuracy. For example, if your fingers are dry, the 3D ultrasound card still contains enough data for identification. In addition, pressure sensors in Samsung phones can see how hard you press against the screen with your fingers and compensate for their change in shape. (Yet optical fingerprint sensors are still a bit faster than ultrasonic options, because they do less detailed work.)
I should note that ultrasonic sensors are technically safer than their optical cousins. Simply put, a 3D map of your fingerprint is harder to duplicate than a 2D image. But I don’t really see this as a concern – if someone is so eager to hack into your phone, they will eventually find a way around biometric systems.
Google can only get so much out of its optical fingerprint sensors. Software updates can certainly improve technology, but substantial change requires new hardware… right?
There’s still hope for Google’s optical fingerprint sensor
The first in-display fingerprint sensors were terrible. Yet many manufacturers saw the technology as a necessity – the iPhone ditched the Home button, which also doubled as a capacitive fingerprint sensor, and other brands had to do the same.
Do you know which brand had the best in-display fingerprint sensor? Well, I’m not sure either, but it wasn’t Samsung.
After sticking capacitive fingerprint sensors to the back of its phones for a few years, Samsung decided to introduce the ultrasonic in-display sensor. The result was an overwhelming disappointment. Samsung’s Galaxy S10 lineup was widely criticized due to the use of the ultrasonic sensor, which was slow and inaccurate and could not function with some screen protectors.
At the time, optical sensors were noticeably faster than Samsung’s ultrasonic alternative (they’re just a little faster now). But they were still quite slow, unreliable and unpopular with many critics and customers.
Phone manufacturers, especially Samsung, have effectively solved most of these problems. And this increase in quality isn’t the result of crazy, groundbreaking changes. Companies have simply stayed on track and made incremental improvements to hardware and software.
Google hasn’t had a chance to make such improvements: the Pixel 6 is the first phone with a built-in fingerprint sensor. And like Samsung, it will bounce back.
While many people are now encouraging Google to use an ultrasonic fingerprint sensor in future Pixel devices, I’d be surprised if the company made such a drastic change. Optical hardware is not the issue here; Google made a bad fingerprint sensor and it needs to improve both software and hardware to make a good fingerprint sensor.