February 25, 2024
We’re Officially Over Optical Fingerprint Readers


The biometric hierarchy for unlocking your smartphone appears to be the following: Physical fingerprint reader, ultrasonic fingerprint reader, optical fingerprint reader, and then below those everything else. At least, that’s what users on the internet are saying and we all know their opinion is worth the most.

The request: Over on reddit, there’s a post making the rounds from user sliight with nearly 600 upvotes. In the post, which I slightly edited for legibility’s sake, he requests a physical fingerprint reader, claiming that, “The next flagship that has a physical sensor on the back of the phone so it’s easy to find, unlocks 99.9474% of the time, and allows me to swipe notifications up and down will be getting my purchase. Face unlock is ok, but I could unlock my phone on the way out of my pocket before I even set eyes on it with the older Pixels.”

He isn’t wrong: Seriously, when we ourselves think about the best biometric experience we’ve had on a smartphone, our brains instantly go to phones like the Pixel 2 XL and Pixel 5, with each of those devices featuring a rear-facing fingerprint reader. They were fast and easy to find. When I think of the latest fingerprint sensors being used on the Pixel 8 lineup from Google, I think about how I’ll be laying in bed at night or early in the morning and go to unlock the device with my finger. What a mistake that was, as now my eyesight is useless because I’ve been blinded by the light of a thousand suns. Whose idea was the optical fingerprint reader? Furthermore, whose idea is it to keep using them, even though they really aren’t that nice to use.

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Using the Galaxy S24 Ultra now, it has an ultrasonic reader and it’s at least a step in the right direction. It reads very quickly, usually doesn’t take multiple taps to unlock, and guess what, it doesn’t blind me. It’s not a physical fingerprint reader, but it’s certainly better than optical.

Pixel 6 Fingerprint

We’re sure there’s reasoning on Google’s part to keep using optical readers, but if buyers came together and said enough is enough, then it’s entirely within the realm of possibility that Google would at least listen. We may never see physical readers from the likes of Google or Samsung again, as their placement would likely interfere with other features and hardware (wireless charging, perhaps?), but it seems reasonable to think Google will eventually adopt ultrasonic readers. In fact, an ultrasonic fingerprint reader is now my #1 wishlist item for the Pixel 9. I’ve been blinded one too many times to keep letting this slide.

What’s your take? Are physical readers like on the Pixel 5 the best? Or is Samsung’s ultrasonic the ultimate biometric experience?