Remember back in the fall of 2016, when rumors began swirling that Apple’s 10th anniversary iPhone (which would become the iPhone X) and Samsung’s Galaxy S8 would both have a fingerprint scanner underneath the screen? That seemed like some futuristic, hi-tech, sci-fi ish, right? Alas, Samsung wasn’t able to pull off the tech — its S8 ended up with a terribly-located fingerprint scanner on its back — and Apple instead introduced Face ID (which may be an even more impressive technical achievement than a fingerprint scanner embedded in the display, but that’s an discussion for another day).
But the smartphone industry, at least the scene in China, moves at a breakneck pace, and in the roughly two-and-half-years since, fingerprint scanners that reside underneath the screen — now widely known as in-display fingerprint sensor — have become common features of new smartphone releases. More importantly, they’ve gotten so fast that it almost rivals actual traditional hardware fingerprint readers.
The first phone brand to introduce the in-display scanner in a commercial release was Vivo with the X20, which only saw limited release. The scanner on that phone, sourced from Synaptics, was a bit slow and unreliable. Vivo eventually switched to another vendor, Shenzhen-based Goodix, for its optical scanner tech, and the experience improved drastically in the Vivo Nex Dual Display and Vivo V15 Pro.
Goodix’s optical scanner today is virtually as fast and accurate as traditional hardware scanner found in phones such as the LG G8 and iPhone 8. It’s no surprise, then, that other brands such as Huawei, Xiaomi, Oppo and OnePlus have jumped on board and adopted Goodix’s tech.
But this year also saw another type of in-display scanner tech introduced with the Samsung Galaxy S10: an “ultrasonic” sensor that works by sending sound waves through the screen to scan a user’s print — sort of like how a submarine’s radar is used to detect oncoming obstacles. This sound wave tech is developed by Qualcomm, which claims to be more accurate and secure than the optical scanners used in phones such as the Vivo X27 Pro, Huawei P30 Pro, Xiaomi Mi 9, and rumor has it the upcoming OnePlus 7.
I can’t vouch for the security claim — I haven’t been able to trick any of these in-display scanners into unlocking — but I can call say that no, Samsung’s ultrasonic scanner isn’t faster than the optical scanner on any of the several Vivo, Meizu, Oppo, Huawei devices I have. The gif you see at the top of this article? That’s basically the result every single time I try to unlock both phones side by side, using any finger.
And it’s not just in perfect unlocking conditions too, I did a test in which I dipped my finger in oil and water and the optical scanner in the Vivo X27 Pro beat the Samsung Galaxy S10’s scanner in every case. Ever. Single. Case. Don’t believe me? Watch the video for yourself below (do note it’s sort of long, because I went really in-depth).
You’ll notice that in the video I also tested a third device, Samsung’s mid-tier phone that aims solely at the Southeast Asian market, the A70. That phone also uses an optical in-display scanner, but it’s sourced from Taiwan company EgisTech. As the video shows, EgisTech’s optical scanner significantly lags the other two (Goodix’s and Qualcomm’s) scanners. It’s the slowest by far, the least accurate, and flat out didn’t work when my fingers got wet.
To be fair, the ultrasonic scanner in the Samsung Galaxy S10 is Qualcomm’s first generation scanner, while the optical scanner in the Huawei P30 Pro and Vivo X27 Pro are Goodix’s third or fourth gen. And considering Qualcomm’s vast resources, it will no doubt improve the scanner over time, but as of right now, if you want an in-display fingerprint reader that just works, it’s Goodix’s optical scanners that’s become the go-to choice of Huawei, Vivo, Xiaomi, Oppo, OnePlus, and Lenovo.