Smartphones of the future could have fingerprint scanners built into the screen

Smartphone technology has somewhat plateaued in recent years with little separating the major players when it comes to specs.

Smartphones of the future could have fingerprint scanners built into the screen

Many manufacturers have resorted to gimmicks, from the mods on the LG G5 to Samsung’s Smart Scroll, and many have failed to wow us – until now.

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), touchscreen manufacturer Synaptics showcased the world’s first in-display fingerprint scanner. Partnering up with Vivo, a Chinese smartphone manufacturer, the X20 Plus UD is the first smartphone to utilise this revolutionary technology.


How does it work?

Thanks to advances in smartphone displays, OLED screens are more common. These displays provide a more transparent glass, which means Synaptics was able to add its 0.69mm Clear ID FS9500 optical sensor beneath the screen, without adding any significant thickness or an unsightly notch like that found on the iPhone X.

The phone has to emit light before it can be unlocked, meaning you’ll need to hit the power button or wake the phone by lifting it up.

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Can it be used throughout the display?

From conversations with Synaptics, I learned the sensor works no matter where it’s placed under the phone’s display, but it depends on where the manufacturer, such as Vivo, implements the technology.


In the X20 Plus UD, the sensor is found at the bottom of the display and to my surprise worked flawlessly. I was expecting it to be slightly sluggish and unresponsive, and yet it worked no matter how I placed my finger on the screen.

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How does it compare to a traditional fingerprint scanner or facial recognition?

According to Synaptics, the FS9500 can be used in different weather environments, meaning you can still unlock the phone in wet and dark conditions. By comparison, facial recognition fails to work consistently in dark scenarios. Scanning a face is also slower than detecting a fingerprint; around 1.4 seconds versus the 0.7 seconds needed for this in-display fingerprint sensor.


That said, a standard fingerprint sensor, like those on the iPhone or Pixel, are faster than Synaptics’ model. The company claims its benefits come from the fact it can scan a fingerprint at a higher resolution, but at this stage, it’s difficult to say if it’s more secure than a regular fingerprint sensor.

My initial impressions were positive; Synaptics’ sensor detected my finger instantly, and the setup process was intuitive, too. Unlocking the device was fast, but in comparison to my blisteringly quick OnePlus 5T, there was a noticeable delay with the Vivo. I’d say it’s on par with the Samsung Galaxy S8 or the original Google Pixel, though.

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Is this the future?

It’s early days, but the idea of in-display fingerprint sensors in mainstream phones doesn’t seem as far-fetched as may have once been thought. Last year, the technology was still in development stages. Now we’ve got a fully working phone that has it integrated – marvellous. I predict I won’t be long until we see more manufacturers hop on board and utilise the technology.

I unlock my phone countless times a day, and having the ability to do that straight from the phone’s display without losing valuable screen real estate is a fascinating prospect.

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