Business in the front: Why I never want a rear fingerprint sensor ever again

Google Pixel 3a
Google Pixel 3a (Image credit: Andrew Martonik / Android Central)

This topic has been a bee in my bonnet and a burr in my saddle for some time now, and since rear fingerprint sensors seem to be going the way of the polar ice caps (too soon?), I figured now was a safe enough time to stick my neck out on the subject.

I'm just going to come right out and say it: I hate rear fingerprint sensors. Ok, that may be a little bit of a strong statement, but I certainly don't have any love for them. I understand why they have existed, of course. They have allowed Android phones to continue to expand their beautiful screens and shrink their unattractive bezels. They have matured to become faster than other access methods, and don't consist of any expensive tech or moving parts to potentially break or get in the way of a smooth smartphone experience. And yet, they just don't do it for me.

Why am I this way?

Let Me Feel My Feelings Turk

Source: Tenor (Image credit: Source: Tenor)

Before you start yelling at me in the comments and telling me how very wrong I am (I've already heard it from my colleagues), allow me to take a minute to explain why I feel this way.

The simple fact is: I'm not who you may think I am. Sure, I've written for Android Central for a year, and I love my Android and Chrome OS devices as much as the next Google Stan, but I also have used an iPhone regularly for over 10 years and developed specific habits with how I hold and operate my devices.

Iphone 8 App Store

Source: Luke Filipowicz / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Luke Filipowicz / Android Central)

You see, during my formative smartphone years, I became accustomed to holding my phone a certain way. I would rest it on my load-bearing pinky, open it using my thumb on the bottom home button, and navigate the screen with that same thumb, on that same hand. This was true for the first Android phones I used, too, whether they were Samsung Galaxy devices, OnePlus phones, or Motorola handsets.

By the time rear fingerprint sensors became the norm, I'd moved on to phones with face scanning technology like the iPhone X series, Galaxy phones, and even the Pixel 4. I also regularly used phones with decent to good in-display fingerprint sensors like the S10, S20, and Note 10 series, or OnePlus phones since the 6T. I even used (and much preferred) phones with side-mounted capacitive sensors, like some of the Sony Xperia phones, the Nexbit Robin (remember that one?), and the Galaxy S10e (still low-key the best value from that line).

Galaxy S20 fingerprint sensor

Source: Hayato Huseman / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Hayato Huseman / Android Central)

All that to say that the rear fingerprint lifestyle largely passed me by. When I do use a phone with one of these sensors (like my Galaxy Note 9), I constantly have to retrain my brain to hold the phone a different way than I'm used to, and then shimmy it back to the way I prefer. Sometimes I just say f%&k it and type in my passcode.

Rear fingerprint sensors just aren't comfortable to me.

For me, it all boils down to how comfortable I feel holding and using my smartphone. I like to open it quickly (be that with a front-facing sensor, in-display sensor, or face unlock), and get to using it without changing the position of my hand. I've never been a two-handed phone user, and I like to navigate the screen (and type) primarily with my right thumb. When I have a phone with a rear-mounted sensor, I have to first hold the phone in a manner suitable for unlocking it, and then adjust my grip again to get it back to the way I feel comfortable using it. It's a disconnect that is annoying, unnatural, and potentially dangerous for me. I can't tell you how many times I've dropped my Note 9 just because I was trying to unlock it and get it back into prime position, one-handed.

Why I may be wrong

I admit that I'm probably in the minority with this opinion. I might even be the only one who writes for or reads this website who feels this way.

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

When I asked the AC team for help in coming up with a catchy headline for this article, more than one colleague laughed off my idea. Several of them had already written excellent counterarguments, in fact. Joe Maring wrote a fantastic editorial last year about his hatred for in-screen fingerprint sensors, and Hayato Huseman had another great opinion piece on why he loved and missed rear fingerprint sensors.

I know that many Android users feel that the back of the phone is the ideal place for a fingerprint sensor because they say it's a natural place for their index finger to rest when pulling a phone out of their pocket. Another argument in favor of the fingerprint sensor that Hayato praises is the ability to control on-screen navigation through gestures like swiping down to reveal the notification shade.

I can see the validity of these opinions, but they never carried much weight for me. Sure, it can be faster to unlock your phone while pulling it out of your pocket (how much of a hurry are you in, my guy?), but a phone with good facial scanning like the Pixel 4 is even better, in my opinion. And even I can see how the functionality of using the fingerprint scanner as a navigation aide is a cool and useful feature. However, in my experience, in order to act on that UI, you need to use your other hand or shimmy the phone back to a more usable one-handed position.

My teammates at AC think I'm nuts. What do you think?

Ok, so you know how I feel about this topic. Is there anyone else out there in the Android world that feels the way I do about rear fingerprint sensors, or am I the odd person out? Let me know in the comments below!

Jeramy Johnson
Editor-in-chief

Jeramy is proud to help *Keep Austin Weird* and loves hiking in the hill country of central Texas with a breakfast taco in each hand. When he's not writing about smart home gadgets and wearables, he's defending his relationship with his smart voice assistants to his family. You can follow him on Twitter at @jeramyutgw.

30 Comments
  • I'm one of the many who prefer a rear fingerprint scanner. I pick up my phone with my left hand and my left forefinger is naturally placed to touch a rear scanner. A front-facing one means I have to touch it with my right finger or thumb. I can't do it with my left hand while picking up the phone. I like the scanner on the back even better than facial recognition because, with facial recognition, you have to bring the phone relatively close to your face to get it to work. A rear scanner is just the most convenient place for a scanner.
  • I don't man, maybe if the sensor isn't placed in the middle rear of the phone it's an issue. I could see how if it's on the opposite side of the hand you're dominate with it can kind of suck to unlock, but it's still probably the best play for it. It helps with stability with holding the phone too.
  • Of course I mean this in the nicest way, but could this be a hand size to phone size issue? You perfectly described the way I hold phones, I do it the exact same way and have larger than average hands. When I grab my Pixel 3 XL, index finger naturally falls on the fingerprint sensor with my thumb on the right side of the screen and the three other fingers on the left. It's a very natural motion for me to then slide the pinky down under the device and the index finger back to the left side for support. All of this can be done before the device even gets to my face, making it much faster than face unlock for me. This is especially true when I have to be at my office wearing a mask and have to wait for the face unlock to fail on my company iPhone to enter my passcode since IT controls the settings for how I can unlock that device.
  • As a pixel 4 owner, I would vote for return of rear fps. They've had their year to establish face scan support. Now bring fps back as an alternate method. Claim it's to encourage mask wearing.
  • Nope, I *love* the rfs. From my OG Pixel, I found it to be a very natural placement. My only complaint with the 3XL is that it's sensitive to any moisture. Keep the phone in your pocket on a hot Louisiana day, and it can be the dickens to get that thing to read.
  • I prefer any physical sensor that isn't underneath a display. I don't care if it is on the back, front or side (integrated into the power button). I do not like face unlock regardless of how good it is which is why I skipped the Pixel 4.
  • I haven't logged on for years but felt compelled to support the front (in display) scanner brethren. I could write an essay on reasons why.
  • I am 100% on board with this. Rear fingerprint scanners are a PITA! The front scanner on my OP8 hits on the first try 95% of the time. No turning my phone over or reaching around the back.
  • You are NOT wrong and IF you ARE wrong then we can be WRONG TOGETHER! ><
  • My vehicle doesn't have a smart radio. My phone is plugged into the stereo and rests on a magnetic holder. This is a nice setup until I find a nice unit to install. All that said, if I need to access the phone while driving and use the fps it's a hassle. My setup is double tap to wake and slide unlock. This can all be done without having to take my device off the mount to change songs or check maps.
  • The worst rear fingerprint scanners were the ones right next to the camera. The best place was below and middle like the nexus 6p for example.
  • Having a desk job, I prefer FPS on the front.
  • No way, I just moved from the P30 Pro with in screen fingerprint reader to another phone with rear diverting reader and it's a thousand times better.
    Facial is best though
  • I don't miss having to necessarily pick up my phone to unlock it. RIP RFS.
  • I didn't even need to read this article to know I completely DISAGREE with it! Looks like there's nothing more to write about. Reminds me of Windows Magazine...for those of you who were around when Windows still ran on top of DOS. If you don't know what DOS is...well...then you are very young. Eventually they ran out of things to write about also...but those were the cool days for sure when you had to know about IRQ's, Config.sys and Autoexec.bat. But I digress...rear fingerprint sensors were way more accurate, and faster, than any front facing or power button version. Now I have grown fond of optical under screen FP sensors, but I thought that rear ones were every bit as good if not better in many ways.
    Why can't we have both? Under screen for when we're too lazy, or unable, to pick up the phone, and one on the back for when we're driving? First OEM to make one will get my money...in fact they may get many sales from this. And don't tell me it can't be done! If they can put 17 cameras in one phone then they can put two FP readers in also. I can live with the "pain" of having to set them up separately.
  • I liked the rear fingerprint sensor because you only needed one hand. was always signed in by the time I pulled the phone from my pocket. front sensor requires two hand and requires you to look at the phone in order to use it.
  • From the phones I've used, Google is the only one that has done rear mounted finger print sensors correctly. A lot of other companies like Samsung's have awkward shape and placement.
  • Disagree! :) works perfectly...
  • If you've been using iPhone since the beginning, you're accustomed to handling small form factors in this weird way. As an Android device guy, I'm used to gripping my phone (the right way) , with my hand position and index finger naturally resting where google have (ended up) placed the fingerprint reader. It's an ergonomic dream. I have an iPhone 8 for work, and the hand gymnastic that I have to go through in order to hold the phone, makes it a dedicated, active experience of trying to log into my phone. And then, after login into my phone, I have to shuffle my hand again in order to secure the phone in my hand so I could use it. It's a stupid thing. The home button/finger print experience only works if it's the iPhone 5 and back. I don't believe that anyone who uses the current iPhone 10 design onward would ever be uncomfortable with having a rear fingerprinted sensor mounted where the Apple logo is.
  • I could never get used to having it on the front on my iPhone 8+. Back is best, my current Android phone is an LG V40 with the sensor on the back right where it belongs.
  • The author has an opinion wrong as it is!
  • I don't disagree per se, it's just that every review I've seen of even the best in-display readers says they're inferior in speed and accuracy to dedicated readers. That said, rear reader mounting is problematic for another major reason: it's tough to reach the reader when the phone is mounted in a car or in a configuration where direct access to the back panel is blocked.
  • It really depends on the phone. The rfs on my work phone. Samsung S7, just does not work most of the time. Had no problem with the rfs on an LG V40. Now, I have 2 personal phones (Samsung Note 10+ and OnePlus 8 Pro) that have sensors in the display. They work, although a little less conveniently than the rfs, because I have to pick up the phone with the left hand and use the finger on the right hand to unlock.
  • Completely agree! Well said, i would add when taking phone out of your pockets your finger (after a small amount of time using im sure) automatically finds the sensor and before the phone is even all the way out of your pocket its unlocked! You will never get that with face unlock.
  • I like the rear scanner on my Galaxy S8. I'm right-handed, and my index finger hits that fps naturally. Hitting an underscreen fps on the front takes more intention (at least, until they make the target bigger). Not a fan of face unlock; I want to unlock my 'hone manually.
  • It makes me laugh that there has to be a right position on this design style and everyone who disagrees is wrong. I like my rear facing fingerprint reader, but it's the only one I've ever had so how can I say front one's are bad? My daughter has a front one, and she loves it on front. As Jeramy pointed out in the article, he hates rear ones because he's always had front ones. It appears that you prefer, what you are used to. I don't think one is better or worse. They are just different.
  • The back fingerprint scanner is more ergonomic IMO and really easy to unlock one handed. Face unlock is a huge security issue for me, so never a big fan of it. Article writer is just used to front fingerprint scanner.
  • I won't buy a phone without one. It's more important to me than any other feature. I love the instant on-and-unlocked capability particularly while in bed at night. Face unlock won't work in the dark. I need a new pixel, and I'm chomping at the bit for the 4a to finally be released.
  • I hold my phone the same way you do, but my hand is large enough that I don't need to shift my grip to reach the sensor. I also prefer the fingerprint sensor in general over face unlock because of its better integration, more secure, and being able to use the ambient display without the phone trying to unlock when I look at it.
  • Oneplus 6 rear fingerprint sensor feels just right. Rear sensor location are not the same across android devices, and i understand why the author hate them. Fingerprint near the camera is a stupid design.