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In-display fingerprint sensors killed one of my favorite Android features

Samsung Galaxy S10+ fingerprint sensor
Samsung Galaxy S10+ fingerprint sensor (Image credit: Andrew Martonik / Android Central)

There have been a lot of new hardware trends in 2019, but few have been as pervasive as in-display fingerprint sensors. Starting with phones like the Vivo X20 Plus and Oppo R17, and eventually making its way to more mainstream phones like the OnePlus 7 Pro and Galaxy S10, in-display sensors have come a long way in the last year.

The early optical sensors were slow to read and had such small target areas they were difficult to use consistently and accurately. Since then, Samsung's ultrasonic fingerprint sensor used in the Galaxy S10 and the improved optical sensors used in phones like the OnePlus 7T have gotten much better, to the point you might not even miss having a capacitive sensor anymore.

But no matter how good in-display sensors get, they still can't carry over my favorite feature from the rear-mounted fingerprint sensors on just about every phone from 2018: swiping down on the sensor to pull down the notification shade.

Pixel 3a XL in Clearly White

Source: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

I've been using this feature since at least as far back as 2015 with the Huawei Mate S. There have been plenty of other ways to quickly access your notifications over the years; adding a dedicated shortcut button to your navigation bar was a popular solution for a few years, and people love to remind me with every mention that you can just swipe down on the home screen on most phones to call up your notifications — but that simply isn't the same thing.

Swiping down on your home screen isn't terribly helpful when you're actually using your phone.

Swiping down on your home screen is a great solution when you're actually looking at your home screen, but that stops being useful as soon you're in any apps — you know, when you're using your phone. As soon as you have anything open, you're back to needing to reach all the way up to the top of the phone, which is becoming increasingly frustrating with the growing height of every flagship phone as of late.

Being able to swipe down on the rear fingerprint sensor was a natural and convenient gesture that worked consistently, no matter what else you were doing with your phone, and along with the more tactile feel of the capacitive sensors, I miss it every time I pick up my phone.

Google Pixel 4 and Pixel 3a

Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

Still, it isn't like in-display fingerprint sensors ruined everything good about phones. In fact, with how much they've improved over the last year or so, most of them feel just as quick and convenient as a traditional sensor these days, and of course, you can use these sensors even with your phone laying flat on a table. I suppose phones also look a bit cleaner these days without an extra sensor on the back, and this clears up extra space that can be used for other things like the enormous camera housing we're expecting to see on the Galaxy S11.

On the other hand, I've been using a Pixel 4 for the last two months, which doesn't have a fingerprint sensor of any kind, instead opting for a depth-mapped face unlock similar to Apple's Face ID. That comes with its own set of pros and cons — but that's for another rant. In the meantime, I'm begrudgingly living with the swipe-down-on-the-home screen gesture that works well enough.

Hayato was a product reviewer and video editor for Android Central.

23 Comments
  • Good point. Not having a flagship phone, that never occurred to me. But yes, swiping down on the fingerprint sensor in the back is convenient and less smudgy. ☺
  • Ditto. Miss the swipe down big time. At least I can still one hand the swipe down. You can swipe down from the home screen even in the middle of the screen.
  • ^Agreed, never missed the rear physical sensor. Perhaps people don't know you can do this.
  • It doesn't seem to work on my phone.
  • You might need to activate it in settings
  • Doesn't appear to be anywhere. LG G5.
  • LG G5 doesn't support the feature
  • Most people understand it's useless 90% of the time since you're mostly in apps and not in your app launcher. The article mentions this. A launcher gesture is not a solution.
  • Using a Mate 10 now, and i use that gesture almost every time I unlock my phone.
  • That's one of my favorite features, eventually when I get a phone with in screen fp scanner I'm going to miss it.
  • Never knew about it. Note8 user
  • I didn't know about it either. I recently, "upgraded" from a Note 8 to a Note 10 and the fingerprint sensor is so horrible I can't begin to describe it. I'd say my success rate on the first try is well below 50%. Garbage.
  • In one smooth motion I grab my phone and with the same hand touch the sensor (to unlock) and swipe down (for notifications). Mostly this done before I've even got to the point of looking at the phone. Having to use a 2nd hand to unlock and/or awkwardly reach the front with the thumb to swipe, sucks.
  • like a laptop, I'd like a mini touch pad on the back so I can use multi-finger gestures. Tap with two fingers to start email app, swipe up with one finger to close-out an incoming call notification . Swipe to the side to change songs (Great for running!). Why should my phone require two hands? Why should my phone require looking at it?
  • The one I miss the most is swipe up to pull Samsung pay. I have a GS10+ using it with gestures only, and that feature was gold. I had to turn off the function of swiping up from home screen so that it doesn't interfere with the navigation gestures. Disappointing in that regard.
  • It still works on the lock screen, though. You could always remap the Bixby key to open Pay. And did you know that Pay automatically comes up without the gesture just by holding your phone near a reader? I learned that trick recently.
  • If you have a Samsung then make sure you get one handed operation from the galaxy store!
  • 110%. This is far better than any awkward to use fingerprint gesture. Back when I exclusively used LG phones, I appreciated having the FPS on the back to unlock (and to the volume keys one upon a time), but it's actually pretty awkward to use to swipe because I'd have to adjust my grip. A button on the nav bar was my usual trick, but ONO+ on Samsung is great.
  • I agree completely, Hayato. Just because the technology exists now to enable under-display fingerprint recognition, it doesn't mean it's better than a rear mounted, and multi-function, fingerprint reader. I greatly prefer the rear mounted fingerprint reader! I can unlock my phone as I pull it out of my pocket. Can't do that with it under the display.
  • I use a Button Mapper to replicate the same effect on the volume button.
  • I've always preferred q navigation button to pull-down the notification shade when it was an option. Now I'm using a swipe-down gesture via One Hand Operation+ and it's working great. Other apps can also do the same.
  • I've noticed it's the little seemingly insignificant functions on phones that you wouldn't think would make a big difference if they weren't there that actually become the 'must have' features that people love and use all the time. I've never had a phone with this function but I use a Moto X 2014 and just love the wave over the screen for the time, notifications, silence alarms or calls etc and twist to open camera and chop for flashlight. You would think they just gimmicks till you use them and realise it's hard to let go of such simple things. Phone makers at times seem like they want to annoy people for no reason by removing stuff that people use almost every time they use their phones. It's like the limited edition chocolates that's the best flavour ever then suddenly they gone lol!
  • I'm glad I don't have that feature, but only because the way I hold my phone has my fingers brushing against the rear sensor all the time.
    For notifications, I usually just swipe down anywhere on the home screens, which is usually where the phone is when I turn it on (unless I'm actively doing something). Never thought much about it, but other options are tapping on the touch sensitive frame, squeeze, or adding the function to the nav bar.