Does the Pixel 4 have a fingerprint sensor?

Face unlock on the Pixel 4 XL
Face unlock on the Pixel 4 XL (Image credit: Android Central)

Best answer: The Pixel 4 is the first phone from Google's Pixel lineup to ship without a fingerprint sensor of any sort. While other phone makers experiment with fingerprint sensors that live under the screen, Google has instead implemented its Soli radar technology to offer a face unlock system that's designed to detect and start the unlocking process as you pick up your phone.

Google going all-in on face unlock

Google's decision to remove the fingerprint sensor and rely solely on its new Face Unlock system for biometric security is certainly bold, but whether it will be a good decision for the phone's end users is yet to be determined.

Up to this point, Google had placed the fingerprint sensor smack dab on the back of each Pixel phone starting with the OG Pixel all the way to the Pixel 3a. Not only was it a perfectly natural location for a fingerprint sensor given where your fingers might land while holding your phone, but it allowed for one of my personal favorite features: the ability to pull down the notification shade by swiping down on the fingerprint sensor.

It's can be hard not to attribute this decision to Google simply following Apple's lead, as the competitor went all-in on it's own brand of facial recognition with 2017's iPhone X, and was the first iOS smartphone to rely on Face ID as the sole biometric for unlocking the phone. As fast and reliable as Google's new Face Unlock system may be thanks to the Soli radar sensor, having alternative biometric security options available — even if they end up being redundant 99% of the time — is rarely ever a bad thing.

As Jerry Hildebrand puts it, the only reason why Google removed the fingerprint sensor from the latest Pixel phone is because that's ultimately the direction the company wanted to go. Whether it was justified for the sake of the phone's aesthetics or because they really believe in the developed technology behind Face Unlock only Google's best and brightest know for sure.

However, this promises to be one of the most secure Face Unlocks on the market today. As Google stated:

As you reach for Pixel 4, Soli proactively turns on the face unlock sensors, recognizing that you may want to unlock your phone. If the face unlock sensors and algorithms recognize you, the phone will open as you pick it up, all in one motion. Better yet, face unlock works in almost any orientation—even if you're holding it upside down—and you can use it for secure payments and app authentication too.

What this means for you is that it'll be tougher for somebody else to unlock your phone with, say, a photo of your face. The sensors actually capture your facial features, so it's collecting different data. You can read more about how it all works, but it's supposed to be as secure as your fingerprints. It also helps you unlock your phone faster.

Only time will tell if it proves to be a superior solution for keeping our smartphone secure and accessible, and whether the decision will sit well with fans of the Pixel lineup.

Marc Lagace

Marc Lagace was an Apps and Games Editor at Android Central between 2016 and 2020. You can reach out to him on Twitter [@spacelagace.