Fingerprint sensors are still better than facial recognition

Alongside the various Android phones I've tested, I've been using the iPhone X for about two months now. One of the most noteworthy changes to the iPhone X over previous models is the removal of the Touch ID fingerprint sensor, now replaced with a high-tech face unlock function Apple calls Face ID. Some Android phones have similar features; the OnePlus 5T, Huawei P20 Pro, and the Galaxy S9 all feature facial recognition in some form, but all maintain the fingerprint sensor, too. Why?

Facial recognition is great for a lot of reasons. It's completely effortless, since the only step you have to take is waking your phone's display — though if you have raise to wake enabled, you don't even have to do that much. Once your phone knows to look for you, it quickly authenticates you and unlocks to the home screen, without you ever having to type in a PIN or touch the fingerprint sensor. It's almost like not having any lock screen security at all — until someone else tries to get into your phone, that is.

Face unlock feels almost like not having lock screen security.

It's also nice to still be able to unlock your phone when the fingerprint sensor is out of reach. In today's landscape of phones that try to maximize screen space, most fingerprint sensors are moving to the back to help trim down on the bezel below the display. While this is ergonomically convenient when you're holding your phone, it makes it impossible to quickly unlock your phone on a flat surface like a table or wireless charger. Fingerprint sensors are no good in the dead of winter, either, since they can't work through gloves. With facial recognition, as long as your display is facing you, you'll likely have no trouble getting into your phone.

That's not always a guarantee, though. If you're in a bright environment like broad daylight, your phone may have some trouble seeing you. Likewise, facial recognition makes it hard to covertly check your phone in a movie theater or meeting (not that you should be doing that anyway) due to the angles required for your phone to identify your face. None of that is a problem for fingerprint sensors, which work in any lighting or angle.

Fingerprint sensors are also multifunctional. In addition to authenticating you, many fingerprint sensors are capable of recognizing swipes in different directions for carrying out navigational gestures. The most common of these gestures is a swipe down on a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor to pull down the notification shade, but some phones make even more use of gestures.

Huawei phones with rear fingerprint sensors, for example, allow you to swipe left or right on the sensor while in your gallery to scroll through photos. On the other hand, Huawei phones with fingerprint sensors beneath the display are able to entirely replace the software keys with taps and swiping gestures. The same goes for Motorola phones, though the exact gestures differ.

I think the best security solution is having both facial recognition and a fingerprint sensor. Samsung's Intelligent Scan software on the Galaxy S9 combines both technologies, along with iris scanning, to give users the best of both worlds. But if I could only choose one option, I'd stick with a fingerprint sensor for now. In addition to quicker unlocking when I'm holding the phone, I love the convenience of swiping down to access my notification shade — especially as phones get increasingly tall aspect ratios and move the notification shade farther away from my fingers.

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What are your thoughts? Do you prefer fingerprint sensors or are you a fan of the more futuristic facial recognition? Let us know in the comments below!

Hayato Huseman

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

  • Fingerprint sensors are always my preference.
  • F yeah they are.
  • And Apple gets rid of it just for the face lol
  • And it works very very well
  • Still not well enough to fingerprint scanning though
  • I disagree with that. Apple's face ID is darn near magical, even if that sounds a bit fan-ish. For the function of unlocking the phone, it has failed me less than fingerprint has (Pixel/iPad). I agree you can add functionality to the fingerprint sensor that you can't to Face-ID, but that is functionality that already has an access method, so it isn't 'new', just an additional option. I wouldn't be disappointed with either option, Apple's Face-ID or decent fingerprint, but both would certainly be welcome.
  • beg to differ and I am an apple user. FaceID is NOT better than touchID. Not by a long shot.
  • I use it on my iPhone too and it never fails. Anecdotal evidence at its best.
  • Face ID and the new Intelligent Scan on the S9 are both excellent options. On the iPhone I could argue that when the phone is lying flat, it was nice to lay a finger on the home button to unlock, but Android OEMs went with the back sensor, not because its correct but because they couldn't figure out an engineering problem.
  • Until a couple months ago when the sensor was placed below the OLED panel. We just needed technology to catch up to the ideas. I'm wondering if they can do the same thing with a front facing camera. Put the lens against the back of the screen panel, and when you want to take a selfie that part of the screen will be blacked out so the camera can see through it.
  • That would pretty cool! This all kind of ties in with the notches as well. Certainly Apple would have rather not, but problem. Probably 2 gens from now we'll see devices with truly edge to edge panels.
  • I totally agree, I love the fingerprint scanner. In my opinion Apple should not have gotten rid of it on the X!
  • Placing the FPS at the back wasn't their ideal design as it was for everyone following that decision. Plus their Face ID tech was secure enough to replace the FPS for payments unlike a lot of others facial recognition implementations. When the tech for the under the screen FS becomes better /matures they ll implement it to have both options available. Their Face ID tech will get much better too.
  • neither... I'm not comfortable with either my face or my prints stored on my phone. I prefer screen knock code.
  • Without even trying I know my father in law's knock code on his LG just by watching him unlock it.
    Patterns, pins and knocking are so easy to steal if used in public.
  • The knock code...😂🤣🤣🤣. Reminds me of that episode of TPB where J Roc has to knock out a fresh beat on the back door of the strip club to get VIP access.
  • It's always better to have more options than to be forced into using a new feature. I have yet to find a situation where the iris scan on my S8+ doesn't recognize me. I do like the ability to pull down my notifications with the fingerprint sensor, but you can toggle a setting to make any home screen swipe down do the same thing. And nobody covertly checks their phones in a movie theater. Everyone knows what you're doing and can see everything on your screen. Finally, can all tech sites please stop acting like Samsung's Intelligent Scan is a good thing? If iris scanning takes too long or doesn't work it will switch to face unlock, and as we all know that can be fooled with a photo. Intelligent Scan makes the S9 series less secure.
  • I'm pretty sure the face id on the 5T and S9 though not as secure as FPS or Iris scanning can no longer be fooled with a photo.
    I believe they now take far more reference points.
  • I rather both perfect example windows hello uses both methods
  • So does iOS really. It is the same OS used on devices that use Touch ID and Face ID. You just don't have devices that support hardware for both (at this time). Same with Windows. If the device supports both hardware options you get both. Same on Android, if the device supports both options you can use either.
  • windows hello is great, I use it all the time. The facial recognition is instant )though I know we're talking about phones here)
  • I've got no time for face id and use the FPS all the time.
    Only time face id would be beneficial is when the phone is flat on my desk and in that case face id doesn't work without me moving above it.
    If I wore gloves instead of sunglasses it might make it worth while but waking and unlocking with a 100% reliable FPS is still the ultimate system for me.
  • Pixel 2 is my first experience with fingerprint unlock and I love it!
  • OEM'S have gotten to the point of removing the headphone jack. Now Apple has accomplished two things. The headphone jack & the fingerprint scanner on the X. I will never purchase a phone that have lost those much desired features!
  • Better baby the phone you have now....
  • If i could only have one choice, I too would choose a fingerprint reader. However, I use a S7 and iPhone X regularly and I have to say, Face ID has been so good I can't say I miss having a fingerprint reader. Personally I think the opinion that fingerprint sensors are still better than facial recognition is simply that - an opinion. Both have value and do what they do very good. If someone said they like Facial recognition more, I wouldn't think it was a bad opinion either. What I wish Apple had done was put a fingerprint reader on the main button on the side of the phone, like what Sony does with their scanner.
  • Stop that While walking and unlocking the iPhone X fails a lot. I hate that my girl has to
    constantly stop while were walking just to unlock her phone. Never had this problem on her 6S
  • I've had zero issues with facial recognition on my iPhone. And the X doesn't have a fingerprint sensor
  • Having to look at my phone before making contactless payments let alone take my sunglasses off is enough to make me miss the FPS.
    Phone is awake and unlocked as it leaves my pocket. No extra swiping looking or scanning.
    I can understand how face ID can be "ok" but it's never going to be better and there's no good reason for Apple to forget to put it on a phone.
  • The thing with the iPhone is you don't need to take off your sunglasses
  • But they are also STILL being put in the wrong place - the back. I use iris/face scanner mkre more often precisely because of that. Rear mounted fps's become inaccessible most of the time. And they sure do during most of my day.
  • I honestly wish Samsung would just ditch their facial recognition entirely since it's not that good. Intelligent Scan isn't any better either, as it uses both the Iris Scanning and Facial recognition at the same time and only uses one way to register a phone unlock if the other way is unresponsive. Samsung should work on making their fingerprint scanner faster, it's a bit on the slow side compared with other phones and I use it constantly.
  • Are you deliberately misleading your readers with this crap? Android facial recognition and iPhone X Face ID have nothing at all in common. You can spoof Android facial recognition with a photo and it is a weak feature that should never be used. Face ID on the contrary is as secure as or more secure than a fingerprint reader. My phone is set up with a 16 character password that must be entered if FaceID fails and my phone is set to automatically lock in 30 seconds. Thanks to FaceID I can lock my phone down to that extent and never actually feel inpacted negatively by it. On gestures with a fingerprint reader: Why in the hell would anyone actually find that useful? To me that is one of those "Just because you can doesn't mean you should" type of ridiculous features that actually makes Android sometimes feel like a kluge. I am typing this on my Nexus 6P. My other phone is an iPhone X.
  • Have nothing in common? Though they both used your face to unlock your phone?
    You can't fool the latest face scanners with a photo. And I believe they have fooled the face ID with a 3D model.
    FPS are quicker and secure enough for credit card companies to authorize their use.
    Not sure what you keep on your phone but for me just using it for work banking and all my personal files I'm happy with the fact you would need to kill me to get my phone in the first place.
  • The iPhone only has an issue with identical twins.
  • "Why in the hell would anyone actually find that useful?"
    On Huawei phones, where fingerprint sensor is on the back, you wouldn't have to adjust your hold on the phone nor stretch the thumb.
  • Disagree. FaceId on the iPhone is far superior to TouchId. As far as gestures go, the reasoning to include a fingerprint sensor for a few swipes is hardly a justifiable reason. The gesture system on the iPhone is fantastic. Needing a fingerprint sensor to facilitate seems illogical.
  • It's just not.
    It didn't work with my sunglasses on.
    I had to look at my phone at just the right angle and It's slower and less reliable.
    Also having to swipe up after unlocking made the whole experience twice as long as a FPS.
    With FPS the phone is awake and unlocked before it's left my pocket.
  • Only on Android. I have zero issues on the X.
  • Due to severe dry skin, especially on my finger tips, due to diabetes complications, medications, and living in the dry (at least in winter) Northeast, my phone (LG G6) rarely recognizes any of the 3 fingers that I registered. Great if I want to rob a bank, but it makes the FP sensor useless to me.
  • Android Central, and all Mobile Nations sites (iMore and Windows Central) are nothing but pathetic native ad sites that pander to the audience of each of the sites. You guys are low grade and pathetic.
  • Made you look though.
  • Umm...of course they pander to the audience of that site. What do you expect? Them to pander to people who don't care?
  • I'll take both, a FPS on the rear for a nearly all screen front and facial recognition.
  • Much prefer fingerprint but wish they would keep them on the front - about half the time my phone is on my desk when I want to open it!
  • I prefer using a fingerprint sensor over face unlock. I'm intrigued by what One Plus has to offer but I'm not overly impressed by my iPhone X's face unlock. This is merely my opinion. Some people really like face unlock. I prefer having as many options as possible.
  • Only because no current Android phone maker has the ability to match what Apple has done. I am sure once they have something as secure and reliable as Apple the tune in the Android community will change. FaceID is fantastic and I could not ever imagine going back to fingerprint scanners.
  • Late to this discussion. I have 4 phones and they all have different security implementations. My Essential has the FPS on the back.
    My Sony Xperia XZ Premium has a FPS on the side.
    My GS9 has a FPS and Intelligent scan turned on.
    My iPhone X has FaceID. I have used them all quite a bit and love them all for different reasons. If I would only judge the unlocking process the win goes to the iPhone X with absolutely no hesitation. It is the fastest, most effortless, and consistent unlocking process out of all of them. That being said, I wouldn't have minded a FPS somewhere on the phone as an additional option.
  • The problem is you are treating these like they are all or nothing. When Face ID or Touch ID fail, you simply enter your pin. On a side note, the reason for your Touch ID fail (gloves, etc), might also cause you to not be able to enter your pin code (double-fail). Now you’re even more inconvenienced. So, for me all of these methods work 90+% of the time. None have worked for me 100% of the time. With that said, Face ID feels effortless to me, or at least more effortless than Touch ID.