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Vivo's in-display fingerprint sensor shows the future of smartphone biometrics

Phones are getting thinner and display bezels are getting smaller, so any time a company can save space in a phone it's going to do it. The latest way to save space and give companies flexibility has been created by Synaptics, with its new in-display fingerprint solution.

The first company to use the new fingerprint sensor tech is Vivo, and I had an opportunity to use this awesome new sensor in one of its phones at CES 2018.

The in-display fingerprint sensor, as a standalone component, doesn't look much different than any other capacitive style sensor. All it needs is a small contact point with the main board of the phone, and then companies are free to place the sensor anywhere they want. In Vivo's case, it's dead center near the bottom of the display, which is the easiest place to reach with either thumb when holding the phone.

This is the future of fingerprint sensors in smartphones.

This is an optical sensor rather than the capacitive type we're used to seeing on most phones. It's for this reason that the sensor only works with OLED displays (at least right now) — when the sensor is turned on, the display illuminates just the pixels coinciding with the sensor, shining light up to your fingerprint to then be recognized.

If you have the display turned off and tilt the phone ever-so-carefully at an angle you can see the sensor placed under the display, but it's completely undetectable when the display is turned on. It's up to the phone maker to handle the software side of things in terms of the on-screen prompt for your fingerprint, but the great part about this sensor is that it's only enabled when the phone needs it.

Synaptics is quoting a 0.7-second response time for authentication, which is technically slower than the best capacitive sensors out there that quote 0.2-seconds. In my testing it felt pretty speedy, but you could notice the small speed difference sometimes. The thing that's hampering the speed, for me, is that it requires a bit of pressure from your finger in order to flatten out your fingerprint and be properly read by the sensor. That's more of a mental roadblock, though, and I feel it won't take long to retrain yourself to press it properly.

Vivo says that this is a full-production device that will be released, but it doesn't have a time frame for it just yet. In fact, it doesn't even have a brand name for the phone yet. Synaptics is undoubtedly making this same sensor available to other smartphone makers as well, so we could see this tech in dozens of phones in 2018.

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

  • Google. Pixel 3. Just sayin'
  • Note 9! Do it Samsung!
  • That looks amazing. I still wait a year to get any phone with this tech to let it get better. Andrew I couldn't listen to the video but read the article looked at the video and it seems you had to definitely flatten your finger. How cumbersome did it seem at first?
  • Samsung has no reason not to have this on the S9 other than laziness. I like that this only works on OLED though. And I hope they don't manage to get it to work on LCD. Maybe then OEMs will drop that crap display tech once and for all in favour of OLED only.
    Now let's see which will be first relevant OEM to offer a flagship with this. The race is on and Samsung is already out of it.
  • Considering the rendering and leaked info is already out for the S9, I see Samsung releasing this with the Note 9. It's not about laziness, the S9 has already passed through FCC so why dump all the R&D they already did for a on screen FPS? You don't have to always be first to get it right.
  • Passing through the FCC is completely irrelevant, though. The FCC has no power outside the USA. So if Samsung wanted, they could provide it around the world and simply leave the US out. Samsung has been working on this for years now. Their R&D is much more powerful and well funded. Yet they didn't manage to get it already? Excuse me if I doubt their reasons ;) As for leaving it to the niche Note 9...I don't really see why. Unless they want to first put it on a phone that sells in much less numbers to test it first - and that would be at least understandable - there's no reason why the Note 9 can get it and the S9 can't. The Note 9's development is well underway at this point if not finished already.
  • They're not going to leave the US out. They're going to make the phone as uniform as possible throughout all of the markets.
  • Kind of the same reason why the Note8 had a dual camera while the S8 doesn't.
  • Sorry, but for my money LCD beats Oled hands down..without question. No burn in or retention of any kind...Oled still cannot do that consistently. You are wrong!
  • A few concerns
    1) The FP reaction looks way to slow at the moment
    2) screen protectors?
  • Doesn't look too slow at all but the screen protector is a good question
  • have to wake the phone first before you can use the fingerprint sensor?
  • Exactly. Wake phone and then read finger? Meh. I'm not that excited about this application of the technology.
  • Yep, which makes it completely pointless. If it's not one touch to wake/unlock then it's a step backwards from current sensors. It's also on the front which makes it even less convenient.
  • That depends on the implementation. If you put it alongside a pressure sensitive screen (like on the S8), you don't need to wake the phone and then unlock it. You can make it simultaneous.
  • Looks kinda slow and The Verge had a video of this in the wild and it didn't seem to work that well.
  • You mention the Verge, that disqualifies them (Verge) right there. If it isn't Apple's invention it doesn't work by Verge's standards.
  • I'll wait for the next generation of this.
  • Damn come on Samsung gotta buy those sensors and install those on the Note9 s9s
  • So you have to either turn the phone over or pick it up first. That apparently activates the display (hopefully) . You then have to touch your finger. I fail to see how this is any better than any rear FPS right now. Currently, 1 step: Touch rear FPS, phone unlocked. With this, you have to activate the display via the power button, or via some phone maneuver then hit the non-tactile area of the glass. 2 steps isn't better. It's just not..
  • Excited for this. FPS belongs on the front.
  • Would be nice to see smartphones in Q3 or Q4 of this year to start implementing this sensor but don't really see a need for it yet. I'm still perfectly fine with capacitive speedy fingerprint scanners for now. Besides, I'm still not a huge fan of super small bezels considering most phones I've used with such make using the keyboard difficult without resorting to making it even bigger (oddly enough, the iPhone X is the only device I've seen mitigate the issue by putting blank space between the actual keyboard and bottom chin of the display).
  • i m waiting for Samsung galaxy j9
  • Would have been cool to see it implemented seamlessly within the entire screen, so you can touch your finger anywhere to unlock the phone. The fact that you seemingly have to wake this phone first and then place your finger in the designated spot renders this implementation worse than what we already have available to us in most other current smartphones. Allow it to be a one touch wake/unlock from anywhere on the screen and this will be a major win and game changer. Sadly, not so much in its current implementation.