Two major developments happened this month: the Samsung Galaxy S9 launch date was officially announced for February 25, and we got to test out the world's first phone with an in-screen fingerprint sensor.
There needs to be a wedding date to marry these two technologies together, as Samsung desperately needs an in-screen fingerprint sensor. Its placement of the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus sensor – on the back of the phone and off to the side of the rear camera – didn't agree with anyone.
Luckily for Samsung, and all phone makers in a world where all-screen designs rule and home buttons have no place, the front fingerprint sensor can return to its original location digitally. iPhone X users who are struggling with Apple's Touch ID to Face ID transition, don't worry. There's hope for you, too.
Both Synaptics and Qualcomm are developing in-screen solutions. Here's what we experienced from our demo of the in-screen fingerprint sensor and why we are hopeful you may see it in a Samsung smartphone this year.
How it works
The fascinating technical details behind in-screen fingerprint sensors make this furustic idea seem even more revolutionary for smartphones.
The tiny embedded scanner was able to read our fingerprint from behind the glass and the display, looking through invisible spaces in between the display pixels, according to Synaptics in our demo. For this reason, the technology works only on OLED screens (another knock on LED).
Everything felt natural. We placed our thumb in the familiar front location at the bottom of the display, the fingerprint icon instantly lit up around our finger to capture our print and within half a second the phone was unlocked.
This groundbreaking in-screen fingerprint sensor demo didn't happen first on the Galaxy S9, surprisingly. That hasn't been unveiled yet. The world is hopeful, however, it'll be there on February 25 – such a sensor has been rumored ever since the Galaxy S8, and again in the lead up to the Note 8 launch. Apple and the iPhone X went through the same series of rumors followed by dashed hopes.
Instead, the Chinese company Vivo was the first to show off the Synaptics in-screen fingerprint sensor on an unnamed phone due to launch later this year. You probably won't be able to get one since it isn't due for worldwide release.
But the Synaptics demo had a lot of promise and gave us a new hope. Though it wasn't the fastest fingerprint sensor we've ever used, it's fast enough. To give you an idea, it was a bit slower than current fingerprint sensors, about the speed of the first Touch ID fingerprint scanner from Apple. Of course, Synaptics, known for its laptop touchpads, said it's currently refining the technology.
Will Samsung Galaxy S9 or Note 9 get it?
Everything seems to line up: We just demoed the first phone with an in-screen fingerprint sensor, the Galaxy S9 launch event is next month with a rumored March 16 release date, and Samsung needs this technology in its phones.
Alas, current leaks of the Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9 Plus don't give us much hope for an in-screen fingerprint sensor on these phones. Another year of dashed hopes, but we are at least due to get better placement: a sensor on the back, underneath the rear camera and not awkwardly to the side of it.
So where does that leave us? Well, the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is then likely to be the beneficiary of the first in-screen fingerprint sensor in a Samsung phone, whether it's from Synaptics or Samsung's System-on-a-Chip partner for the US, Qualcomm.
The Note 9 makes a lot of sense, too. Samsung has always treated the Note as its more experimental smartphone, and this will be a key feature to differentiate it from the Galaxy S9 Plus besides the Note's S Pen stylus and its increasingly meaningless 0.1 inch of extra screen space. Samsung will also likely launch it in August of this year, one month ahead of a potential iPhone X2 launch and any Face ID improvements Apple plans to make.
There's one thing we're sure of: the days of terribly placed fingerprint sensors are numbered and the revolution of in-screen fingerprint sensors are real. You can have your all-screen phone and have it read your fingerprint, too.
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