Look at any current flagship smartphone and one feature that’s common across all of them is the presence of a fingerprint sensor. While we saw fingerprint sensors last year (and before), in 2015 they have become a symbol of a truly flagship experience, and we’ve even seen them on mid-range devices at a very affordable price (such as the Honor 7).
As you might expect, every company has approached biometric security in different ways, with some companies adopting it just as a fingerprint sensor and others adding gesture support and a lot more. But which company has the best implementation?
Between these three devices, there are two distinct positions for the fingerprint sensors; the iPhone 6S and Samsung Galaxy Note 5 have the fingerprint sensor built into a home button beneath the screen on the front of the handset, while the Mate S has the sensor on the back, just beneath the camera.
While both the iPhone 6S and the Galaxy Note 5 have the fingerprint sensor on the front, both companies have taken a different approach; Apple has stuck to a round home button with the sensor built in while Samsung chose a larger (and flatter) rectangular button to house its sensor.
In comparison, Huawei opted to put the sensor on the back – like it has done on other devices such as the Ascend Mate 7 and Honor 7 – and while it may seem like a strange decision, the sensor is positioned exactly where your finger naturally sits when you hold the phone in your hand. This is particularly useful, as you’ll see below…
When it comes to a fingerprint sensor, the whole premise of including one is that it should provide a faster method of authentication that traditional methods such as a PIN, password (on iOS/Android) or Pattern unlock (Android only).
When a fingerprint sensor fails to provide quick authentication – anyone remember the Samsung swipe fingerprint sensor from last year – it defeats the purpose of its inclusion and while the differences are often milliseconds, the basic ruling is: the faster the sensor, the better it is.
The iPhone 6S comes with Apple’s Touch ID version 2 and this has seen the company improve the speed of unlocking by a fair amount. The original Touch ID was no slouch, but in the iPhone 6S, it’s exceedingly fast and in fact, so fast that you pretty much never see the lock screen. It’s certainly no slouch and Touch ID v2 is definitely one of the fastest sensors you’ll ever use.
The Galaxy Note 5 comes with the revamped fingerprint sensor found in this year’s Galaxy S6 and this is certainly a major improvement on the company’s previous attempts. Instead of a swipe, it’s now a one-touch sensor like the other two devices and this means it’s actually quite quick. While it’s not exactly slow, the sensor does – at least from using it – seem to be slightly slower than the other two devices.
While Touch ID is one of the fastest sensors, there’s no doubt – at least in my mind – as to which is the fastest: the Huawei Mate S. There’s a key reason for this: while both the Galaxy Note 5 and the iPhone 6S require you to press a button to wake the device before it unlocks, you can unlock the Mate S from sleep just by touching the sensor.
In testing, the Mate S is unbelievably fast and reliable; while it’s almost impossible to measure exactly how long it takes to unlock, I would guesstimate that it is approximately 0.5 to 0.7 seconds. As far as speed of unlocking goes, there’s no smartphone – not even one of the other Huawei handsets with a fingerprint sensor – that is as fast.
Fingerprint sensors were originally used just to unlock a handset, but as we’ve seen smartphones develop, so have the biometric scanners and in these handsets, each manufacturer has aimed to extend the feature set of the fingerprint scanners.Both the iPhone 6S and the Galaxy Note 5 can be used for each company’s respective mobile payments solution and again, these are similar yet different. Apple Pay was the first mainstream payment solution to be launched and has quickly gained the support of major banks in every country it has launched in.
In comparison, Samsung Pay has only launched in Korea (in August) and the USA (last month) but is set to land in the UK, Spain and China later this year. Similar to Apple Pay in that it works with existing contactless payment infrastructure, Samsung Pay also one-ups Apple thanks to MST (Magnetic Secure Transmission). While Apple Pay and Android Pay both require a retailer to support contactless payments, MST means Samsung Pay lets you pay with your phone in any retailer that supports contactless and/or credit card payments. Simply put, Samsung Pay will work with 99% of retailers.
While both Samsung and Apple have focused on the mobile payments industry, Huawei has adopted a different approach (although it can be used for payment applications). The company’s square fingerprint sensor is designed so that not only does it let you unlock your phone but also supports gestures.
Ahead of its IFA announcement, Huawei teased the fingerprint sensor by saying it could perform five functions aside from the standard authentication and payment solutions. The additional features include accessing notifications (swipe down), scrolling through photos (sideways swipe in the gallery app), taking selfies, answering phone calls and dismissing alarms. Without doubt, the Mate S shows that fingerprint scanners can be used for more than what most manufacturers currently achieve with sensors in their smartphones.
What do you think?
There’s no doubt that the fingerprint sensors on the Apple iPhone 6S, Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and the Huawei Mate S are impressive and indicative of a flagship experience but as we’ve detailed, there are some key differences between each one.
From sensor placement and design to speed of unlocking and additional features, there’s a lot that fingerprint sensors can do and as we see smartphone use evolve, there’s no doubt that we’ll see uses for these scanners evolve even further.
Personally, I prefer the Mate S sensor mainly due to the speed of unlocking and additional features but it’s likely that the placement won’t appeal to everyone. What do you think though? Which fingerprint scanner do you think is best?