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Hands-on: The first under-glass fingerprint sensor is here!

After years of waiting, it's finally here: vivo has revealed an as-yet-unnamed device with Synaptics' FS9500 under-glass fingerprint sensor in the display.

Published onJanuary 10, 2018

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After years of waiting, it’s finally here, an in-screen fingerprint reader. In spite of persisting rumors of Apple and Samsung working on the tech, Chinese manufacturer vivo is the first to reveal a device with an under-glass fingerprint scanner, courtesy of a year-long partnership with Synaptics.

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The 6-inch phone doesn’t have an official name yet, although it looks and feels very much like a near-final smartphone. It’ll be headed to Asian markets next quarter, but the real showstopper here is that scanner, called the Synaptics Clear ID in-display optical fingerprint sensor, also known as the FS9500, which is positioned between the display glass and OLED panel.

And it works just as you’d expect it to, just like any solid state scanner on the market right now. Simply place your finger on the display and it unlocks. That’s all there is to it. Besides unlocking your phone, Clear ID can also be used to verify your identity to access your accounts or to authenticate payments.

It is noticeably slower than currently available solid state capacitive sensors, taking 0.7 seconds to unlock, but the coolness factor of finally having our hands on tech that’s been years in the rumor mill making far outweighs that slight delay.

For a first-gen product it’s plenty fast and reliable enough, and I doubt most people will mind the difference in speed once they’re unlocking their phones this way.

It did fail to read a couple times, like any fingerprint reader, so it’s not a silver bullet solution, at least yet. But it does get us one step closer to the promise of truly bezel-less displays, even if we haven’t quite figured out how to do away with the notch yet.

Of course, fans of rear-mounted fingerprint scanners are likely to be less excited about this new tech than front-facing scanner aficionados, but being able to unlock your bezel-less phone while it’s face up is a pretty cool prospect.

While Synaptics assures me the FS9500 is spoof-proof, having successfully passed a whole gamut of tests, including photos of fingerprints and 3D prints, until the optical module starts appearing on devices we’ll just have to take their word for it.

Because of the way the scanner module sits under the glass and peeks through the OLED pixels to scan your fingerprint, it’ll only work on OLED panels though. This won’t matter to OLED fans, but if you love LCD you’re out of luck because of the backlight. The vivo unit we used the scanner on had a Samsung-built display but Synaptics tells me the module can be easily incorporated into any OLED panel, so expect to see it cropping all over the place in the near future.

vivo may well be the first to reveal the sensor module in a device, but the race is undoubtedly now on to get to market first. And then to prove the sensor’s reliability, because its coolness is beyond reproach.

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