Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus Reviews

Dan Seifert of the Verge likes Samsung’s new Galaxy S10 Plus — especially its incredibly dense and high-quality display — but isn’t a fan of its unlocking and user verification options:

The other new thing that’s embedded in the screen is the fingerprint scanner, which has been moved from the back of the phone. The S10’s scanner is ultrasonic, which is supposed to be more reliable and harder to spoof than the optical in-screen fingerprint scanners we’ve seen on the OnePlus 6T and other phones. It even works if your finger is wet.

But it’s not as fast or reliable as the traditional, capacitive fingerprint scanner on the back of the S9. The target area for the reader is rather small (though the lockscreen will show you a diagram of where to place your finger) and I had to be very deliberate with my finger placement to get it to work.

Even then, I often had to try more than once before the S10 would unlock. I’d just rather have a Face ID system that requires less work to use, or at the very least, an old-school fingerprint scanner on the back of the phone. The S10 does have a face unlock feature, but it’s just using the camera to look for your face and compare it to a previous image — there’s no 3D mapping or anything. I was actually able to unlock the S10 with a video of my face played on another phone.

For what it’s worth, Brian X. Chen of the New York Times also had trouble with the under-screen fingerprint reader, but Marques Brownlee did not. Chen spoke with a Samsung representative:

I shared my concerns with Samsung. Drew Blackard, a director of product marketing at the company, said that based on customer feedback, the fingerprint sensor was the most popular method for unlocking devices. As a result, the company focused on improving that feature.

He added that Samsung was studying face recognition and had made it more difficult to trick the scanner with a photo of a person’s face. “Is it an area that we’re continuing to look at? The answer is: Of course,” Mr. Blackard said.

I have to say Samsung’s decision to focus on fingerprint sensing instead of upgrading its face scanner is not particularly satisfying. User feedback isn’t generally an ideal way to design security features. After all, many people also enjoy using the same weak passwords across all their internet accounts.

Last year, component producers told Reuters that Apple’s Face ID system was about two years ahead of its competition; they estimated that comparable facial recognition systems would start to become available on Android devices this year. It’s hard to think that these under-screen fingerprint readers exist for any reason other than because they can’t yet compete with Face ID.

I also found this comment noteworthy in Seifert’s review:

Perhaps more interesting than the screen itself is what’s embedded in it. Though the display stretches to the very top edge of the phone, the S10 doesn’t have a notch cutout for its front facing camera. Instead, Samsung is using an offset “hole punch” design, which allows the camera to poke through the screen on the right side. On the S10 Plus, this houses two cameras: the main camera and a secondary one for depth effects and portrait mode.

This design lets Samsung avoid the oft-criticized notch look, but it also means that the battery and network indicators are awkwardly pushed off-center to the left. A notch design has similar compromises, but it’s at least symmetrical: notifications and clock are on the left, battery and network indicators are on the right. The off-center look of the hole-punch design just looks worse to me.

I’m ambivalent as to whether a notched display or a hole-punched display looks better. But one thing I have noticed on both kinds of displays is that Android manufacturers often have an option to create a blackened area to surround and hide the notch or the cutout. It never fails to look clumsy. The more I look at photos and screenshots of phones with that mode switched on, the more I think Apple was right to discourage developers from hiding the notch.