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Did you know how many different kinds of sensors go inside a smartphone?

Posted: , by Nick T.

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Did you know how many different kinds of sensors go inside a smartphone?
Today's smartphones are incredible little machines – ones that would have been regarded as witchcraft several decades ago. But we've grown so used to our iPhones and Android handsets that take them for granted even though there's so much cool technology packed into them. Take their sensors for example. Do you know how many different kinds go inside a smartphone?

Let's start with one of the most commonly used sensors – the accelerometer. As its name implies, it measures the acceleration that the handset is experiencing relative to freefall. Move it in any direction and data from this sensor will spike, but leave it still and it will go flat. The same sensor is also used to determine a device's orientation along its three axes. Apps use this data to tell if a phone is in portrait or landscape orientation, if its screen is facing up- or downward.

The accelerometer/gyroscope sensor inside the Samsung Galaxy S5, marked in blue

The accelerometer/gyroscope sensor inside the Samsung Galaxy S5, marked in blue

The gyroscope is a sensor that can provide orientation information as well, but with greater precision. Thanks to this particular sensor, Android's Photo Sphere camera feature can tell how much a phone has been rotated and in which direction. It is also used by Google's Sky Map for telling what constellation you're pointing a phone at.

Another sensor that most (if not all) smartphones now have is the magnetometer. Yup, it is able to detect magnetic fields. The magnetometer is one of the sensors that compass applications use to point at the planet's north pole. Apps made to detect metal use this sensor as well.

Next up we have the proximity sensor, which is comprised of an infrared LED and an IR light detector. It is placed near the earpiece of a phone, and for a good reason – when you place the handset up to your ear, the sensor lets the system know that you're most probably in a call and that the screen has to be turned off. The sensor works by shining a beam of invisible to humans infrared light which is reflected from a nearby object and picked up by the IR detector.

A phone's light and proximity sensors are usually placed near the earpiece

A phone's light and proximity sensors are usually placed near the earpiece

A phone's light sensor is what measures how bright the ambient light is. The phone's software uses this data to adjust the display's brightness automatically – when ambient light is plentiful, the screen's brightness is pumped up, and when it is dark, the display is dimmed down. An interesting fact is that high-end Samsung Galaxy phones use an advanced light sensor that can measure white, red, green, and blue light independently. And that's not overkill. In fact, the Adapt Display feature uses this data to fine tune image representation.

Higher-end phones have a built-in barometer – a sensor that can measure atmospheric pressure. Data measured by it is used to determine how high the device is above sea level, which in turn results in improved GPS accuracy. On a related note, the Motorola XOOM and the Samsung Galaxy Nexus were among the first Android devices to feature this sensor.

Some folks might remember that the Samsung Galaxy S4 bragged with a thermometer for measuring ambient temperature. However, there's a thermometer in pretty much any smartphone, and some handsets might have more than one of them. The difference is that they're used to monitor the temperature inside the device and its battery. If a component is detected to be overheating, the system shuts itself down to prevent damage. And speaking of the Galaxy S4, it pioneered the use of an air humidity sensor in a smartphone. Data provided by it was used in the S Health application to tell whether or not the user was in their "Comfort Zone" – one with optimal air temperature and humidity.

While we're at the health and fitness topic, the pedometer is a sensor used for counting the number of steps that the user has taken. Such data is usually obtained by the device's accelerometer, but a dedicated pedometer is a lot more accurate and power efficient. The Google Nexus 5 is among the few phones that have a true pedometer built into them.

The heart rate sensor on the Galaxy S5

The heart rate sensor on the Galaxy S5

This list would be incomplete if we do not mention the heart rate monitor on the Galaxy S5. As you can tell, it is made to measure one's pulse, and it does that by detecting the minute pulsations of the blood vessels inside one's finger.

We must also mention the fingerprint sensors built into a number of smartphones, including the iPhone 5s, the Samsung Galaxy S5, and the HTC One Max. Of these, the 5s has the sensor most convenient to use as it does not require swiping in order to read fingerprint data. Fingerprint scanners are most often used as an extra layer of security – as a substitute for a lock screen password.

A sensor that you wouldn't expect to find on a smartphone is one capable of detecting harmful radiation. Yet there's a phone that sports one – the Sharp Pantone 5. Released only in Japan, it features a dedicated button which launches an app used to measure the current radiation level in the area.

Adding the microphone and the cameras to the list gives us a figure of at least 14 different sensors that are (or have been) used in a smartphone. That's quite a lot of data that a smartphone can pick up, use, and provide. And with smartphones getting more and more awesome by the year, the list is surely to keep on growing. Think there's a sensor that we've missed? Let us know down in the comments!

48 Comments
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posted on 06 Jul 2014, 19:06 11

1. Settings (Posts: 1720; Member since: 02 Jul 2014)


Of all the examples to be given it has to be the S5. Oh Phonearena you... :-)

posted on 06 Jul 2014, 19:07 1

3. Super3310 (Posts: 91; Member since: 06 May 2014)


yeah ur ryt pginearena is.... nevermind

posted on 06 Jul 2014, 19:17 2

4. Super3310 (Posts: 91; Member since: 06 May 2014)


sorry its samsung arena

posted on 06 Jul 2014, 20:00 5

9. sgodsell (Posts: 3898; Member since: 16 Mar 2013)


If you every looked at flagship Samsung smart phones, then you would know that they are the Swiss Army Knife of smart phones. There is no denying that fact.

posted on 06 Jul 2014, 19:27 12

5. PapaSmurf (Posts: 10457; Member since: 14 May 2012)


How do you misspell a website's name when their name is at the top of the webpage....?

posted on 06 Jul 2014, 19:42 3

6. wilsong17 (unregistered)


he is a troll trying to be smart, maybe go back to school?

posted on 06 Jul 2014, 19:56 2

8. NokiaFTW (Posts: 2072; Member since: 24 Oct 2012)


When you sell off brains in a flea market, that's when you start doing crazy things. Eg: misspelling a technology related website's name. Don't mind him Smurf.

posted on 07 Jul 2014, 01:57

32. AwesomestMaximuss (Posts: 146; Member since: 09 Jul 2013)


Well s5 is the only smartphone which has all the sensors listed here(except the one which detects harmful radiation),so...

posted on 06 Jul 2014, 19:43 2

7. wilsong17 (unregistered)


you mad?

posted on 06 Jul 2014, 20:41 2

15. Settings (Posts: 1720; Member since: 02 Jul 2014)


No. Kinda used to it PA flashing S5 everywhere that it becomes more boring. I mean its better to post "generic" phone designs when youre talking about generic phone features.

posted on 06 Jul 2014, 21:36 4

20. akki20892 (Posts: 3901; Member since: 04 Feb 2013)


Because our phones didn't got sensors.... (Ex: Nexus 5, G3, Z2, 1520, M8, Moto X, etc...)

posted on 06 Jul 2014, 21:55 4

23. StraightEdgeNexus (Posts: 3689; Member since: 14 Feb 2014)


Not as much as of Galaxy phones.....

posted on 06 Jul 2014, 23:56 3

26. Genza (Posts: 540; Member since: 12 Mar 2014)


Could you be more specific and tell me which one?
If you mean the Galaxy S5 I think you're wrong, because as far as I know Xperia Z2 have more sensors than the S5.

Galaxy S5 sensors
1. Heart Rate
2. Fingerprint
3. Barometer
4. Hall Sensor
5. RGB Light
6. Gesture
7. Proximity
8. Gyro
9. Accelerator
10. Geomagnetic sensor
Source :http://global.samsungtomorrow.com/?p=36031

Xperia Z2 sensors
1. Accelerometer
2. Ambient light sensor
3. Barometer sensor
4. Game rotation vector
5. Geomagnetic rotation vector
6. Gyroscope
7. Magnetometer
8. Step counter
9. Step detector
10. Significant motion detector
11. Proximity sensor
Source :www.sonymobile.com/gb/support/phones/xperia-z2/support-documents/

I had trouble and could not find information about
G3, M8 and L930 sensors.

posted on 07 Jul 2014, 00:52 8

28. PapaSmurf (Posts: 10457; Member since: 14 May 2012)


You missed these for the S5:

11. Pedometer
12. Ambient Light Sensor

So by the rules of math, 12 > 11.

Source:www.math.com

posted on 07 Jul 2014, 03:05 2

34. Genza (Posts: 540; Member since: 12 Mar 2014)


It seems you do not understand with some sensors
that samsung use in S5.

Samsung uses RGB Light Sensor/RGB ambient light sensor to measures the intensity of the light and is applied to the Adapt Display, which optimizes
screen to surroundings.

Any phones with an integrated accelerometer is possible to introduce pedometer functionality, this option was successfully realized by a number of smartphone applications developers, enabling any fitness savvy smartphone owners to track the number of steps taken as well as passed distance and burnt calories.

Please visit this link
http://global.samsungtomorrow.com/?p=36031
And learn something about S5 sensor.

posted on 07 Jul 2014, 03:50

35. Settings (Posts: 1720; Member since: 02 Jul 2014)


Hey its not battle of the sensors here. The less sensors the better. Sensors too takes some battery juice.

posted on 07 Jul 2014, 05:12

43. Genza (Posts: 540; Member since: 12 Mar 2014)


I do not care which phone has the most sensor, because i just wanted to find out what StraightEdgeNexus said was true or not.
But it seems he is just a cluless samsung fanboy who likes to say things without clear proof.

And what did you say I guess is not entirely true
because thanks to the built in step detector and step counter sensor pedometer applications could be more power efficient.

posted on 07 Jul 2014, 10:56 1

44. Genza (Posts: 540; Member since: 12 Mar 2014)


Even after you said something very wrong, your friends still support you.

You're trying to be a smart @$$ with me, but the reality is
you're just like most other samsung fanboy cluless, closed minded, can't accept the truth and and will always defend samsung like a mindless army.

Next time if you want to try to be smart @$$ again make sure you understand what you're saying.

posted on 07 Jul 2014, 02:30 1

33. StraightEdgeNexus (Posts: 3689; Member since: 14 Feb 2014)


Wut!!! galaxy s5 has the effin Ambient sensor too, even low end droids have those.
And step down and step up, those things are present in S5 and infact S4 was the first smartphone to have them. Argument over.

posted on 07 Jul 2014, 04:38 1

39. Genza (Posts: 540; Member since: 12 Mar 2014)


Lol... you really have no idea what you're talking about
1. The S5 uses RGB light sensor for ambient light.
2. The S4 is not the first smartphone with pedometer, because Nokia 5500 sport with Symbian OS is already has that feature long before the S4.

The difference between Step detector and Step counter sensor with most other pedometer apps is that with the hardware step sensor, this app uses almost no additional battery.

this is Google explanation
"The step detector analyzes
accelerometer input to recognize
when the user has taken a step,
then triggers an event with each
step. The step counter tracks the
total number of steps since the
last device reboot and triggers an
event with each change in the
step count. Because the logic and
sensor management is built into
the platform and underlying
hardware, you don't need to
maintain your own detection
algorithms in your app."

From what i know Nexus 5 is the first Android phone with built in Step detector and Step counter sensors.

I don't know if the S5 also has built Step detector and counter sensors because there is no official word about it even there is no official word about Geomagnetic sensor.
The only reason why I include it because there is a
moderator from Samsung Tomorrow (Samsung Electronics Official Global Blog) say the S5 has a geomagnetic sensor.

posted on 07 Jul 2014, 04:23

36. Reality_Check (Posts: 277; Member since: 15 Aug 2013)


If by RGB light you mean notification LED, then even the XZ2 has one of those.

posted on 07 Jul 2014, 04:42 1

40. Genza (Posts: 540; Member since: 12 Mar 2014)


No what i mean is RGB light for ambient light.

posted on 07 Jul 2014, 04:53

42. Reality_Check (Posts: 277; Member since: 15 Aug 2013)


Okay :)

posted on 07 Jul 2014, 00:51

27. Vinayakn73 (Posts: 191; Member since: 05 Oct 2011)


This site is truly a samsung arena. have a visit to this link
http://www.phonearena.com/phones/manufacturers/Samsung and rollover just look at that color scheme and theme. doesn't it look like newest touchwiz.

posted on 07 Jul 2014, 00:53 2

29. PapaSmurf (Posts: 10457; Member since: 14 May 2012)


No.

5char

posted on 07 Jul 2014, 04:35

38. Vinayakn73 (Posts: 191; Member since: 05 Oct 2011)


It's no wonder that one day will come when Galaxy phone will tell you that you are pregnant or not just by putting your galaxy in your _____.
and yes it will also work as vibrating Didlo. HOw? don't you heard about flexible displays. now use your brain and think how???

posted on 07 Jul 2014, 04:45 1

41. UglyFrank (Posts: 1730; Member since: 23 Jan 2014)


They missed the legendary hall sensor

posted on 06 Jul 2014, 19:07 3

2. Super3310 (Posts: 91; Member since: 06 May 2014)


nah samsung galaxy s6 wid stethoscope and lie detectors with explosives sensors lol just kidding

posted on 07 Jul 2014, 04:25 1

37. Vinayakn73 (Posts: 191; Member since: 05 Oct 2011)


and thesamsung galaxy s6 will come with preloaded reminder to buy galaxy s7

posted on 06 Jul 2014, 21:42

21. fireblade (Posts: 717; Member since: 27 Dec 2013)


this article reminds me motogp bikes, which have at least 40 sensors

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