Fingerprint scanners comparison: Galaxy S6 vs iPhone 6 vs Note 4 vs Huawei Mate7 vs Meizu MX4 Pro


While fingerprint scanners have been around for a long, long time in tech — most notably with laptops — it wasn't until relatively recently that the gizmos started making an appearance in smartphones. Sure, the earliest phone to get a fingerprint scanner (that we can think of) — the Toshiba PORTEGE G500 — launched all the way back in 2007, yet it wasn't until Motorola's 2011 Atrix 4G that the feature started getting some more attention. But the Atrix proved inefficient in terms of compelling the market to start requesting biometric readers. The tech obviously wasn't there yet. But two and a half years later? Ready to roll.

With the iPhone 5s, Apple was the first to market with a fingerprint sensor that was actually usable on a day-to-day basis, and the Cupertino behemoth has been including a unit into newer and newer iPhones ever since. The Android crowd needed less than a year to respond — most notably with the Galaxy S5 — but the solution Samsung chose proved hamstrung and unable to compete. Whether that was because Samsung used less precise scanners, or their efficacy was undermined by the fact that they were of the less ideal swipe type and not touch, is hard to say, but seems likely in light of the Galaxy S6's all-new and much more robust touch type scanner.

But while Apple and Samsung remain the leaders in this particular space, at least in terms of volume, companies like Huawei (Ascend Mate7) and even exotic Meizu (MX4 Pro) have also made inroads with sensors of their own that, at the time of our respective reviews, seemed just as reliable. Today we'll be looking to remove that uncertainty and arrive at a definitive conclusion.

Meet the contestants


As the title suggests, today we'll be looking at five flagship devices released in the past 10 months, all sporting a fingerprint scanner of their own: Galaxy S6, iPhone 6, Note 4, Ascend Mate7, and Meizu's MX4 Pro. In order to speed the handshake process along, we prepared a handy table outlining the basic properties and features inherent to each of them:


Some of these beg some further clarification, though, and we'll start with ergonomics, since it's a relatively complex variable to define. In short, we rated the phones based on our comfort whilst trying to unlock them with the fingerprint scanner, and our score depended on several factors. First and foremost, size played a big role — the larger the phone, the less ideal it is to place the scanner at the bottom of its front, like is the case with the Galaxy Note 4. At the same time, we gave the even larger, 6-inch Huawei Ascend Mate7 an 'Excellent' score, due to its well thought-out design with the sensor on the back, right underneath the camera ring — precisely where your index finger naturally looks for support. 

It's also important to remember that the wider the device is, the more at risk you are to drop it as you awkwardly reach for the scanner every time you unlock it. Another important consideration was the type of the scanner, and this is pretty much only relevant with the Note 4 — its size, the less-than-ideal placement of the scanner at the bottom, and the fact that you need to swipe it to gain entry, all combine to end up with a 'Poor' score.

Moving on, we also considered the ease with which each of the devices can be unlocked, beyond ergonomics. On the bright side, all devices save the Mate7 can be awoken with their respective home keys, all of which double up as scanners, so that's easy enough. On the other hand, however, only Huawei's phablet can be unlocked with just a simple read — no need to wake up the screen or nothing. This scores the Mate7 some well-deserved bonus points, as security measures such as these ought to be near invisible to guarantee that users don't mind them.

Lastly, we're a bit disappointed to see that none of the companies have, so far, thought of including the needed to code to force readers to quickly do another scan after a failed attempt — with touch type sensors, where your finger will typically continue resting on the cutout until the phone unlocks, this could save users a lot of time and limit frustration.

Speed and reliability


As we've (hopefully) made abundantly clear already, comfort is an important metric that manufacturers should absolutely consider when implementing a fingerprint scanner into their devices. But what does comfort mean? In this case, it's a mix of ergonomics, speed, and reliability, all of which combine to determine whether users stick to using the scanner, or drop it in favor of more conventional unlocking methods. 

To measure the latter two, we came up with two specific tests that gave us insight into both speed and reliability. First, we measured the time that each of the phones needs to let you in, starting from the moment you touch it, over the course of several runs, using a camera and then splitting the footage down to frames for precision. After that, we estimated reliability by attempting to unlock each of the devices as we would if we were using them in real life (so no unfair advantage for phones that offer poor ergonomics), but only after 50 repetitions with each. Here's what we got:


In our first test, Huawei's Ascend Mate7 triumphed, averaging just 0.834 seconds from the time we touched the rear-mounted scanner to the moment we could interact with the UI. Another Chinese representative, the Meizu MX4 Pro proved a tad slower, but still faster than the rest. As you can see, the Galaxy S6 offers middling performance, while the iPhone 6 and Note 4 proved slowest.

There are some caveats to these results, and they're very much worth mentioning. First off, if you consider the fact that you can unlock the Mate7 without even waking up the screen, you'll know that, in real life, you'll be getting through the door even faster. The exact opposite is true of the Note 4, which requires a good aim if you want to better your chances of making it through on the first try:


As you can see, Samsung's phablet proved significantly less reliable than the rest, and we believe this is mostly the fault of the swipe sensor. Indeed, with the Galaxy S6's newer touch scanner, we recorded 50 successively successful attempts to get in, and the rest of the contestants ranked just behind it. In all, every scanner but the Note 4's proved to be more than reliable enough for everyday use.

Conclusion


We won't beat around the bush — we are fans of Huawei's work. Not only is the scanner on its back comfortable to reach and operate (especially considering the size of the Mate7), but it's also the only one to let you in without requiring you to wake up the device. This is imperative, as while security is important in most users' minds, it's also true that the moment the process becomes too burdensome, they'll risk it and get rid of the extra layer of protection provided by the scanner. Huawei's and Meizu's devices are also the only ones to let you lock sensitive content on your phone, which is an extra perk.

On the other end of the spectrum, and this should come as no surprise, is the Note 4 — its swipe type scanner is unreliable, slow, and not as comfortable to use. And we're not the only ones to think so, for clearly Samsung agrees, too — why else would they switch to a far better, touch type unit with the Galaxy S6? Indeed, the S6 proved a far more capable competitor, finishing middle of the pack, along with the Meizu MX4. 

As for the iPhone 6, our issue has to do with speed — its reasonably fast, but the overly complex unlock animation adds a few hundred milliseconds on top. If the animation isn't simply an attempt to cover the relatively high response time, then Apple might want to consider replacing it with something a bit less grandiose.

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32 Comments

1. Ruturaj

Posts: 1484; Member since: Oct 16, 2014

I guess Qualcomm sense ID will improve on android phones finger print scanner even more.

13. Simona unregistered

Parena mate 7 HAS support for payment byt with NFC not fingerprint ! But mate7's is DA BEST from all here

17. j2001m

Posts: 3061; Member since: Apr 28, 2014

When you look at the way,Samsung got that same scanner in a small space, it's a good setup on the s6

23. engineer-1701d unregistered

what are these lock apps with fingerprint and read again if fail, i know my gs6 does not sure about the rest.

2. waddup121 unregistered

Now this is a topic I'm deeply interested in. Thanks PA.

3. FluffyBled unregistered

Just curious ... how does ergonomics in iPhone's fingerprint sensor differ from the one in the galaxy s6?

5. Chris.P

Posts: 567; Member since: Jun 27, 2013

Smaller; has its scanner a bit higher than the S6. That's it.

4. Kruze

Posts: 1285; Member since: Dec 30, 2014

Huawei Mate 7 still has the best fingerprint scanner hands down.

14. Simona unregistered

Mine f-print on mate7 is best because I can take picture with it, selfie or other way round I can wake up screen with it ! So parena more things I can do with fscanner

6. rantao333

Posts: 346; Member since: May 21, 2013

i owned galaxy s6, my success rate canot be perfect, i would say out of 10, it fail 3 times. maybe my hand sweat alot.

11. TyrionLannister unregistered

It has improved a lot with the updates. Earlier, it failed like 30-40% of the times. Now, it rarely fails. The last time it failed on me was weeks ago.

7. jellmoo

Posts: 2588; Member since: Oct 31, 2011

The success rate on the Note 4 seems high. Mine likely maxes out at 30/50 at best. Probably lower if I don't swipe slowly and deliberately.

30. sachouba

Posts: 266; Member since: Jun 08, 2014

Since mine is 98/100 on the Galaxy S5, I guess the success rate in this article isn't too bad.

8. ihearlivepplz

Posts: 80; Member since: Jul 06, 2015

On the S6 you can press and hold for it to unlock. You don't need to wake then scan.

15. bucky

Posts: 3784; Member since: Sep 30, 2009

Same with the iphone. Thats actually how i always unlock my phone. but i guess PA means without pressing anything.

20. ihearlivepplz

Posts: 80; Member since: Jul 06, 2015

I didn't even realise I could do that on my 6+ too xD but how does it make a difference? Well it does but not much really.

9. Cyberchum

Posts: 1066; Member since: Oct 24, 2012

Mate 7 is such a great phone. Had been outed by Samsung or some fruit company, it'd still be attracting rave reviews like PA's 'ONE WEEK WITH' series.

10. aymnga

Posts: 30; Member since: Aug 19, 2012

Huawei ascend mate 7 FTW!!!

12. Taters

Posts: 6474; Member since: Jan 28, 2013

Conclusion should read, Apple really needs to profit a little less and offer better internals.

16. Bm888

Posts: 517; Member since: Jul 06, 2015

mate 7's finger I'D is the best ..hands down. .it even recognises with wet hands ..n just in milliseconds if not micro after placement of a finger on it.. voila ¡¡¡ Waiting to see Qualcoms ultrasonic tech. ^ Bm ™

18. natypes

Posts: 1110; Member since: Feb 02, 2015

I love the scanner on my S6. After the update before last it started having some issues where it had none before, but it's still good. It may not recognize 1 out of 10-15 attempts. I just spent a week in a class beside a buddy of mine who has a iPhone 6. The Galaxy is definitely faster at unlocking.

19. x88yunkw

Posts: 132; Member since: Aug 20, 2012

great to see many people support Mate 7. proud tobe mate7er. hoping huawei phones become more popular in the future. great device but nobody know it. pity huawei!

21. mewmew unregistered

Next generation 1 touch fingerprint scanners from Fingerprint Cards ( Mate 7), Will have respond time 0,5 sec. Honor 7, Meizu MX5 and my guess Oneplus 2..

22. Mitsjke

Posts: 29; Member since: Mar 28, 2015

Might be a good idea to tell us WHERE your fingerprint is saved. Because de S5 had a flaw, where app developers could acces your fingerprint. You don't want your prints on the internet.

24. 99nights

Posts: 1152; Member since: Mar 10, 2015

I don't like fingerprint scanners. They never work for me.

25. Majken

Posts: 1; Member since: Jul 06, 2015

Thanks a lot for testing various fingerprint scanners, it was really interesting to read! However, I think that there are more things to test to really judge the performance of a sensor: First, the success rate (FRR, Failure Rejection Rate) is depending on the Failure Acceptance Rate, i.e. the rate with which a non-registered finger is accepted (falsely). If the sensitivity parameter of the sensor that determines the FRR is adjusted so that the success rate increases, then the FAR also increases proportionally. The parameter is often set to have a FRR to be about 1 %, but the FAR varies a lot between different sensor types and manufacturers. It also varies a lot between devices sometimes, which seems to have been the case with S5 and S6, which might be depending on a dubious yield in production and that bad sensors in that case are slipping through. Therefore, at least some S6 devices, have had these kind of problems with a bad FAR: google "youtube Galaxy S6 Fingerprint Sensor Fail" e.g. and you will have a couple of such videos. - A test to verify that no non-registered fingers were accepted should be done in a deeper test, the FAR should be less than 1 to 50 000 or 1 to 100 000 if having a good security, but for some devices it seems to be MUCH higher than that. - Testing wet or dry: a deeper test would test both fingers that are humid, "wet but drying" and wet, some of the sensors, e.g. for the Meizu and the Mate 7, are claimed to handle wet fingers and the level of wetness they accept, may be tested. Further, a number of differently dry fingers may be tested (and its success rate). - The 360 degree performance, i.e. if the fingers may be pressed in any angle without performance degradation, may be tested. - The finger coverage performance, i.e. if the sensor requires the whole finger, 90 %, 80 %, 60 % or how much of the finger to be covering the sensor for the success rate to be consistent. - The setting-up time may be tested. This also reveals both the algorithm and the image quality of the sensor. Does the sensor require less than 10 or more than 20 fingerprints to get a good enough quality image of the sensor? If you youtube e.g. the Mate 7 and the S6, there is a huge difference between them, to the Mate's advantage. So again, thanks a lot for testing the sensors, and I hope that you may further deepen the test next time - I think that if you develop tests that really figures out the performance of the above parameters, then the best performing sensors will stand out.

26. DonChoi

Posts: 35; Member since: Oct 21, 2014

Hauwei Mate7 support Alipay(PayPal), WeChat Pay(TenPay) and Baidu Pay On/off-line payment service. HTC One M9+/ME, Coolpad Tiptop Pro and Meizu MX5 support Alipay(PayPal) on/off-line payment service. It's more accurate and faster than iPhone, Samsung S6/S6 Edge. I guess more smartphones will support fingerprint scanner from LG, Xaiomi, Lenovo, Sony, MS(Nokia), etc.

27. mildorzalost

Posts: 143; Member since: Jun 03, 2014

Is just laughable how apple have been overcomed so easily In ipod times samsung and other companies just poorly imitated what apple did, and took years to get at the same level os quality of apple... TODAY, one year after they have a lot better technologies, and that's only with the techs apple release first, without counting all the techs apple came in second place or have not come yet

28. darkkjedii

Posts: 31039; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

My 6 plus is always just as fast, and accurate as my edge.

29. mochachino

Posts: 20; Member since: Feb 18, 2015

As a Note 4 owner, if it doesn't lose it would mean other phones have REALLY bad finger print scanners. Note 4's is just good enough for me to not hate it.

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