The fingerprint sensor belongs on the front of the smartphone – here's why

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.

Locking your phone via fingerprint is pretty much a standard feature in high-end smartphones today. Made popular by Apple, with the TouchID introduced on the iPhone 5s, the finger scanner has slowly become standard. And, for most of the time, it has found its home on the front of the smartphone it belongs to - almost exclusively embedded into the home button.

Experimenting with placement


Recently, manufacturers have started experimenting with different locations for the scanner. This is only natural – one needs to differentiate themselves when competing on an oversaturated market and design plays an integral part in making a product stand out. We’ve seen the fingerprint scanner moved to the back, most popular on Huawei’s devices where it's placed in a dedicated touchpad dimple, or on LG’s V10 where it is integrated into the power key. We’ve also recently seen it placed on the side of the smartphone with Sony’s Xperia Z5 line where the biometric scanner is combined with the power key sitting on the right edge of the phone. But after testing and living with a lot of different handsets, I can't help but feel like the only place I would ever want the fingerprint scanner to be is on the front of the smartphone.

Of course, it can be argued that this is a matter of personal preference. So consider this opinion piece subjective, as it most certainly is, but allow me to lay out the reasons why I find the front of the phone to be the best place for a fingerprint scanner, preferably not integrated with any type of power key.

Imagine this – your phone is lying on a table and you get a chat notification...


The main reason for my wanting the fingerprint scanner on the front and nowhere else is — and prepare for Captain Obvious here — the ease of unlocking your handset when it’s lying flat on a surface. Sometimes we listen to music on our phone and want to quickly look for a different track, sometimes we just want to check a notification and reply quickly. In these moments, one is not planning on lifting their phone at all. A scanner on the front allows us to operate the device just this way – with no extra motions or rituals involved. A scanner on the back forces us to either lift the device, or unlock it via PIN, both variants taking more time than they should. A scanner on the side is somewhere between, but it still obliges the user to awkwardly fondle the phone until they place their registered fingertip on the sensor – by this point, they might as well have lifted the phone, or entered their PIN.

Please, separate it from the power button


Ideally, the coveted front scanner will also have the ability to wake the phone, but be separate from the device’s actual power button. For example, it could be a physical home key, like the ones on the Apple iPhone and Samsung Galaxy devices, or, if it has to be a capacitive sensor, it should always wake the device whenever it detects a touch – like the scanners on Huawei's handsets or the OnePlus 2. The idea here is that the phone’s power button should remain autonomous in its function of lighting the handset's screen without unlocking it — useful for times when you just want to check the time, for example. With the speedy scanners of today, waking the device with the same button that houses the fingerprint scanner almost immediately results in an unlock, completely bypassing the lock screen and leaving its huge digital clock and list of recent notifications somewhat useless.

Granted, popular phones that have the fingerprint scanner embedded into the power key will usually also have a tap-to-wake feature, so the user can wake the screen by double-tapping it. This may seem like a case-closed-ideal-solution, but is not such for users who would prefer to disable tap-to-wake. Why would they disable it? Well, in the recent time I spent with one such phone, I found that its tap-to-wake doesn’t have in-pocket protection, so I opted to disable it due to accidental unlock concerns. This could've all been easily fixed would the manufacturer have had optimized the phone's software properly, but continuing on this tangent will lead this article in the very different direction of "If you are going to make your phone have stand-out features, make sure everything works well in tandem", so let's stop that right here and keep talking about biometric scanner placements.

A side fingerprint scanner's function could easily be hampered by a protective case


Why don't fingerprint sensors belong on the side of a smartphone, you ask? Aside from the issue with operating phones that lie on flat surfaces, which we touched upon already, there is also another concern, which is a bit invisible at first. And that’s the problem with smartphone cases.

At first sight – there shouldn't be much of an issue there – manufacturer makes case, case has an opening around the power button, user has access to fingerprint scanner. Sounds simple enough. But the fact is that side-mounted buttons will always end up being thin and long, sort of rectangular in shape — after all, they need to fit the profile of a rather slim smartphone. As a result, if a case is made as a tight fit for the phone, this means that access to the power button will be through a tight and narrow pocket – one that will deform the user's finger as they press in to touch the fingerprint sensor, and will more often than not result in a failed reading. The solution here is – either use a case that has a large crater around the power button (if such are designed for your handset), use a thin case (if available), don't use a case at all, or don't use the fingerprint scanner lock. And this just doesn't ring right, especially when we are talking about high-class smartphones.

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40 Comments

1. PootisMan

Posts: 266; Member since: Aug 02, 2013

That's why I'm waiting for manufacturers to build the fingerprint scanner within the screen itself. It's going to solve this issue no problem and save space in the process.

4. Ashoaib

Posts: 3276; Member since: Nov 15, 2013

in screen scanner will be great... I will scan my whole hand for biometeric :D

8. ibend

Posts: 6747; Member since: Sep 30, 2014

hand scanner, to unlock tablet :D

35. techperson211

Posts: 1280; Member since: Feb 27, 2014

Side finger print scanner makes a lot of sense rather than the front or back.. Sony's implementation is far the best. We all know that this article is just to highlight Sammy and Fruity. Typical *A *hi*.

37. irossdrummer

Posts: 367; Member since: Jan 17, 2015

the front is the best because you don't have to pick it up or hold it weirdly if you want to quickly unlock it from lying down on a table, I have the S6, its a great spot, I have my thumbs when I'm holding it and my index fingers for when it's lying on the table

40. insyt

Posts: 52; Member since: Sep 16, 2015

True side works great with index finger when on a table and it doesn't matter which way its placed. The only problem with the Sony sensor is if your fingers are wet, but this might be a issue with all phones.

24. natypes

Posts: 1110; Member since: Feb 02, 2015

I'm going to scan my dink

27. sgodsell

Posts: 7241; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

I think a retina scanner would be the best. Just looking at the phone would be the fastest and easiest way to get on. Not to mention its impossible to steal someone's eye for a retina scanner. It's been proven that finger prints can be lifted and used by others. With that said Qualcomm's 3D ultrasonic scanner goes further in scanning your finger prints. You cannot lift and use someone's finger print with Qualcomm's ultrasonic scanner.

32. engineer-1701d unregistered

like qualcomm's

38. irossdrummer

Posts: 367; Member since: Jan 17, 2015

honestly that is genius but i dunno if over time if it would screw up the screen

17. marorun

Posts: 5029; Member since: Mar 30, 2015

Qualcomm already has the tech and its will be implimented in high end device using SD820. Ultrasonic fingerprint scanner its called.

31. engineer-1701d unregistered

with lifeproof case and most otterbox cases you cant use the fingerprint sensor as well never stopped them. i like it on the side makes more sense

2. jove39

Posts: 2145; Member since: Oct 18, 2011

Well...andriod oem should just reduce top & bottom bezel and keep scanner on the back. I'd prefer short phone over a physical button on front. Other option is to embed scanner in screen (already said in 1st comment)...qualcomm already has technology.

19. Finalflash

Posts: 4063; Member since: Jul 23, 2013

This whole article is bad in that it's whole premise revolves around the 1% case of the phone being on the table (no tablet will have a rear sensor). The 99% case of office on hand or pocket gives the rear scanner the best use case. Smaller bezels and all are just icing on that delicious cake.

25. natypes

Posts: 1110; Member since: Feb 02, 2015

I disagree. I unlock my Note 5 while it's laying on my desk at work all the time.

3. Macky

Posts: 19; Member since: Jan 02, 2016

"For example, it could be a physical home key, like the ones on the Apple iPhone and Samsung Galaxy devices, or, if it has to be a capacitive sensor, it should always wake the device whenever it detects a touch – like the scanners on Huawei's handsets or the OnePlus" You are wrong and biased towards Apple and Samsung... Why are you hating Sony so much you idiots??? Their fingerprint is best positioned where it is!

5. Jason2k13

Posts: 1461; Member since: Mar 28, 2013

Did you even read the article? The author clearly says he preferred the finger print scanner in the front which apple and Samsung has. He also gave reasons why he didn't like the finger print scanner located at the back or the side. It's got nothing to do with hating Sony or any other brands. You need to learn how to read.

18. marorun

Posts: 5029; Member since: Mar 30, 2015

I am tired of big ass bezel on the front of the phone much more than the need for a fingerprint scanner...

7. kefalin

Posts: 292; Member since: Feb 08, 2015

and its difficult when you want to pay with phone when its on the back

9. ibend

Posts: 6747; Member since: Sep 30, 2014

I still prefer backside FPscanner, since I'm phablet user, and whenever I use front scanner, I need to strecth my thumb to akward angle, lol and usually I check notification from watch.. (but right now I'm still stuck with front FPscanner :P planning to buy LG G5 if it good enough, or maybe will stuck with front FPscanner again on note6)

10. Punchy506

Posts: 129; Member since: Jan 10, 2016

Why do I need a fingerprint scanner? I have a 10 digit pin and smartlock set up to my home and moto 360. No desire to pay with NFC either.

12. SenorThrottles

Posts: 284; Member since: Dec 23, 2015

Then this article has no relevenace to you...

15. keekai05

Posts: 116; Member since: Mar 31, 2015

He's a keyboard warrior lol

11. oozz009

Posts: 520; Member since: Jun 22, 2015

I hate the idea of a fingeprint on the display itself. I mean the fingerprints actually look nice on the phone and it contributes to the design, plus if it were to go away it would give the impression that your phone has less hardware than what you paid for. In other words, the screen method would feel cheaper despite the fact that it has its benefits!

20. marorun

Posts: 5029; Member since: Mar 30, 2015

Not cheaper just cleaner with smaller bezel.

13. baldilocks

Posts: 1495; Member since: Dec 14, 2008

On the back works best for me. Love where it is on the Nexus 6P.

14. Leorex

Posts: 1; Member since: Jan 29, 2016

Sounds like the OP is suffering from "everyone else's experiences match my own, so they should do what I say" I have a 6P and I happen to think the rear placement is quite convenient. Yes, it doesn't work on a desk, but if I get a call, I pick up the phone. I rarely, if ever, use the phone while it is laying down. so.... for me.... you points just aren't valid.

16. TerryTerius unregistered

In plain English in the second paragraph he stated this was only his opinion and he understands other people may have other preferences. He never said it would work best for everyone else.

23. marorun

Posts: 5029; Member since: Mar 30, 2015

And the title say in play english : The fingerprint sensor belongs on the front of the smartphone here why. He do say everyone has preferences but he also strongly suggest is view is the best.

39. TerryTerius unregistered

Which is why you read more of an article than just the title, to find out what the point being made is. If you only read the title to make a judgment, that's really more on you than the author.

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