Face unlock: who does it best? iPhone X vs Samsung Galaxy Note 8, OnePlus 5T

Face unlock: who does it best? iPhone X vs Samsung Galaxy Note 8, OnePlus 5T
Unlocking your phone with your face has been a thing for quite some time. It has been a part of Android since 2011, when Face Unlock was introduced on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. (Remember that guy?) Alas, the feature was neither secure, nor very reliable, which is probably why it never reached the mainstream popularity that fingerprint scanners achieved over the years that followed.

Yet face unlocking is now gaining traction – not only because the technology has evolved, but also because fingerprint scanners in general are getting less convenient. Growing screens and shrinking bezels have forced manufacturers to move these from the front to the side or back of their products. Or to drop them at all, as Apple did for the iPhone X.

But which phone does face recognition best? I was curious to find out, so I gathered an iPhone X, a Samsung Galaxy Note 8 and a OnePlus 5T. Then I registered my face on all three and tested them for reliability in a variety of realistic situations.


The first thing I did was to go outside and test the phones in broad daylight. Hardly a surprise, all of them worked without any issues, recognizing my face in an instance. Performance with all was identical, whether it was bright and sunny, whether it was a cloudy afternoon, or whether I was under the shade of a tree in the park. 

But issues started popping up soon after I moved indoors. While sitting casually at my desk, I noticed that the Galaxy Note 8 was taking longer than the rest to detect me. Meanwhile, the iPhone X and the OnePlus 5T worked normally. Moving into our photo studio and dimming down the lights made things worse for Samsung's phone. Yes, it still worked, but it needed about a couple of seconds to recognize me. 

In complete darkness, the Galaxy Note 8's face unlock feature failed every single try, while the iPhone X and OnePlus 5T still worked without a hint of lag. By the way, the 5T has the option to light up the screen gently in low-light situations to assist with face recognition. We enabled this option during setup.


Wearing prescription glasses didn't have much of an effect on any phone's performance. The iPhone X, Galaxy Note 8, and OnePlus 5T all worked reliably outdoors, whether it was sunny or cloudy. And indoors – around the office, at my desk, and in our studio – the Galaxy Note 8 worked fine, though it still lagged from time to time, while the other two phones performed as expected. As before, Samsung's phablet often couldn't recognize me in very dark locations, while the iPhone X and the OnePlus 5T weren't bothered by the glasses I was wearing. 

For the record, with the Galaxy Note 8 it didn't matter whether I had registered my face with the glasses on or without them. 


The results were a mixed bag when I tested all face recognition systems with sunglasses on. Sometimes they worked and sometimes they didn't, depending on the amount of ambient light, the angle at which I held them, and whether the sun was in front or behind me. And with all the different types and models out there, it's really hard for us to say which phone's face detection deals best with sunglasses. 

But judging by my testing, the iPhone X is best (or not as bad as the rest) at detecting me. It works well with regular sunglasses with no polarization. Photochromic glasses are not a problem either. The only time when I had constant issues with the iPhone X's Face ID was when the sun was behind me and I had polarized glasses on. 

With any kind of sunglasses on me, the OnePlus 5T had a low to moderate success rate. Sometimes it recognized me right away, sometimes it needed a second or two, and sometimes it failed completely. I wouldn't call its performance reliable, but at least it was better than the Galaxy Note 8, which doesn't get along with sunglasses at all.


Wearing a scarf was also a hurdle for all three phones, though not as much for the OnePlus 5T. While the iPhone X and Galaxy Note 8 failed to recognize me every time, the OnePlus 5T unlocked normally even when my mouth and nose were covered.

Winter hats, however, didn't interfere with face recognition. Even when my head was covered, all three phones worked normally, without slowdowns.


How about baseball caps? Well, these don't affect the performance of the iPhone X's Face ID. The OnePlus 5T worked reliably as well. Unfortunately, the Galaxy Note 8 didn't like it when I had my Voltron cap on, presumably because it was casting a shadow over half of my face. 

Conclusion


There are now many phones with facial recognition on board, but they're not all equally good at it. I tested three of the most popular phones that support the feature in one form or another, yet only two of them performed at a level I was expecting – at a level a top-notch smartphone should. These were the iPhone X and the OnePlus 5T. 

The iPhone X uses an advanced depth camera and an array of infrared beams to create facial scans in 3D. The OnePlus 5T, on the other hand, simply uses its front-facing camera and software algorithms to recognize faces. Throughout my testing, the iPhone X performed better in some situations, while the 5T excelled in others, but overall, both phones turned out to be generally swift and reliable.

As for the Galaxy Note 8, I was hoping to see better results. The phone's face recognition only works when conditions are optimal, while sunglasses and low light situations proved very tricky for it to deal with. If Samsung plans on keeping the feature for its future phones, it could definitely use some improvement. 

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55 Comments

1. Humanoid

Posts: 1226; Member since: Dec 11, 2017

Register your face. Then ask your family to try to unlock. The one that gets least cheated wins..

5. sgodsell

Posts: 7030; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

Now try finger print scanner unlock, or iris scanner unlock and see which one of these two does it best.

17. ZEUS.the.thunder.god

Posts: 1093; Member since: Oct 05, 2011

I use Iris scanner 99% of the times on my S8+ and it works like a charm in every situation/condition and It`s far more secure than any face unlock IMO.

18. Humanoid

Posts: 1226; Member since: Dec 11, 2017

Article is about face unlock only.. Does not matter the FPS or Iris.. By the way... I would not buy any of these phones.

27. darkkjedii

Posts: 30900; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

It's about whatever the hell we want to talk about...simply read the comments.

31. ZEUS.the.thunder.god

Posts: 1093; Member since: Oct 05, 2011

Thanks, bro. How`s your experience with iPhone X? I tried a friend`s and didn`t like it at all. Notch is really ugly IMO and Apple needs to fix that.

35. darkkjedii

Posts: 30900; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

Honestly, it's a good phone, but to me it's very boring bro. I gave up too much, when using it in place of my Note, which I did for a little bit to get the full effect of it. I've come to depend on too many Note features, that the X just doesn't offer, and I ended up leaving it at home too much. It's not good enough to replace the Note 8, and far to expensive to leave lying around the house as a backup phone, so I sold it for $900...bought it for $600. I do honestly like it, and would never disrespect anyone for choosing it, but it's just not for me. I'm a Note enthusiast, and to me, nothing can match it's overall offering. As far as the notch, it actually grew on me, and is the coolest thing about the phone, though very intrusive. I don't think it's going away anytime soon.

41. ZEUS.the.thunder.god

Posts: 1093; Member since: Oct 05, 2011

Thanks, Bro. Appreciate your unbiased opinion. I totally agree with Note 8 being irreplaceable. I decided to go with S8 Plus as I was buying it for the full price. It`s an awesome phone. IMO, Samsung is totally going to kill it in 2018.

43. darkkjedii

Posts: 30900; Member since: Feb 05, 2011

That’s an awesome phone too yo. I had the S8 Plus, until the Note came out. I loved it.

20. apple-rulz

Posts: 1940; Member since: Dec 27, 2016

Don’t be salty, the Note 8’s face unlock is junk, just accept it and move on.

28. Blazers

Posts: 723; Member since: Dec 05, 2011

I have the Note 8, and agree with you. The face unlock is garbage, and the iris scanner isn't much better. I stick with the FPS and passcode.

60. wando77

Posts: 1167; Member since: Aug 23, 2012

But who would use face unlock on a note 8 when they have a great fingerprint scanner and an even better iris scanner? Also, before you start slating the fingerprint scanner in the note 8, it works perfect and is EASY to find when you have a case on. I have several cases for mine and my finger drops of the case onto the scanner EVERY TIME

2. torr310

Posts: 1633; Member since: Oct 27, 2011

No need to use face unlock, it's not as practical as Finger prints.

3. someguy2261

Posts: 250; Member since: Feb 12, 2016

FACE ID is the worst ; why does anybody want use it is beyond me, plus this guy's face , if i was his phone i would refuse to work on his face ,

4. someguy2261

Posts: 250; Member since: Feb 12, 2016

And another question does it recognizes really black face on with no light on ?

23. makatijules

Posts: 835; Member since: Dec 11, 2017

The Face Unlock on the Note 8 and S8 are nto assisted by the Infrared light. However, this video shows that the S8 Face Unlock, which the Note 8 also uses, does unlock in the dark, though it does tackle an extra second. But again, unlike the Iris Scanner, and Apple Face ID, those are assisted by Infrared while the Samsung Face Unlock is not. But the user manual says that you can expect it not to be reliable in certain circumstances which is exactly what PA did here. Its not suppose to work if it doesn't see your face the way it was designed. Face ID unlocks with faces that aren't even yours, so I can't say which is better. I think face unlock is too insecure because to many people related or unrelated look to identical. FPS and Iris without surgery can't be duplicated by anyone on the planet.

6. kick413

Posts: 162; Member since: Sep 16, 2012

Iris and fingerprint combo.

7. RoboticEngi

Posts: 1251; Member since: Dec 03, 2014

This clearly show that not even face id is ready to replace touch id. So if the sun is out, or you wear a scarf, you need to put in a code.....at least the other 2 got alternatives.

8. technitude

Posts: 263; Member since: Dec 19, 2013

It seems like the tests were very basic. I really want to know how they work with other faces, and photos, perhaps in a dim room. The point of these are security, not lack of it. Unlocking so easily might be sign of weakness, not strength.

9. Techist

Posts: 311; Member since: Jan 27, 2015

Kudos to Nick for a fair and balanced article on facial recognition. And for what it's worth, I own a Note 8. I think it is true that the Samsung implementation is the weakest of the three tested, and on the other hand I agree with other commentators that the Note's alternative unlocking options (fingerprint, Iris, passwords, trusted device, etc) more than make up for it's shortcomings in facial recognition.

49. Jrod99

Posts: 708; Member since: Jan 15, 2016

More choices is always good.

10. SIGPRO

Posts: 2813; Member since: Oct 03, 2012

Face ID sucks! Iris Scanner all the way!

24. makatijules

Posts: 835; Member since: Dec 11, 2017

http://www.samsung.com/uk/smartphones/galaxy-s8/security/ At this link, Samsung actually shows what part of the face is used for Face Unlock. If any of those parts are blocked, then its not suppose to unlock. If Face ID and OnePlus did Unlock, it basically means, nay person with their face block, who would look very similar, could unlock your device. That means its less secure. If you block your face with glasses or a scarf, then you face is mostly not visible. SO thus it shouldn't have unlocked. So if someone covers their face the same way, they could potentially unlock your phone. That's a complete fail. Especially considering Face ID unlocked for 2 Asian people who were onlu coworkers, and to several tests done with twins and family. Even the Surface Pro 4, won;'t unlock with twins, which has been proven. So I see Face ID/One Plus fail and Note 8 win. It didn't unlock when it wasn't suppose too.

12. Plasticsh1t

Posts: 3094; Member since: Sep 01, 2014

NSA wins.

14. A_A_A

Posts: 221; Member since: Jan 23, 2017

In my opinion face id on any phone is BS. Fingerprint is both - more reliable and more convenient in most situations. Face recognition is just a worst alternative to fingerprint reader. Basically it's just a feature for the sake of feature and nothing else.

34. makatijules

Posts: 835; Member since: Dec 11, 2017

I agree. The best thing about the FPS is, when I go to do mobile payments, which is more usable with Samsung Pay, I don't want to have the hold the phone to my face first. With Apple Pay on the X, you only can either use your face or type in your code. Both are slow compared with just taking the phone out and using my fingerprint.

15. cmdacos

Posts: 3970; Member since: Nov 01, 2016

Even as a Samsung user, I won't use face unlock. Iris or fps only.

16. midan

Posts: 2597; Member since: Oct 09, 2017

And why would you? It's so crappy with Samsung phone.

30. makatijules

Posts: 835; Member since: Dec 11, 2017

Its crappy because it didn't unlock when it wasn't suppose too? Wow, yet Face ID unlocks for Asian who were coworkers? Asian guy girlfriend unlocks his iPhone Xhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L658xvybshs Face ID unlocks with Twinshttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFoSPZBHsmE Same test with a Surface Pro 4 with several identical twinshttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J1NL246P9Vg&t=6s&pbjreload=10 The device refused to unlock. I think PA proved what we already know, Face ID is less secure, because it unlocks when it isn't suppose too. While the Note 8 didn't. So you the one have it backwards. So it seems what you called the crappy phone is the one that works properly and the others are actually the crappy phones.

53. c.m.s

Posts: 222; Member since: Dec 10, 2017

As with most of these videos they don’t show the whole picture. Listen to what the asian girl says that unlocks her boyfriends phone. It started working after a few weeks when she was just about to type the password. In other words they have been training the iPhone with two faces. If it failes and you type the correct password it assumes that it is the owner and will try to ”learn” from that face. So if you give away your password, suit yourself.

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