Qualcomm’s new on-screen fingerprint reader is bigger and faster | GeekComparison

A very exaggerated view of Qualcomm's sensor.  It's not that big.
enlarge / A very exaggerated view of Qualcomm’s sensor. It’s not that big.

Qualcomm

Qualcomm launches a new in-screen fingerprint sensor for smartphones, the “Qualcomm 3D Sonic Sensor Gen 2”. Qualcomm says its ultrasonic fingerprint sensor “will be available in new sizes that are 50% faster and 77% larger compared to Gen 1”, but it still looks quite small compared to a fingerprint. Just like the Gen 1 version appeared in the Galaxy S10 and S20, chances are you’ll see this sensor back in the upcoming Galaxy S21.

In-screen fingerprint readers can be fast, accurate and reliable, provided you hit their middle, which can be a challenge. Because you’re under a smooth, flat pane, there’s no tactile guidance for where to stick your finger. Early generation fingerprint readers were quite small and required pinpoint accuracy to hit the sensor. An on-screen fingerprint reader big enough to never miss, even without looking, would be a huge improvement, and while we’ve seen companies talk about such a product, no one has marketed one.

In December 2019, Qualcomm made it sound like it had achieved its goal of creating a massive fingerprint reader by announcing the “3D Sonic Max”. It sounded like a revolution, with a claimed area of ​​30mm × 20mm, which is so large that it was possible to scan two fingerprints side by side. I don’t think you’d ever want to do that, but the point is, you’d never miss the scan area because it’s so big. The 3D Sonic Max has yet to see a commercial release, but Qualcomm tells us it will ship in a product before the end of 2021.

Qualcomm's first-generation sensor in the Galaxy S10, alongside a fingerprint.  The S20 had the same sensor.
enlarge / Qualcomm’s first-generation sensor in the Galaxy S10, alongside a fingerprint. The S20 had the same sensor.

Ron Amadeo

With OEMs making big leaps in fingerprint reader size, Qualcomm may gain more customers through incremental change. I measure my fingertip at about 14mm × 14mm, but Qualcomm’s first-generation sensor, available on the Galaxy S10 and S20, measures just a small portion of your fingerprint, with a scan area of ​​9mm × 4mm. At just 8mm × 8mm, this second-generation version still isn’t what I’d call a “full fingerprint” sensor, but there’s a bigger vertical target now. Qualcomm’s art, above, seems to vastly exaggerate the sensor’s scale relative to a finger, showing what I’d measure closer to a 20mm × 20mm sensor.

It’s also important to point out that Qualcomm doesn’t have much business for its fingerprint readers right now. While every smartphone company on Earth uses Qualcomm modems and Android OEMs supply a ton of Qualcomm SoCs, there is virtually only one company that supplies Qualcomm fingerprint readers: Samsung. The vast majority of Android phones use on-screen optical fingerprint readers, usually from Goodix or Synaptics, rather than Qualcomm’s solution.

But speaking of Samsung, it sounds like this fingerprint reader is in the Galaxy S21, which is launching this week. Samsung leaker plugged in last month Ice Universe said the Galaxy S21 fingerprint sensor would be ultrasonic and measure 8mm × 8mm, which matches the specs Qualcomm announced today. After the delivery of Qualcomm’s first-generation fingerprint sensor in 2019 and 2020, it’s high time for the Galaxy line to upgrade the fingerprint sensor.

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