www.androidpolice.com Pixel 6 fingerprint sensor: Explaining the problems, and how to make it faster

www.androidpolice.com Pixel 6 fingerprint sensor: Explaining the problems, and how to make it faster

The Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro are fantastic smartphones. They're snappy, take great photos, and have a distinctive design that makes them stand out from the rest of the Android crowd. But not everything about the new models is fantastic. Google opted for an in-display fingerprint sensor, removing the capacitive sensor on the back of the Pixel 5 and dropping the Pixel 4's infrared face unlock. The issue is that, as outlined in our review of both the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, this new in-display fingerprint sensor can be slow to recognize your fingerprint — if it recognizes it at all. So, what are the issues, and how can you make your fingerprint sensor faster and more reliable?


Explaining Pixel 6's fingerprint sensor problems

There are two main complaints when it comes to the Pixel 6's fingerprint sensor, and they're slightly different: Slow unlock speeds and poor recognition altogether. As in, it sometimes works, but it's slow, and other times it just doesn't work at all.

We have also noticed both of these issues on our own personal Pixel 6 and 6 Pros here at Android Police. Sometimes you have to hold your finger on the sensor for a good few seconds before it unlocks — we called it "the slowest in-display fingerprint sensor on any flagship right now" in our review of the Pixel 6 Pro. Often, there's no apparent cause or explanation for the random lag, though AP's Taylor Kerns noted in his review of the Pixel 6 that being particular about placement might help.

But it's not just sluggish to scan those fingers; sometimes it fails to recognize their owner's touch entirely, forcing us to unlock our phones with the passcode or pattern — it happens to some of us at AP least a 2-3 times a day. From our experience, there doesn't appear to be any factor within our control contributing to the issue, but instead some problem with the hardware or software itself.

In fact, we reported that some Pixel 6 units were unlocking with other people's fingerprints. Subsequent updates claimed improved FP sensor performance, but they were pulled and then delayed (more on that later). Still, the fact that some units were unlocking for other people raises questions about not just performance, but even security.

Of course, optical sensors aren't the most secure out there, but we've used faster ones, like those in OnePlus phones, and even Samsung's ostensibly more secure ultrasonic fingerprint recognition is faster and more reliable than Google's. The confusion only builds from here, though. Rumor has it, the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro are using a Goodix optical sensor — the same sort of sensor that we praise for its performance in phones from other companies like OnePlus.

As mentioned earlier, optical sensors aren't as secure as the ultrasonic alternative found in phones like Samsung's S21. This is primarily down to how the technology works, where a two-dimensional image of the fingerprint is captured. The unique ridges and grooves of your fingerprint are then analyzed and matched against the control "image" (metaphorically speaking — it's actually a more complex model). If the two match, it unlocks.

The drawback with optical fingerprint sensors is that they often cannot distinguish between an actual finger and a photo or a "copy" of one (prosthetic or even sometimes just an image), making them relatively easy to spoof... if someone can get a close-up photo of your finger. In comparison, an ultrasonic sensor fires a pulse at your finger to create a highly-detailed, three-dimensional image as those vibrations take longer or shorter to make the trip — the ridges and grooves of your fingerprint are just slightly closer and further from the screen and its embedded sensor. And that 3D data is a little harder to spoof with a photocopier.

Notably, Google claims that the sensor utilizes 'enhanced security algorithms' and that these 'added protections can take longer to verify or require more direct contact with the sensor.' This actually might explain why the optical fingerprint sensor used in the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro was taking longer to register fingerprints compared to other phones that might be using the same or similar sensors: Google's phones were using these 'enhanced security algorithms' to strengthen the optical fingerprint's sensor's biggest weakness, and in doing so could be taking a little bit longer to unlock.

It's difficult to verify exactly what these 'enhanced security algorithms' and 'added protections' that Google referred to are or how effective they were in combating the optical sensor's security shortcomings. However, the good news is that you may not be stuck with its lackluster speed, whatever the cause might be.

Making the Pixel 6 fingerprint sensor faster

Some of these solutions are well documented, others border on smartphone voodoo, but they're all worth a shot if you just can't deal with it anymore.

www.androidpolice.com Pixel 6 fingerprint sensor: Explaining the problems, and how to make it faster

Software Updates

First, make sure that your phone has downloaded the latest patches. A surprise mid-November update may have made a dent, and the December 2021 update (since pulled) also promised "general improvements for fingerprint sensor stability and performance," as well as fixes to issues preventing users from adding new fingerprints.

When the delayed January 2022 update lands, it and all later updates should include all these fixes. And, according to those who have installed them, there is an improvement, so this should be your first step.

To update, head to Settings -> System -> System Update and make sure you've downloaded all available updates.

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Increased Touch Sensitivity

There's also another 'fix' making the rounds related to the Increased Touch Sensitivity setting. This "improves touch when using screen protectors," and all logic dictates that it shouldn't have any actual impact on the fingerprint sensor's performance. However, some folk claim that, when it's enabled, their fingerprint sensor is faster.

Opinions here are mixed regarding whether it actually makes a difference. But it's a quick enough setting to toggle on and off, so it's worth trying if you're desperate or particularly frustrated — even if it just ends up being a placebo fix.

To find it, you'll need to go to Settings -> Display -> Increase Touch Sensitivity.

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Add more fingerprints

One slightly more logical option is adding more fingerprints or deleting and reregistering the ones you already have. Some claim that having multiple copies of the same finger can help, but there haven't exactly been studies on this. Still, it shouldn't do any harm to your Pixel 6.

Go to Settings -> Security -> Fingerprint Unlock and then enter your phone's passcode.

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After that, select the 'Add Fingerprint' option and then keep adding your thumbs (and/or fingers if you use them to unlock your device), making sure you get the very edges. While the effectiveness of this method will vary, some of us have found some success adding our thumbprints multiple times on other devices.

Spend ten minutes unlocking and locking your phone

AP's Ryne Hager has one last tip to share, based on his knowledge of how some fingerprint sensors work at a technical level. While we can't be sure that the Pixel 6's inner machinations are the same, some devices use every accepted fingerprint to help train the model even further — as in, if you get into your phone, that fingerprint gets stored and processed together with the ones you registered initially to make it work even better. That means your phone can build an even more accurate model for your finger as you unlock it over long periods of time. Or, in this case, over about ten minutes.

You will feel dumb doing this over and over for ten minutes, but it really does work (on some phones).

This one is easy but frustrating: Just sit and unlock your phone, re-locking it every time you manage to get in. Do it for a few minutes, gradually varying pressure up and down, moving your finger around slowly, as you come to recognize trouble spots that it can't read very well. It can be a finicky process, as you can't go from a soft touch immediately to a hard one or immediately move to a new part of a finger, but slowly ramping pressure over a minute or moving your finger around ever so slightly with each unlock can usually teach it to see and accept a wider range of your potential touches.

If the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro do have Goodix sensors, as rumors indicate, then odds are Google will be able to find a way to improve performance. Pixels historically launch with weird little issues like this, and they're almost always ironed out over time. In all likelihood, we'll have forgotten about these issues over the coming months. In the meantime, you do have a few options to try — but no promises they'll fix everything.

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Read NextShareTweetEmailRelated TopicsAbout The AuthorChris Jecks(12 Articles Published)

Chris has been a passionate Android fan since the Samsung Galaxy S5 days. Since then, he's long championed the Google Pixel line of phones and believes they're the best Android phone you can get. Having left his full-time job back in 2016, Chris has been writing about games and technology for over 5 years around the web. In his spare time, he can be found drowning in a backlog of games, catching up on the latest Netflix craze, or snapping photos in the great outdoors.

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