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Rear Fingerprint Sensors Are the Best Fingerprint Sensors

Google Pixel 4a in-hand showing its rear fingerprint sensor
Justin Duino / Review Geek

Unlocking your phone with your face is cool and all, but I’m here to tell you: The rear fingerprint sensor is still the most superior way to unlock your phone. It’s faster, more intuitive, and more versatile than any other sort of unlocking security. Please, come with me on a journey.

In the Age of the Mask, Face Unlock Sucks

So, maybe I’m cheating by leading with this, but with everything that’s happening in the world right now, it’s an easy get. Simply put: Face Unlock (Android) or Face ID (iOS) sucks when you’re wearing a mask because they don’t work. I mean, they can’t work. Your face is obscured, so it’s just not happening.

Showing the passcode screen on an iPhone
Justin Duino / Review Geek

Apple has kind of a half-assed fix for this with Mask Detection, which can tell you’re wearing a mask and immediately kick you into the PIN input screen with very little delay. Android—or more specifically, the Pixel 4—is more annoying because it tries to see your face, fails, then kicks you into the PIN, pattern, or password screen. There’s a 3-5 second delay whenever you’re wearing a mask, and boy let me tell you it’s irritating.

But either way, you still have to use what feels like an archaic form of unlocking this way—PINs, patterns, and passwords just feel so outdated in a world where we’re all used to either touching or looking at our phones to unlock them. I know, it seems like a petty argument considering there are real issues in the world, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying. There’s no time I miss the good old-fashioned fingerprint sensor more than when I’m wearing a mask.

But even then, it’s not just any fingerprint sensor I miss. It’s the rear-mounted fingerprint sensor.

The Rear Mounted Fingerprint Sensor is Superior

Remember the Touch ID days? I mean, I guess we’re still in those days thanks to the iPhone SE, but whatever. Touch ID is great. But the placement of the fingerprint sensor? Not so much. Of course, Apple has never done a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, so I can understand why some users may think this rear-mounted-fingerprint-sensor-superiority crap I’m preaching is pure rubbish. But hear me out: It’s better.

Touch ID on an iPhone 8
The bottom fingerprint sensor? Maybe if you’ve never used a rear-mounted sensor. Justin Duino / Review Geek

For starters, back in the day before any of us were trained to pick up a phone in a particular way because of the sensor placement, the middle of the back of the phone is where your index finger likely naturally fell. I can remember my first phone with a rear fingerprint sensor—shoutout to the Nexus 6p, miss you boo—getting used to the placement was just a breeze. Why? Because it was natural.

It’s the most intuitive place to put a fingerprint scanner most of the time. There are exceptions to this rule, like when Samsung made the boneheaded move to put the rear-mounted fingerprint sensor right next to the camera on the Galaxy S8. Such a stupid choice. And if that was your only experience with rear-mounted fingerprint sensors, I’m sorry. Truly. It wasn’t a good time.

The Samsung Galaxy S8 on a purple plaid wood background
You see that little indention right there beside the camera? That’s the fingerprint sensor. So stupid. Josh Hendrickson

But if you were a user of the original Pixel phones (up to the 4), then you know what I’m talking about. Those were the best fingerprint sensors on the planet. The size and placement were totally ace on those phones. Man, I miss that.

It’s Also So Much Faster

Reach into your pocket and pull your phone out. Now, look at it to unlock it. Or tap the display to wake it up, then hit that in-display fingerprint sensor. You know, just do the thing you have to do to unlock your phone. That’s a few seconds, right? Sure, you’re doing something and it doesn’t seem like it’s that long, but what if you could start the unlocking process as you were picking your phone up.

That’s the future, right? Nah, man. That’s the past. Because with a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, you would already have your phone unlocked by the time you were ready to look at it. Your finger just naturally and instinctually falls onto the fingerprint sensor as you’re pulling the phone from your pocket, and boom—that joker is unlocked in a split second. While you’re still picking it up.

That’s efficiency. I miss that.

The rear fingerprint sensor on the Pixel 4a
Justin Duino / Review Geek

Of course, I’ve heard the opposite argument before: “But I can’t unlock my phone when it’s laying on my desk with a rear sensor! I have to pick it up!” and I’ll give you that one. You can’t. But I never said they were perfect—just better. Everything has its quirks, right?

And They Can Do More Than Just Read Your Fingerprints

As much as I love the placement of the rear fingerprint sensor for unlocking my phone, that’s not all they can be used for (at least on Pixel phones). There’s some added utility on the Pixel line that allows you to swipe down on the rear sensor and pull down the notification shade. So, you can unlock your phone and pull the shade down in two super-quick motions. Talk about efficiency. Yeah, buddy.

And that’s just one stock feature. There are plenty of apps out there (at least for Android) that can take advantage of the fingerprint sensor to do more things, like take pictures, launch quick actions, and other things. Sure, those can also be used with front- or side-mounted fingerprint sensors, but guess what? They’re better with the rear. Quick—pick your phone up and fire up the front-facing camera. Now imagine how easy it would be to grab that selfie if all you had to do was tap the back.

You feel me. I know you do.

I Miss Rear Fingerprint Sensors on High-End Phones

The back of the Pixel 4a and the iPhone 11 Pro
Justin Duino / Review Geek

Previously, I used a Pixel 4 XL as my main phone, which has Face Unlock. Before that, I used a OnePlus 8 Pro, which has an in-display fingerprint sensor. I still prefer the in-display sensor over the Pixel’s Face Unlock (especially living that #masklife), but ultimately, I miss the rear sensors of old. Now the Pixel 6 series uses the same in-display fingerprint sensor as the OnePlus 9, but you don’t have to look far to find complaints about slow unlock speeds.

So it’s hard not to miss the Pixel 5 and its rear-mounted fingerprint sensor. It works quickly, and you never have to worry about wearing a mask.

Cameron Summerson Cameron Summerson
Cameron Summerson is Review Geek's former Editor in Cheif and first started writing for LifeSavvy Media in 2016. Cam's been covering technology for nearly a decade and has written over 4,000 articles and hundreds of product reviews in that time. He’s been published in print magazines and quoted as a smartphone expert in the New York Times. In 2021, Cam stepped away from Review Geek to join Esper as a managing Editor. Read Full Bio »