Explain the problems and how to make it faster


The Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro are fantastic smartphones. They are eye-catching, take great photos, and have a distinctive design that sets them apart from the rest of the Android crowd. But not everything is fantastic in the new models. Google opted for an in-display fingerprint sensor, removing the capacitive sensor on the back of the Pixel 5 and removing infrared face unlock from the Pixel 4. The problem is that, as noted in our review of the Pixel 6 and the Pixel 6 Pro, that 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 fingerprint sensor issues

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

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

Pixel 6 Pro review (15)

But it’s not just slow to scan those fingers; sometimes it doesn’t fully recognize its owner’s key causing us to unlock our phones with the password or pattern – this happens to some of us at least 2-3 times a day. In our experience, there doesn’t appear to be any factor within our control contributing to the problem, but rather an issue with the hardware or software itself.

In fact, we’ve reported that some Pixel 6 units are unlocking with other people’s fingerprints. Later 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 not only about performance, but even safety.

Sure, optical sensors aren’t the most secure, but we’ve used faster ones, like those in OnePlus phones, and even Samsung’s seemingly more secure ultrasonic fingerprint recognition is faster and more reliable than that of Google. The confusion only builds from here, however. The Pixel 6 and 6 Pro are rumored to use a Goodix optical sensor – the same type of sensor as us to rent 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. It mainly depends on 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 compared to the control “image” (metaphorically speaking – it’s actually a more complex pattern). If the two match, it unlocks.

The downside of optical fingerprint sensors is that they often cannot distinguish between a real finger and a photo or “copy” of a finger (prosthetic or sometimes even just an image), which makes them makes it relatively easy to spoof…if someone can get a close-up picture of your finger. In comparison, an ultrasonic sensor sends an impulse to your finger to create a very detailed three-dimensional image, as these vibrations take more or less time to make the trip – the ridges and grooves of your fingerprint are slightly closer and more away from the screen and its integrated sensor. And that 3D data is a little harder to spoof with a photocopier.

In particular, Google claims that the sensor uses “enhanced security algorithms” and that these “additional protections may take longer to verify or require more direct contact with the sensor”. This could actually explain why the optical fingerprint sensor used in the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro took longer to register fingerprints compared to other phones that might use the same or similar sensors: Google’s phones used these “enhanced security algorithms” to reinforce the optical fingerprint sensor’s biggest weakness, and in doing so could take a little longer to unlock.

It’s hard to verify exactly what these “enhanced security algorithms” and “additional protections” Google refers to are or how effective they are in addressing optical sensor security gaps. However, the good news is that you might not be stuck with its mediocre speed, whatever the cause.

Make 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 can’t take it anymore.

Software updates

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

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

To update, go to Settings -> System -> System Update and make sure you have downloaded all available updates.

Increased touch sensitivity

There’s also another “fix” that goes around the increased touch sensitivity setting. This “enhances touch when using screen protectors”, and logic dictates that it has no real impact on the performance of the fingerprint sensor. However, some people claim that when enabled, their fingerprint sensor is faster.

Opinions here are mixed as to whether it actually makes a difference. But it’s a pretty quick tweak to turn on and off, so it’s worth a try if you’re desperate or particularly frustrated, even if it ends up being a placebo solution.

To find it, you will need to go to Settings -> Display -> Increase touch sensitivity.

Image gallery (2 images)

Add more fingerprints

A slightly more logical option is to add more fingerprints or delete and re-enroll the ones you already have. Some claim that having multiple copies of the same finger can help, but there really haven’t been any studies on this. Still, it shouldn’t harm your Pixel 6.

Go to Settings -> Security -> Fingerprint unlock then enter your phone password.

After that select the ‘Add a fingerprint‘, then continue adding your thumbs (and/or fingers if you use them to unlock your device), making sure to get the edges. Although the effectiveness of this method varies, some of us have had success adding our fingerprints multiple times on other devices.

Spend ten minutes unlocking and locking your phone

AP’s Ryne Hager has one final piece of advice to share, based on his knowledge of how certain fingerprint sensors work on a technical level. While we can’t be sure the Pixel 6’s internal machinations are the same, some devices use all accepted fingerprints to help train the pattern even further – as in, if you step into your phone, that fingerprint is stored and processed with the ones you saved initially to make it work even better. This means your phone can create an even more accurate pattern for your finger when you unlock it over long periods of time. Or, in this case, about ten minutes.

OnePlus-7-Pro -anim fingerprint sensor unlock

You’ll feel stupid doing this over and over for ten minutes, but it really works (on some phones).

This one’s easy but frustrating: just sit down and unlock your phone, relocking it each time you manage to get in. Do this for a few minutes, gradually varying the pressure up and down, moving your finger slowly, as you come to recognize hot spots that it can’t read very well. This can be a tricky process, as you can’t immediately go from a soft touch to a hard touch or immediately move to a new part of a finger, but slowly increase the pressure for a minute or move your finger very slightly with each unlock can usually teach him to see and accept a wider range of your potential touches.

If the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro have Goodix sensors, as rumors indicate, chances are Google might be able to find a way to improve performance. Pixels historically launch with weird little glitches like this, and they’re almost always fixed over time. In all likelihood, we will forget about these issues for the next few months. In the meantime, you have a few options to try, but nothing promises that they will fix everything.

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