The Samsung Galaxy S21 could come with an improved Qualcomm fingerprint sensor

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Qualcomm has released an improved version of its fingerprint sensor technology. Older variants have been present on Samsung’s flagship phones for two years.

Jason Cipriani/CNET

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Samsung’s in-display fingerprint sensor Galaxy S21 might be easier to use than ever. Qualcomm, one of Samsung’s main suppliers, on Monday unveiled the second generation of its faster and larger 3D sonic sensor, allowing users to unlock their devices more easily using their fingerprints.

Although it hasn’t been said that Samsung’s new phones will have the technology, the Galaxy S10, Note 10, S20 and Note 20 all used Qualcomm’s first-generation fingerprint sensor. Samsung will unveil its next Galaxy flagships on Thursday.

As phones get thinner and sleeker, companies have looked for ways to cram a bigger screen into a smaller package without making space for a fingerprint sensor. Apple has relied heavily on its Face ID to unlock its latest devices instead of a physical fingerprint reader, while some Android phone makers have used things like iris sensors or fingerprint sensors. fingerprints on the back or sides of devices. Others have looked for ways to put the technology under the screen itself.


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In 2018, Qualcomm introduced its fingerprint sensor which used sound waves to map the ridges of your finger and unlock your phone. He said it’s faster and more secure than face unlock technology from companies like Samsung and other fingerprint technologies that use optical sensors to essentially take a picture of a user’s fingerprints. . It can identify fingerprints when a user’s hands are wet and can scan fingerprints through solid surfaces like glass and metal.

Samsung jumped on board with Qualcomm’s 3D sonic sensor and introduced it to the Galaxy S10 and Galaxy Note 10 lineups. It removed the fingerprint reader it had placed on the back of its devices and also ditched its iris scanner in favor of Qualcomm’s technology. The ultrasonic fingerprint reader was placed under the screen, allowing Samsung to extend screens across the entire front of its devices.

The only problem was that the first 3D sonic sensor didn’t quite live up to its promise. Tech reviewers complained about slow unlock speeds and the difficulty they faced getting their finger in the right place. Then a British woman discovered a flaw that allowed anyone’s fingerprint to unlock a Galaxy S10 smartphone. Samsung and Qualcomm have worked together to release a software update to fix this vulnerability.

But Qualcomm has also decided to tweak its hardware. Two months later, the company introduced a new version of its fingerprint sensor, called 3D Sonic Max. The 3D Sonic Max’s fingerprint recognition area was 17 times larger than that of its predecessor, which meant that a user did not have to precisely place their finger on the small sensor to unlock a phone. And handset makers could implement two-finger authentication, making a device more secure. While the sensor was larger, it wasn’t any faster than its predecessor when it came to unlocking a phone.

Qualcomm’s new 3D Gen 2 sonic sensor solves the speed problem. The new technology is 50% faster than the first generation, Qualcomm said in a blog post on Monday.

And it’s 77% larger: Gen 2 measures 8 millimeters by 8 mm, while the previous version measured 4 mm by 9 mm, Qualcomm said in a blog post. In addition to making it easier to know where to place a finger, the larger size also allows the technology to collect 1.7 times more biometric data, which speeds up unlock time.

Qualcomm said its 3D Sonic Sensor Gen 2 is set to debut on mobile devices early this year. It could be as soon as Samsung’s Unpacked event Thursday. Tune in to CNET for full coverage of the Samsung event.

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