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Google Pixel 6 update may have just fixed the biggest flaw

Google Pixel 6 Pro fingerprint sensor
(Image credit: Future)

Google appears to be fixing the fingerprint problems that have plagued the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro since launch, thanks to a surprise mid-month update.

Typically, Google rolls out updates for its Pixel phones at the beginning of each month, but the company is breaking form with a tiny, undocumented OTA update for Pixel 6 phones. It has the build number SD1A.210817.037 — an incremental increase from the .036 before it.

This is especially unusual given the Pixels have already received their monthly security updates on November 5. The plot thickens further, because the mystery update carries no official patch notes whatsoever, leaving Pixel owners guessing as to what might be changing.

Thankfully, Verizon has been a bit more candid, and revealed the contents of the update. “The current software update improves the performance of your device's fingerprint sensor,” the support page reads.

Those who have received the update seem impressed. “I can confirm that it's way better now,” wrote one Redditor. “I was able to open five different apps that used the fp reader, and I was able to open them all on the first try with a thumb that was scanned twice. It used to be one in 10 if it doesn't quit and make me use a PIN. My index finger, which I only scanned once was able to unlock after the 2nd try, I'm sure I can take better scans, but it's already good enough.”

While none of the Pixel 6 users in the office have had their patch come through — “Check for update” doesn’t seem to trigger the 14.56MB download — the promise of improved fingerprint performance is extremely welcome. 

Our managing editor Roland Moore-Colyer spotted the fickleness of the scanner quite early on, and reports of sluggishness have been reported across the web by early adopters ever since. In our tests, we found that even turning up the touch sensitivity didn’t help matters.

Google initially claimed that the slow performance was just a side effect of the Pixel 6’s much hyped “enhanced security algorithms.” If the update really does noticeably improve performance, as early reviews suggest, hopefully Google has found a way of achieving that without compromising security.

There’s also another possible improvement, but so far it’s to be confirmed. Last week, Pixel 6 owners were running into a problem where the fingerprint reader stops working altogether if the battery completely empties. A factory reset was the only way to counter this, and hopefully today’s patch addresses that too, but at the time of writing there’s been no confirmation either way.

Despite this problem, the Pixel 6 is still a killer Android phone. In fact, the Google Pixel 6 is the Android phone Roland has been waiting for. And so far he's not been disappointed.

Alan Martin

Freelance contributor Alan has been writing about tech for over a decade, covering phones, drones and everything in between. Previously Deputy Editor of tech site Alphr, his words are found all over the web and in the occasional magazine too. When not weighing up the pros and cons of the latest smartwatch, you'll probably find him tackling his ever-growing games backlog. Or, more likely, playing Spelunky for the millionth time.