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Google Pixel 6 reportedly ditching physical fingerprint scanner — and I’m going to miss it

Google Pixel 6
(Image credit: Google)

The physical fingerprint scanner is not particularly common at the moment, and it looks like it’s about to become even rarer. Why? Because it seems as though the Google Pixel 6 will finally launch with an under-display fingerprint scanner.

Or at least that’s what it looks like, based on a now-deleted tweet from Hiroshi Lockheimer, Google’s Senior Vice President for Android. The tweet featured a screenshot with a prominent fingerprint icon.

Lockheimer’s tweet was apparently supposed to show off Android’s new ‘Material You’ UI, which is set to launch with Android 12, but it came with an extra surprise we probably shouldn’t have seen. 

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While the Pixel 4 ditched the physical fingerprint sensor for a more elaborate facial recognition system, other Pixel phones have kept the physical fingerprint scanner around, long after large numbers of flagship phone makers started offering under-display fingerprint scanners.

Even the Pixel 5 and the newly announced Pixel 5a have physical fingerprint scanners on the rear of the phone. But it looks like the Pixel 6 is ending that trend in favor of a more hi-tech solution.

It’s not a huge surprise. For starters, Google has already revealed what the Pixel 6 will look like, and there’s no sign of a dedicated fingerprint scanner or the sensors needed for a more complicated face unlock. Short of offering zero biometric security whatsoever, it stands to reason that Google has a built-in under-display fingerprint scanner on the way.

It doesn’t actually confirm anything, though, and it could just be that this icon is from a non-Google device that already has an under-display fingerprint scanner. Though it would be odd for a Google executive to be tweeting about new features, and not be using as Google-made phone.

I'm going to miss the physical fingerprint scanner

But, as much as I agree with the fact Google needs to move the Pixel range forwards, I am going to miss the physical fingerprint scanner. Under-display scanners are great, and I have no complaints about them working, but it’s not quite the same as using a tactile sensor on the back of the phone.

After all, an under-display fingerprint sensor is hampered by the fact it’s underneath a smooth glossy touchscreen, and you can’t tell exactly where it is without looking. Whereas a physical fingerprint scanner can be found while your phone is still in your bag or pocket, meaning the phone is ready to go by the time it’s at eye level.

Ditching the physical scanner also means that the fingerprint sensor gestures will be dying off. Google’s biggest one was the ability to pull down your notification bar by swiping along the sensor, which could prove very useful in some situations.

But progress is progress, and an under-display fingerprint scanner does offer some benefits. A sleeker look for one, and better security if the phone in question offers ultrasonic fingerprint recognition instead of a cheaper optical sensor. And it takes up less space inside the phone, which makes room for more hardware.

I'm not going to make a phone-buying decision based on just this one feature. Still, I am rather excited about the Pixel 6, and it's just a shame that the physical fingerprint scanner could be going away.

Tom Pritchard

Tom is the Tom's Guide's Automotive Editor, which means he can usually be found knee deep in stats the latest and best electric cars, or checking out some sort of driving gadget. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining that Ikea won’t let him buy the stuff he really needs online.