Meet the Phone That Does What the iPhone X Can't

After months of development, demos, and speculation, the world’s first in-screen fingerprint sensor is finally coming to a smartphone you can buy. But the company behind it is not one you would have suspected.

Credit: Synaptics

(Image credit: Synaptics)

Synaptics, the firm responsible for producing the sensors, has revealed that Chinese phone maker Vivo will be its first customer. With rumors suggesting that Samsung’s upcoming Galaxy S9 will keep the fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone and Apple unlikely to roll out an iPhone X successor until the fall, Vivo seems like it will beat other smartphone makers to the punch with a sensor embedded right into the phone’s screen.

Synaptics calls its solution Clear ID, and Vivo has been a prominent public advocate for in-screen fingerprint recognition dating back to the summer when the phone maker previewed the technology. Interestingly though, that demo was the product of a partnership with Qualcomm, while it now appears Vivo has turned to Synaptics to actually launch the device.

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While Vivo’s earlier prototype was based on its Xplay6 handset, we don’t yet know what form the new phone will take. However, Forbes’ Patrick Moorhead recently went hands-on with one of the company’s test units, and reported the experience was “fast and simple.”

Clear ID utilizes an image sensor to scan fingerprints illuminated by the phone’s OLED display, which is quite different from the capacitive scanners seen in most modern smartphones, that operate through electrical charges.

Synaptics’ system is twice as fast as Apple’s Face ID, and two to three times less expensive, according to Moorhead. Better yet, it still functions with the same security and dependability as a conventional fingerprint sensor, meaning it can be used not just for unlocking, but payments as well.

This is a critical detail, as companies such as OnePlus that have tried to emulate Apple’s facial recognition tech without advanced depth-sensing cameras have had to compromise security in favor of convenience. For example, the Face Unlock feature in the just-released OnePlus 5T can only be used for unlocking, as the company readily admits it is not secure enough to verify purchases.

Speaking of OnePlus, both Vivo and OnePlus, along with Oppo, belong to the same BBK Electronics conglomerate. Vivo phones aren’t commonly sold or well-known in the States, but OnePlus’ devices are. Earlier in the year, Qualcomm revealed to Digital Trends that it expected in-screen fingerprint sensors to launch in consumer products beginning in summer 2018. That’s the same time of the year OnePlus typically launches its new models.

A OnePlus 6 featuring Clear ID could make the second-half of 2018 even more interesting. Of course, that’s a long way away, and we’re excited to see which phone makers besides Vivo adopt the new tech between now and then.

Adam Ismail is a staff writer at Jalopnik and previously worked on Tom's Guide covering smartphones, car tech and gaming. His love for all things mobile began with the original Motorola Droid; since then he’s owned a variety of Android and iOS-powered handsets, refusing to stay loyal to one platform. His work has also appeared on Digital Trends and GTPlanet. When he’s not fiddling with the latest devices, he’s at an indie pop show, recording a podcast or playing Sega Dreamcast.