The Note 7’s iris scanner is cool but not practical

Samsung often uses its Note line as a platform for testing experimental features before eventually bringing the technology to its more popular Galaxy S series of flagship smartphones.

In the case of the Note 7, this year’s marquee feature is its much-hyped iris scanner. While the technology powering the Note 7’s scanner, at least for the most part, works reasonably well, it does suffer from a variety of issues.

Here’s how it works


Everyone has a unique iris in each eye that, given normal circumstances, remains unchanged for their entire life. The characteristics of the iris, as well as the fact the fact that it is nearly impossible to replicate one — a fact Samsung emphasized during a recent hands-on event in Toronto — makes one’s inner eye the ideal biometric for logging into a mobile device.

It’s worth noting that this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this technology. Microsoft’s Lumia 950 and 950 XL, two relatively underwhelming Windows phones released last October, featured iris scanning tech, though the Note 7 is able to log users into the device much quicker than Microsoft’s smartphones.


Once a user has logged their iris data into the Note 7 through a process that only takes about a minute, an encrypted code is stored in a secure location in the smartphone.

Samsung’s iris scanning technology consists of two components; an infrared LED and a specialized iris camera that work together to capture and scan the user’s eyes. The use of an IR camera allows the scanner to work under low light conditions and the Note 7’s screen also illuminates when scanning.

Cool, but pointless


In reality, Samsung’s iris scanner works fine, logging me into the device in a few seconds. Given the fact that you have to wake up the Note 7 with the phone’s button, then swipe the screen, all before scanning your eyes, in almost all situations it’s easier to login with a standard fingerprint.

In terms of added functionality beyond logging into the Note 7, the iris scanner is only compatible with Knox’s Secure Box folder and Samsung Pass, which allows users to log into websites via Samsung’s proprietary browser.

Where the tech begins to falter relates to how the logging in process actually works. In order to scan my irises, I first need to touch the screen or press the power button, adding another step to the process that seems unnecessary. For the iris scanner to completely replace the standard fingerprint sensor, the Note 7 needs to only require the user to look at their phone, though unfortunately that isn’t the case right now. During my brief time with the phone, I find myself using the fingerprint sensor to log myself into the Note 7 simply because it’s more convenient most of the time.


The Note 7’s iris scanner also suffers from technical limitations, including the fact that, despite Samsung’s claims it performs well in low-light conditions, the iris scanner tends to falter in poor lighting. Also, since I set up the Note 7’s iris scanning feature when I wasn’t wearing glasses, it doesn’t seem to work when I do have my glasses on, though there has been the odd situation where it logs me in correctly even while I’m wearing my glasses.

So while the Note 7’s iris scanner is a fascinating party trick, logging into the device via its fingerprint sensor is still more efficient. Samsung, however, argues that an iris scanner is more secure than a fingerprint sensor since it’s extremely difficult to fool.

We’ll have a full review of the Note 7 up on MobileSyrup this Friday.


  • h2oflyer

    Good to know…security vs ease of use.

  • Sammy

    Somehow I find myself wanting to wait for other reviews…I know if Apple did this it somehow it would be excellent even with the same limitations.
    It’s hard now a days to find an unbiased review…always seems to favor Apple even when it’s obvious it’s junk.

    • In one sense, I can agree that a lot of people fall for the Apple hype and marketing. On the other hand, even though Apple is usually late to the party on a feature, they do seem to jump in only when they are sure it works the majority of the time, as opposed to using their iterations as a testing ground like Samsung seems to.

      Depends on what type of user you are. Personally, I like getting the sneak peek with Samsung devices, and since I usually wait 3 years until I get a new phone, by that point the feature is either gone out of lack of use, or perfected to run smoothly.

    • The first part of your comment nails it and I think this is something people miss about Apple’s products. They’re often late with tech like this, but because of that, the tech typically works better, though this isn’t always the case.

    • can’t agree more. I won’t say Apple is an innovative company anymore, but they sure do know how to implement things perfectly. Samsung on the other hand, just like to get things out to see how things work out. Airview, Eye tracking feature, and Iris scanner (if the claim is correct) are perfect examples.

    • thereasoner

      Siri wasn’t great when released as people liked the app better and it still finishes 3rd in comparison reviews.

      Maps was a disaster, drop down notifications were lacking, the implementation of widgets a joke etc.

      The claim that Apple perfects things before releasing them is one of the biggest myths about Apple and a claim made only by those who fall for the BS marketing that supports it.

    • jpd514

      You are absolutely right.
      All products from Samsung have to be 25% better than Apple products to be considered equal.
      The Apple cult if very intense

    • It’s Me

      You are so right. Look what these Apple cultists had to say about the feature. They trashed it, which means that must be Apple biased trash media.

    • Smanny

      Androidcentral didn’t trash it. They gave it a glowing review. They had problems with the iris scanner. However they praised the water proofing and the return of expandable storage. They liked how it came with 64gb of storage as the base standard. They even praised the gorilla glass 5. This is the only phone that has that right now. They even said it still has the best camera, and has the best display. To top it off they improved their display, so now it’s a 1000 nits. Making it one of the brightest panels on a smartphone ever. Not to mention the pen has brought a number of new features. You can even write on it under water. Also still comes with built in wireless charging, fast charging, multi window, and USB-C. With a newer Gear VR headset. What’s not to love about all these things.

    • It’s Me

      You’ll note I said they trashed the feature. Just like Patrick, they praised the Note itself and just like Patrick they trashed the Iris scanner implementation. But when MS does it, you just freak out and accuse them of bias.

      Crying wolf in an echo chamber.

    • jpd514

      They are not Apple Cultists, they are Android Cultist.

      Android Cultist are the worst Samsung hater on the planet.

    • My early impressions of the Note 7 are resoundingly positive. In fact, the S7 Edge remains my favourite phone of all time 🙂

    • Brad Fortin

      Except Apple’s implementation of existing features doesn’t always suffer from the same limitations as others.

      For example, the fingerprint reader in the Motorola Atrix and the Samsung Galaxy S5 used the older, slower, and less accurate swipe method that infamously worked less than half the time, whereas Apple’s TouchID used a newer, faster, and more accurate touch method that famously worked more than 90% of the time (with the newer TouchID 2 working so fast that many people complained that it was *too* fast).

    • Mo Dabbas

      Another example to support your argument would be apple maps. Apple came out, got it right and showed the competition how to do maps and navigation the adventurous way

    • Brad Fortin

      Hahaha, yes.

      But seriously: Apple Maps has greatly improved over the years, just like Google Maps greatly improved over the years since its own introduction. Neither service was good at launch, and neither made dramatic improvements overnight, but with constant iteration both became fairly reliable.

    • It’s Me

      I know, right. Everyone is out to bash everything unless it’s Apple. Here’s another one bashing the feature, but you can damn well bet that they would have praised how useless and poorly implemented the feature is if it was Apple. Just look at the hate for the feature. These guys are obviously being paid by Apple, just like MobileSyrup.

      But here’s the important part of this whole situation: it doesn’t really matter how many apps support the iris scanner, because the scanner system itself just isn’t very good. From the get-go, the system is hyper-specific about how you hold the phone for it to recognize your irises properly — about 8 inches away from your face (but no closer, it warns), up at eye height and with your eyes open wider than usual for up to nine seconds. In other words: more than you want to deal with.

      Beyond the oddity of how much extra work it takes to perform this every time you want your irises scanned, it just wouldn’t ever reliably recognize my irises — despite multiple re-trainings of the system. I don’t wear glasses or contacts, and tried in a variety of lighting conditions to no avail. At best I’d say the scanner recognized my irises about half the time within the nine-second limit before the scanner times out and asked me to enter a lock pattern or press my finger on the home button to authenticate. That’s … not very good. I’ll stick to the fingerprint sensor, thank you very much.

      To me, the iris scanner has already failed as a feature in this current hardware and software iteration. But it’s the smallest of blemishes on an otherwise great phone, and the best part about it is that you’ll never have to worry about it getting in the way once you turn it off.

      These guys are known for hating everything Android related. It’s just not fair, all these biased media that are obviously paid by Apple.

    • The feature is cool, but just doesn’t work very well in its current form. With some tweaking, it could be great, but that isn’t the case right now.

    • Patrick

      I agree that fingerprint is just more convenient but in the winter months wearing gloves, this will come in very handy.

    • It’s Me

      Only if your gloves are touch capable since you still need to touch the screen to use the feature. And only in the cases where it actually works.

      Once it’s properly implemented it will probably be a very useful feature.

    • Patrick

      Yes they are touch sensitive. Last winter i had to keep taking them off and on to use the phone as the back up was a password not pin and no way to configure to a pin. That was annoying.

      Since the marshmellow upgrade on the Note 5 it now has a pin which is a much easier backup. But this feature should be more secure i hope.

    • It’s Me

      Well then, you should be good to go.

    • thereasoner

      The gloves worn during the video review of the Note 7 on pocketnow appear to be normal leather gloves. Not sure how it works but he just hit the home button and simultaneously swiped up so maybe there is a gesture type of activation as apposed to a touch based one.

    • It’s Me

      Seems like Samsung allows turning up the touch sensitivity.

    • jpd514

      My Galaxy Note 5 don’t need touch capable gloves. That is an Apple limitation. On Samsung Notre 3 and 5 you can adjust the sensibility to use with normal gloves

    • It’s Me

      Nice. Any drawbacks to cranking up the sensitivity? i.e. Why wouldn’t they ship with the sensitivity turned up by default?

    • I wonder if it would actually work properly in the winter weather. If it is the winter, I assume it’ll be a bright white sky or a large contrast, causing your face to appear black against the camera. It might have trouble detecting the iris, no?

    • thereasoner

      Pocket Now has a video review of just this feature. It’s actually quite fast, an improvement in security over FP sensors and quite practical in certain situations.

      They also did a S-PEN review separately as well as a third for the device as a whole. In doing so they are much more thorough than what we are seeing here.

    • alphs22

      I find it funny that fandroids are more obsessed with Apple than people who actually buy Apple products.

  • willy

    Just a thought , wounder what you would say if this was on the Apple phone…. Oh I know, now this is innovation at it’s best….lol lol….

    • ciderrules

      Article that has nothing to do with Apple? Check.

      Some troll trying to bring Apple in anyway? Check.

      Make that two trolls. 4 comments and 2 trolls whining about Apple.

    • Smanny

      But it’s well know that Patrick is an Apple guy who Favour’s anything from Apple. So that is why he said what he did.

    • thereasoner

      Nikesh Patel seems to have brought up Apple and in a positive way. Does that make him a troll?

  • Shaggyskunk

    Biggest disappointment with the Note 7 – Samsung didn’t give it the fastest SoC or 6 Gig Ram (just for bragging rights.. Even though One Plus has 6 Gig) It’s really just an S7 with a Spen and more internal memory.. Not exactly what I expected to see.

    • Smanny

      Considering the S7 in Canada has the octa core Exynos 8890 processor. This Note 7 now has the SD 820 processor. That’s a big difference, especially when the SD 820 is faster when it comes to graphics.

  • eh, I think its okay to at least test the waters and perfect the technology. This might be good if you’re travelling and want a bit of extra security.
    (On another note, seems like the video->GIF feature is working well, if that’s what the above gif was made with)

    • jpd514

      It is good when you are wearing gloves, when your fingers are dirty, or tinted or wet or when your hand used for your fingerprint is busy doing more interesting actions,
      and in many other situations.

    • This is true! But in most situations, it’s very useless.

    • Mo Dabbas

      But then you’re basing the judgment based on your need. For many fingerprint scanners are useless as well and still prefer a code. It’s an added feature in the device that one gets to choose whether to use it or not. We don’t see Ppl writing how impractical the S health apps (they are for me and they just drain the battery) which technically can replace an activity tracker.

    • I….I’m not sure. Is this supposed to be an insult? it’s a cool feature with limited use on a day to day basis for the majority of the public. This would be the same if it were a Samsung product or Apple product.

  • Beno

    I read somewhere the Galaxy Note 7 can manage only one iris.

  • Humberto Giambrone

    Immediately though the same thing when I heard about it. It will be impractical and in almost every circumstance, there are better options to unlock your phone. Fingerprint primarily, is still much better. More of a gimmick than anything else.

    Furthermore, although I’m not generally one of “those” guys, it’s starting to make me uncomfortable that phones are not only getting access to your unique fingerprints, but now your iris. Soon there will be a DNA scanner in these things.

  • Roger

    Can it be unlocked by using a clear, high resolution photo?
    I can see the iris unlock feature being useful outdoors in winter when wearing gloves.

  • framewerk

    Pointless? How bout in the winter with gloves on, or when your phone display is wet?

  • Omar

    I said in another article how it was a gimmick. At this point, at least. I’m sure it will be improved in the future, but for now… Meh.

    • Do Do

      Not a gimmick if it works quickly and even if it doesn’t if you have a second user to your device. So one person uses fingerprint and your second, occasional user, uses iris scanner.

  • Do Do

    Most of the posts in this thread reek of fanboys. So vile

  • Mawhayden

    Just curious, why are their 5 folks that always comment. They are interesting comments, but having these folks always taking the Mike may skew what the overall opinion of the greater population. Just saying…give others a chance and let more opinions be more welcome.

    • Do Do

      Fanboys are completely batty. The worst of these are the Apple fanboys *Brad Fortin* and *It’s Me* (same guy?) but Samsung fanboys are no better. Fanboys are incapable of critical thinking are the enemy of consumer advocates.

  • Billy Joseph

    How the hell did this convo become about Apple?