Qualcomm’s new fingerprint sensor can scan through OLED displays and water

Pixel fingerprint scanner

Qualcomm has introduced three new forms of fingerprint sensors that work underneath glass, metal and even OLED displays, making it easier for smartphone manufacturers to do away with bezels for good.

The company announced the new technology at Mobile World Congress Shanghai today, noting additionally that the new sensors even work underwater.

The fingerprint sensors are based on ultrasonic, rather than capacitive, technology. The tech was introduced last year by the company and can capture low-resolution images of a user’s fingerprint even through opaque materials — like how ultrasounds work to capture images of fetuses.

Qualcomm’s previous generation of fingerprint sensors could read through 0.4mm of glass or metal. For one of Qualcomm’s new sensors tucked under an OLED display, the distance is 1.2mm.

Meanwhile, the company’s new glass sensor can scan through 0.8mm, while the metal sensor can scan through 0.65mm of aluminum.
Since it’s based on an entirely new technology which is much less fazed by contaminants, Qualcomm says the sensors also work underwater, or when your fingers have any manner of debris or liquid on them.

Coupled with the fact that sensors don’t require manufacturers to drill holes in the casing to insert fingerprint sensors, the new tech makes it much easier for OEMs to create waterproof devices.

The fingerprint sensors are based on ultrasonic, rather than capacitive, technology.

The sensors can also read heartbeats and sense blood flow, which Qualcomm says could be used by manufacturers to improve the security of their sensors, since they could then verify if the fingerprint image came from a living finger.

The company additionally touted the fact that the fingerprint sensors support the use of gestures which can be mapped to various elements of the navigation on the phone, a form of navigation that’s already making its way to consumers through Moto and Huawei devices, among others.

Qualcomm is currently displaying three sensor prototypes — one under aluminum, one under glass and one under display — at MWC Shanghai in partnership with Vivo.

The new glass and metal sensors are compatible with devices that stock the company’s new 660 and 630 Snapdragon chipsets, and Qualcomm noted in a press briefing that it plans to integrate the module with other 800, 600, 400 and 200 series chipsets as well.

The sensors for display, says the company, are designed to be compatible not only with future Snapdragon platforms, but also non-Snapdragon platforms.

Qualcomm predicts that commercial devices with sensors for glass and metal will hit the market in early 2018, while sensors for display are expected to arrive in devices in the summer of 2018.


  • thereasoner

    Shame, by the sounds of it they won’t be ready for the new Pixels either. Perhaps it’s best that one of the Chinese brands work out the bugs/flaws first.

  • It’s Me

    Well, at least they won’t be forced to stick them on the back anymore.

    It will be interesting to see how quickly those that convinced themselves the back was best to flip flop.

    “Front sensors suck. They are awkward and force you to hold the phone funny. The back is best. With small hands the index is always on that spot anyway. Hope they never go back to the front” becomes “shame it won’t be ready for my next phone”.

    • ciderrules

      Exactly. Rear sensors are trade-off to allow smaller bezels/larger screens on the front. They are inferior in almost every way to a front sensor. I use my fingerprint countless times a day on my iPhone while it’s on my desk. Picking it up each time would be ridiculous.

    • It’s Me

      They’ll be making up lots of excuses soon to justify why their opinions changed or will change.

    • FlamesFan89

      You realize that there is nothing wrong with embracing a new technology that provides a tangible benefit right?

      Saying that Option C is better than Option A, is not the same as saying that Option A is better than Option B, and then changing to say that Option B is better than Option A.

      A sensor that is embedded in the screen may, or may not, be better than a rear facing sensor, but it is a new technology, and we won’t know until it is out. It has no bearing on whether a rear or forward facing sensor is better for the currently existing technology.

    • It’s Me


      The previous excuses for preferring the backside never qualified based on whether the scanner was under glass. Reasons like “more convenient on the back”, “more convenient to use index finger”, “better grip when touching the back”, “better balance when using a back scanner” are not changed by whether the scanner is under glass or not.

      If they were valid reasons, they remain valid when the scanner moves back to the front. Just no reason to make the excuses anymore so of course opinions then change. Foot in mouth does that.

    • FlamesFan89

      Actually it is completely changed if this new technology allows the finger to be placed anywhere on the screen for recognition. That is an entirely different thing.

      If it is still limited to specific location at the bottom of the device, then, quite likely, I will personally still prefer the rear facing sensor. With how I hold and use my phone, I find it more convenient.

      Just placing it under glass, and leaving it in the same place, doesn’t really present the user with any added benefit. It might benefit manufacturers with ease of waterproofing, etc. but it doesn’t actually provide the end user with any real change or benefit, so I can’t see it changing my opinion, as, like I’ve stated, I find it more convenient to have the sensor on the back.

    • thereasoner

      I think “it’s Me” understands, although sometimes I wonder if that truly the case, he just enjoys stirring up shlt on the comment boards I’m thinking.

    • thereasoner

      A trade off for you perhaps but better for others. Just the added track pad like features alone make the back FP scanner superior imo and if rumors are true the next Pixels will have a larger track pad like area on its back with more navigation abilities than currently offered.

      The in screen FP sensor does have a shot at improving the precarious grip flaw of current home buttons while using them one handed if they can go full screen but even then the back track pad/FP scanner would be welcome as well for the ability to navigate the device without touching the screen.

    • Ipse

      You took the words out of my mouth…I will patiently wait until this technology is implemented as it fits my use case.

    • Stephen B Morris

      Well they currently do suck for some people I suppose. All for the reasons you mentioned. That being said if the sensor can be read from touching anywhere on the screen or at least the middle of the screen, then yeah no one should have any issues except trolls.

    • FlamesFan89

      It didn’t take any “convincing” for me to think that a sensor on the back was better than a button on the front. I like it where it is on my Pixel XL, because I find it convenient. And when you consider the current state of fingerprint sensors, on actual phones that are on the market, not the ones that will be coming out next year, I personally prefer a sensor on the back, vs one that is on the front.

      Now, next year, when there is new technology available, my opinion may change. That’s how opinions are supposed to work, they are supposed to be based on the evidence at hand. I have never used or seen a device that has a fingerprint sensor embedded in the display, so I can’t form an opinion on whether I like it better. But I can form an opinion on what I like better now, and that is a back facing sensor. With the way I hold and use my phone, it is a more ideal placement.

    • ciderrules

      So you never need to unlock your Pixel on a desk? Or lying flat? Or do you just pick it up every single time?

    • FlamesFan89

      sometimes I want to unlock it when it’s on a desk or laying flat, but far more often I am holding my phone when using it.

      Those few times I unlock it when it is laying flat, I enter my PIN in about one second and go on with my life. If one second is an inconvenience to a person, then I would suggest they have bigger problems than the placement of a fingerprint sensor.

    • ciderrules

      I have numerous Apps for work that require a fingerprint to unlock. So do my banking Apps. Also used for making purchases. Fingerprints are for much more than simply unlocking your phone. If that’s all you use it for (unlocking), then I can see sensor placement might not matter to you. Don’t assume we all limit what we do to justify the inferior placement of the rear sensor just because it works OK for you.

    • FlamesFan89

      I use it for lots of things, to make payments, to unlock certain apps, like banking apps, etc. and I do those while holding my phone. I find it way more convenient to have the sensor on the back for all those things. my finger is usually resting right by the sensor and I just need to place it on. No problemo.

      Don’t assume that we all use our phone laying flat on a desk to justify the inferior placement of the front sensor just because it works OK for you.

      (by the way, since when do you make purchases with your phone laying flat on a desk? that’s weird.)

    • thereasoner

      Qualcomms solution is said to be available in theory under the entire display which changes everything as far as precarious one handed grips are concerned.

      If in screen fingerprint scanners are confined to the same small area current home buttons are then I’d personally still prefer it on the back. Heck, even if they do a full display fingerprint sensor I’d still want one on the back for it’s track pad like gestures!

    • It’s Me

      Atta’boy. You’ve got all your bases covered this.

    • thereasoner

      Well it’s true isn’t it? The next Pixel is rumored to have a large track pad like area on it’s back that could not only encapsulate a fingerprint sensor but also offer new navigation features beyong those currently available without the need to touch the screen.

      Cool idea I’m thinking and one that has me wondering if the back fingerprint sensor is hear to stay regardless if it can also be done on the front.

  • This could bring in a lot of design improvement for future smartphones. Today I saw that Vivo has already implemented this technology in their next smartphone.

    • TheCuddlyKoala

      WTF is a Vivo?

    • George Jia

      People’s inability to do simple google search continue to astonish me.

    • TheCuddlyKoala

      People’s inability to do *a simple Google search, continue*s to astonish me.

    • gommer strike

      OnePlus, VIVO, and OPPO are all Chinese phone companies who are owned by a single parent, BBK Electronics. They all make smartphones, each of which try to target different customer segments. While VIVO and OPPO act like rivals, they’re in truth owned by the same parent.

      This would explain why OnePlus and VIVO’s designs look so astonishingly similar.

  • Stephen B Morris

    If Qualcomm didn’t have a stranglehold on the market before, they certainly will after this.

  • gremlin0007

    it’s gonna cost a fortune to change a phone’s display soon!

    • thereasoner

      It will add a layer of complexity and cost to the display much like force touch/3D touch does but this will actually be useful beyond a marketing gimmick that long press already covers that force touch/3D touch displays are.

    • ciderrules

      Long press is archaic.

      Next time you use your PC and right click on a menu, make sure to hold the mouse button for a full second before releasing it. See how long you can keep doing that before it gets annoying. That extra second makes a difference.

      3D Touch is right-click for the iPhone. An instant response with a context menu that differs from a regular press (or left mouse click). Long press has been relegated to little used features where it belongs.

    • thereasoner

      Having to press with force is annoying and completely unnecessary. It’s a gimmick Google rejected years before Apple fished it out of the garbage bin for being just “another unnecessary way to interact with a touchscreen device” and they proved just how unnecessary it is with the already widely used long press.

      Force touch/3D touch is not only an unnecessary gimmick in place of long press, it adds cost and complexity to a device and it’s just another unnecessary thing waiting to break on iPhones that are already well known for their cheap ($220 vs $300) and fragile (touch disease) builds.

      Enjoy your gimmick though, I know that you will believe that it’s the best thing ever to happen to mobile despite the fact that it’s old rejected tech because that’s what Apple told you to believe… isn’t that right puppet? or is sheep a better word?

  • ciderrules

    Wondering if Apple will use this method. They have patents on ultrasonic through the screen (like Qualcomm showed here), capacitive through the screen (using “lenses” to alter the signals to compensate for changes from the display) and one with micro-LEDs/sensors to optically read a print from the screen itself.

    Whichever method they choose will give us an idea as to which technology is the most viable for consumer use.

    • gommer strike

      The rumor mill’s been pretty abuzz lately with the concept of fingerprint scanner under the screen. So we’ve heard that Chinese phone companies were trying to make the idea work(it’s harder than it looks) and of course the rumors that Apple had the technology going but couldn’t get yield rates where they needed it be(again, pointing to a difficult technology).

      So if Qualcomm’s gotten it working – with the acrimonious state of affairs that it’s in with Apple – let’s see whose implementation works better.

      Especially when we step out of the shower, and try to unlock the phone. Or when our hands are excessively dry, or very sweaty. Today’s fingerprint sensors can struggle a little under those conditions.

    • ciderrules

      Apple likely has it working too, and for some time.

      The difference between Apple and everyone else is Apple doesn’t do teaser previews of new technology. You won’t see it until it actually appears in an iPhone.

    • thereasoner

      Apparently it can work on soiled hands/fingers as well, an issue I’ve come across while doing home improvement projects and/or work in my garage.

      What will be interesting to see is how Samsung deals with this seeing that a large portion of their flagship quality phones run Qualcomm chips while their Exynos will use what exactly?

      On the other hand, I thought I read recently that Qualcomm has gone with another chip manufacturer now so maybe Samsung will be going all Exynos from now on with, presumably a in screen version of this tech all their own.

  • lets see if apple applies this method.. as I have seen many rumors over the net upto now.. I am sure something interesting is about to take place with next launch.. Really looking forward to it.

  • thereasoner

    The best news about this tech is that it can in theory be applied to the entire screen instead of being confined to a small location at the bottom of the display.
    I’ve always found that the grip you have while trying to use front home button/fingerprint scanners to be precarious at best while using it one handed. Anywhere on the display would be a huge improvement.

  • Ziggy Strawczynski

    Bezel-less phones are cool and all, but doesn’t this also mean literally anytime I touch any person’s phone with this tech it could log my fingerprint?

    • gommer strike

      It’s not inconceivable, but for the device to log each and every fingerprint(whether accepted or rejected) would fill up the storage pretty darn quick, as they would have be captured either as a bitmap(and then presumably compressed) or some other method.

      I would think that the phone would either accept or reject, and possibly log *that*, but to log a bitmap of every fingerprint? And what about palm rejection, should it occur? And then you might think OMG what if it uploads all those bitmaps up to the OEM’s server or to Google?

      Naw they wouldn’t do that, would they?