How important is the location of the fingerprint sensor?

Google Pixel fingerprint sensor

I love fingerprint sensors. Generally speaking, I find the fingerprint sensor to be one of the best features of modern day smartphones. Although I wouldn’t consider it a great measure of security on its own, in addition to other security methods it’s a semi-secure and convenient feature for unlocking smartphones.

And as smartphones have evolved, so have fingerprint sensors. Not only are sensors becoming more accurate at readings and faster at unlocking, but they’re also prone to another variable: their location.

Although Apple wasn’t the first manufacturer to implement a fingerprint scanner into a phone, it was the most iconic. Apple still at the top of their game in 2013 when the iPhone 5S was released, and the implementation of Touch ID to the already iconic home button made the feature incredibly intuitive. Between its intuitive nature and Apple’s overwhelming popularity, the fingerprint sensor soon became a must-have feature in smartphones across the board; soon, it was.

But whether it was an effort to keep the feature unique or simply a matter of not wanting a physical button on the front of the device (as the physical home button had become a rarity at that point) some OEMs opted to get a little creative with the placement. LG and HTC have almost exclusively placed their fingerprint sensor on the back, most notably on their flagships; Google has had rear fingerprint sensors on the last few Nexus devices and carried that over to the Pixel; manufacturers like Sony and Nextbit opted for an even more unique placement by including a fingerprint sensor on the power button located on the sides of the device.

So, while we see that it’s entirely possible to place the fingerprint scanner in a myriad of places, the question is: does its placement end up being something you consider when you purchase a smartphone?

For me, it typically has been. I have a predicament now where I like smartphones with larger screens, but I have small hands that, try as I might, never seem to get any bigger with time at my age. For me, attempting to extend a finger up to where most rear-facing fingerprint scanners lie is risky business, and ends with me fumbling a device and dropping it on the floor more often than I’d like. It is for this reason that I prefer the fingerprint scanner on the front where you’d typically find a physical home button like on the iPhone or older Galaxy S devices. It’s also handy for when I place my phone on its back on a table and can simply wake the phone up next to me without having to pick it up to see what’s on the display.   

However, while fingerprint sensor placement has become something that I’m aware of, I don’t consider it a deal breaker so much as a strong preference. Like “compact” smartphones (actual compact smartphones, not compact smartphones with 5-inch plus displays) I’m aware that the desire for more screen appears to be taking priority over everything else. The selection of smartphones with front-facing scanners are already small enough as it is, so I’d be severely limiting my options as fingerprint sensors continue to migrate to other areas of the phone.

And although it hasn’t happened yet, I’m still crossing my fingers that somebody makes the rumored in-screen fingerprint sensor soon.

Readers, what are your thoughts on fingerprint scanner placement? Does the scanner need to be in your preferred location in order for you to consider a device, or is it a negotiable factor for you? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!