The Galaxy S8’s ergonomic compromise is giving me iPhone 8 worries

Chris Davies - Apr 18, 2017, 4:45pm CDT
The Galaxy S8’s ergonomic compromise is giving me iPhone 8 worries

If all goes according to plan (or, at least, the rumor machine’s version of the plan) Apple’s anniversary iPhone 8 will be a huge departure in design. After three years of iterative iPhones, the new model – one of three expected to launch later in 2017, alongside updated versions of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus – will usher in a huge number of changes. Curved glass and OLED displays; reworked dual cameras; and tiny bezels. I’m excited, certainly, but I’m also worried, and I’m not alone.

It’s been the new iPhone’s natural enemy, Samsung’s new Galaxy S8, that has made me most concerned about the upcoming Apple refresh. Overall, the S8 charmed me – as it has most reviewers – with its slender, minimalistic design, beautiful curved display, and scant bezels. However, there’s one glaring frustrating.

That’s the fingerprint sensor, or more accurately its positioning. In the race to maximize just how much of the front of the S8 is taken up by its curved Super AMOLED, Samsung had to change how it laid out the controls that would normally be found on the “chin” of the handset. The home, app-switcher, and back buttons are now virtual, summoned with a heavier press on the lower portion of the display; the fingerprint scanner has been relegated to the back.

It’s not impossible to get a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor right, mind: it needn’t be the ergonomic kiss of death. Huawei did it with the Nexus 6P, and LG has done it with several iterations of its own Android devices. The common theme is the positioning: it needs to be sufficiently separated from the camera to avoid accidentally smooshing your fingertip over the lens while you’re trying to unlock the phone, as well as low enough down the device to avoid an uncomfortable stretch.

The S8 satisfies neither of those criteria. Its fingerprint sensor is hardly delineated, with only a slight ridge around it. It’s right alongside the camera lens, rather than underneath it: that means you have to reach your finger up, and even when I managed that, I often was met with a warning that I wasn’t fully placing my fingertip across the sensor for a complete scan. Since it’s to one side of the camera lens too, it’s biased toward one hand over the other.

I’m pretty easy-going when it comes to phone ergonomics, and can adapt to most things. Samsung’s decision when it came to the S8’s fingerprint sensor, though, has stretched the limits of my acceptance. In the end, I switched to iris recognition, which has been just as charmingly swift as on the ill-fated Note 7.

Samsung, so the rumors go, did try a different approach: and, by all accounts, a better one. According to insiders, it originally wanted to put the fingerprint sensor behind the touchscreen glass. Just as you press firmly to call up the virtual home button on the S8, so you’d hold your fingertip there to unlock the phone biometrically.

That, clearly, didn’t pan out, for one reason or another. Reports from Bloomberg Technology today echo earlier chatter that Apple too has been experimenting with putting its Touch ID hardware behind the fascia of a new iPhone. Ominously, the “technically challenging” fix for narrowed bezels is seemingly presenting the Cupertino engineers with just as much of a headache as it did their counterparts in South Korea. “It’s currenlty unclear if that feature will make it into the final product,” the report cautions.

That raises a big question about the new iPhone: just where will Touch ID go? Samsung is no ergonomic klutz, and I suspect it knew where would be best for the sensor, but it seems the packaging – of the battery in particular – meant that was unworkable for the S8. Space will be at just as much of a premium in the iPhone 8 (or whatever it ends up being called) and I find myself wondering if Apple will be forced to compromise in turn.

NOW READ: Samsung Galaxy S8 Review

If there’s one thing that living with the Galaxy S8 has taught me in short order, it’s that what ostensibly seems like a small design glitch can add up to a real annoyance when it’s something you interact with multiple times a day. Honestly, I hadn’t quite realized how frequently I unlock my phone. All of a sudden a small packaging decision could have a big impact on the new iPhone, and I’ll be very curious to see if Apple can get it right where Samsung did not.

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15 Responses to The Galaxy S8’s ergonomic compromise is giving me iPhone 8 worries

  1. The whole finger print sensor location thing is being blown way out of proportion imo. No one has had this phone long enough to get used to it.

    I think that people will get eventually get used to it and grab the phone in such a way that it can be easily reached. They may have to turn their hand over to find it without touching the camera at first but over time and especially with a case that has separate cut outs, touching the sensor without looking will be easy enough.

    • The rear is inferior. All the major reviews of the S8 list it in the “cons”.

      – Less convenient for mobile payments because of the wide differences in terminals.
      – Terrible if you (like most people) leave your phone on your desk and want to unlock it. Who wants to have to pick it up to reach the back? Or resort to using a PIN because you don’t want to pick it up?
      – Even worse if your phone is in a dock.
      – Or on a wireless charging pad (as so many Android fans claim to use).

      These are in addition to smearing the camera or having extra large case cutouts.

      • Reviews are simply describing the location as awkward which I’m sure it is at first. No one has had the phone long enough to get used to it or in your case, figure it out.

        -makes no difference in mobile payments, if anything the grip you have on the phone is much improved.
        – on a desk? Oh, the horror, lmao! Talk about first world problems? Try a stand that leaves the sensor exposed if you’re​ to lazy to use a pin or better yet, set trusted places or BT device so you don’t​ have to unlock at your desk.
        -again, Samsungs DeX dock stands the phone up with the sensor exposed for use. How clueless can you be?
        – wireless charging pad? use the cable instead.
        – people will get used to the FP sensor location, until then just look at it to avoid touching the camera or use a case with separate cut outs.

        Serously, if this is the best you can do then Samsung in in for record sales! Any more nonsensical drama?

      • Less convenient for mobile payments because of the wide differences in terminals., all terminals work the same ,NFC standards set by the banks ,you talking shit ,also u can unlock the phone by looking at it ,dont even need to pik it up ,so u fail again ( iris scanner is better anbd more secure anyway

    • It’s a crappy location, a lousy ergonomic decision. Trying advise otherwise is simply not going to work.

      • I prefer it on the back with my Pixel myself but I agree that if Samsung centered theirs it would be better.

        • Fair enough. I don’t have a phone with a fingerprint scanner yet so I couldn’t tell you if I’d prefer front or back. My guess is that if my first phone has it on front, i’ll like it better, on back, I’ll like it better.

        • My first was on the front(Galaxy S6) and it always felt awkward to get my thumb on it when using the device one handed. The grip is so much better with it on the back, I don’t feel like I’m going to drop my phone now.

        • That’s not true. Iris or facial unlock + fingerprint unlock can be used simultaneously, along with trusted locations, and trusted devices.

          The unlock mechanism on S8 from a practical perspective is excellent — I hold the phone, and one way or the other, it’s unlocked. However, there’s no argument with me that the fingerprint on the back and proximity to the camera is awkward to use.

  2. My Samsung Galaxy is used without the fingerprint sensor. Pattern recognition or location aweNess is enough. Apps for knock passwords could also be used.

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