The Pixel 7 Fingerprint Sensor is an Inexcusable but Liveable Mistake.
When the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro launched, it was plagued by some pretty bad issues. Some were more severe than others, but as a whole it had an incredibly rocky start. Calls dropping out, data failing to work until a restart, battery life and stability issues, and a fingerprint sensor bad enough to drive some people to the limits of madness. After months of updates and chaos, the overall function of the Pixel 6 began to improve across the board, though a few issues were never quite mitigated in their entirety, including the modem issues, but more relevantly, the fingerprint sensor.
The Pixel 6a then launched long after most of the software fixes had been rolled out, but it shipped with the same, poorly performing, optical fingerprint sensor under the screen. Google’s strength has always been making magic out of mundane things, and they managed to do a lot to make the optical sensor on these phones at least manageable, though still inconsistent overall. Having had a Pixel 6 and a Pixel 6a myself, I could not tolerate the Pixel 6 being so dysfunctional with the amount of money I paid for the device, but with the software improvements and the lower price point of the 6a, it was a much more tolerable experience. The Pixel 6a as a whole was just a fantastic phone and is still absolutely worth buying if you’re in the market for an incredible midrange phone with an undeniably great camera.
One long year after the debut of Google’s flashy new flagships, we saw the release of the Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro. It was a stunning piece of kit, retaining the distinct “Pixel” look with the camera visor across the back of the phone, it improved on many elements. The camera visor was now one beautiful, solid piece of brushed or polished aluminum, and Google opted for a more classy colorway approach this time around. The screens are stunning, the camera even more so… But one problem remained, and that problem was the optical fingerprint sensor.
Once again, Google chose to ship the Pixel with an under-screen optical fingerprint sensor, despite there being plenty of evidence not only from their failings with the Pixel 6 series, but from the mobile industry as a whole that an optical sensor under the screen would provide one of the least reliable experiences of any form of authentication. Immediately the red flags went up. There’s no way they could make the same mistake twice, could they? Well, it’s Google so yes, yes they could, and they did. But there is hope! It seems that despite them choosing a similar method for authentication this year, something about the sensor was as a whole, significantly more reliable and faster for people across the board. Could they have perfected it?? Uh, no. But they came as close to it as they ever should…
What I mean by that is that it’s fine for a number of people, likely most. But, despite the improvements, it’s painfully common for people to have issues with their fingerprints just not being read, over and over and over again. Multiple attempts, choosing different fingers, scanning the same finger twice, registering your fingerprints in the dark?!?! Anything and everything you could try, people are trying. Because even when someone has it seemingly perfect on their device, many reports document it suddenly just rejecting to authenticate/read out of the blue with no changes in usecase. We recieve updates to our Pixel devices still listing fingerprint improvements/fixes as part of the update, so it’s clear that Google is really trying to figure this out and that the issue is more than just in our heads.
It’s quite unfortunate, but I truly hope that the returns, negative press, and general voicings of frustrations from the many users who were failed by the poor design decision of this optical sensor puts enough pressure on Google to choose an objectively more reliable sensor for the Pixel 8 series.
For now, the fixes made to the Pixel 7 make it tolerable for the majority of people, quite fine for most actually… It’s mostly fine on my Pixel 7 Pro actually, and I can live with it. Most people can and will just live with it. But the point of all of this, is that they should not have to do so moving forward. Google takes shortcuts from time to time to be able to produce such a premium device at such great prices compared to their competitors. But the groundwork for their phones is pretty much laid and now we just need them to improve on what they’ve already made.
The Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro are what the Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro should have been. That’s the sentiment pretty much everyone who’s used both has understood almost instantly. I’m really hoping to see the Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro gives us the same experience, but this time, without leaving the fingerprint sensor behind.
In my honest opinion, the Pixel 7 series are the best phones on the market, particularly for their prices. I love my Pixel, and hope I’ll be able to love the Pixel 8 even more.