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The Galaxy S10’s hole-punch display is better than the iPhone’s notch, but I can’t live without Face ID

Published Feb 20th, 2019 3:33PM EST
Galaxy S10 vs. iPhone XS
Image: Zach Epstein, BGR

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Samsung’s Galaxy S10 phones are finally official, and they come with those gorgeous Infinity-O hole-punch displays where the selfie camera pierces through the screen. Samsung stayed away from copying the iPhone X design last year, which was surprising considering that every other smartphone maker did, But now the results are paying off. The Infinity-O screens certainly bring a new take on all-screen design people crave.

Are they better than notch displays like on the iPhone X/XS? That’s up for debate and it’s probably a matter of personal preference. Both of them are design compromises meant to offer us the best all-screen displays within the confines of current technology limitations. Both of them steal a part of the screen from you while simultaneously giving you more screen than previous phones. And ultimately, you’ll get used to either one. I personally favor the Infinity-O screen design over the notch, but there’s a huge feature missing from the Galaxy S10 that will make me stick with the notch on Apple’s iPhones: 3D facial recognition.

In the months that followed the launch of the iPhone X, a few things became clear. First, the iPhone X notch design, as much as it was criticized, was a winning move from Apple and one that everyone in the business would copy. But only a few companies were able to replicate the notch’s Face ID functionality, and virtually nobody was able to reduce the bottom chin the way Apple does on the iPhone X and its successors. Second, Face ID was way more sophisticated than any face unlock system from the competition when it comes to security. And third, nobody else was ready to bring Face ID alternatives to Android.

Image source: Apple Inc.

I was initially wary of how Face ID would work in real life, and whether it would slow down my iPhone experience. With Touch ID, you’d unlock the phone as soon as you reached for it and you were ready to go. But as soon as I got the iPhone X back in November 2017, I was pleasantly surprised to see how fast the technology is. More than a year later, I wouldn’t go back to Touch ID even if Touch ID and Face ID were both available on the same iPhone.

I know that not everyone is a fan of Face ID, and some people continue to have issues with it. A straightforward explanation for that is that you might be using it wrong. You don’t have to think about unlocking the phone. Just swipe up on the screen and the phone is almost instantly unlocked — I do realize it’s annoying not to be able to unlock the screen while it’s sitting on the desk, but that’s a minor inconvenience (and it’s completely eliminated if you use a wireless charging stand like this one). The other explanation is that the phone is malfunctioning if you get constant failed scans, which means you might need to have it serviced or replaced.

But after more than 14 months with the iPhone X, I’ve had a positive Face ID experience. It works during the day and night, and it works regardless of what I wear. The only issues I have encountered with face recognition were while I was skiing. But even then, instead of entering the pin when Face ID fails, try to retrain it to learn your “new” face. It’ll just work afterward. It works even better and faster on the iPhone XR and iPhone XS phones that were launched last year.

This brings me to the Galaxy S10, a phone I had long suspected it couldn’t offer 3D face recognition. There’s simply isn’t enough room inside that hole-punch cutout for all the sensors you need for 3D face scanning. Samsung on Wednesday confirmed what we had suspected, that face unlock on the new phones won’t even have iris scanning support, and it’ll only rely on 2D scans to unlock the screen. That means you won’t be able to use it to open secure apps or to authenticate mobile payments.

If you’ve never experienced Face ID on the iPhone and you’re a fan of the fingerprint scanner, you’ll be happy to hear that the sophisticated in-display fingerprint sensor tech we’ve heard about for so long was also confirmed. The Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S10+ phones have ultrasonic scanners that are more secure than optical ones. That’s because they use sound to authenticate users rather than light, which makes them less prone to hacking. Not that hacking smartphones with optical scanners is an easy feat, though Google is reportedly studying the security of optical in-display fingerprint sensors and is looking at adding native Face ID support to Android Q.

Samsung’s in-screen ultrasonic sensor will offer fast and secure authentication and support for payments. They’ll also work just fine through screen protectors as long as Samsung has certified them, despite what you may have heard. It’s a signature feature of the Galaxy S10 line, and one reason to go for the more expensive Galaxy S10 or Galaxy S10+ instead of the Galaxy S10e, which doesn’t have an in-display sensor.

But, assuming for a moment that the move from iOS to Android is one I might consider, I still wouldn’t want to ditch Face ID in favor of any version of a fingerprint sensor. Considering that Apple’s patents for manufacturing Infinity-O displays emerged before Samsung unveiled its Infinity-O screen tech, that also means Apple has looked at display designs like the one on the Galaxy S10.

It’s not just because of the convenience of Face ID when it comes to my interaction with a smartphone. It’s also because 3D face recognition paves the way for the security of the future, where devices around us may provide continuous passive authentication based on 3D scans of our faces and bodies. Think beyond the iPhone X and iPad Pro. Computers of the future and smart home systems would be able to recognize the user and grant him or her the appropriate permissions without the person having to do anything at all. Now, if only someone figured out how to place all these Face ID sensors and cameras under the screen, we wouldn’t have to even compare notches to hole-punch designs.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.