I reviewed the iQOO 9 Pro here at Android Police a while back, but there is one thing I just can’t get over, even a few weeks later. Its ultrasonic in-display fingerprint scanner is incredibly fast. That’s because the iQOO 9 Pro one of the first internationally available phones to launch with Qualcomm’s third-generation 3D Sonic Max sensor, and it’s quite the step up over the previous version still used in devices as recent as the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra.
Before I get too inside baseball here, I’d like to point you to our fingerprint scanner comparison post, going over the differences between capacitive, optical, and ultrasonic fingerprint scanners. The gist here is that capacitive sensors use electrical circuits and don’t work with underneath displays. You likely saw these on the iPhone’s home button first. Then there are optical fingerprint scanners that need to light up and optically scan your fingerprint (hence the name) — the current Pixel 6 generation has switched to in-display variants of those. Ultrasonic sensors, meanwhile, map out your prints using soundwaves, much like echolocation is used by bats, dolphins, and other animals to navigate the world. These are mostly found underneath the display of newer Samsung flagships.
Qualcomm’s scanner relies on the latter, and it’s currently the method that’s been proven to be the most secure and fastest method for under-display sensors, but also the most expensive. With that out of the way, let’s dive into what makes the new Sonic Max sensor so special.
A smooth setup experience
Upon first setting up a phone with the third-generation Qualcomm sensor, you’ll instantly notice a difference to any other fingerprint scanner out there, including other ultrasonic sensors. When you enroll your fingerprints, you only have to touch the sensor once.
It’s a weird experience if you’re used to enrolling your fingerprint by tapping the scanner over and over again in slightly varying angles to (hopefully) make sure that the phone will unlock properly in the future when you don’t perfectly hit the sensor. After this dazzlingly quick setup process,
I was skeptical about the iQOO 9 Pro’s authentication performance, but I was pleasantly surprised by its long-term reliability.
Qualcomm claims that the sensor is the fastest in the mobile industry, unlocking within just 0.2 seconds, and while I don’t have the tools to confirm this claim, I can at least say that the statement does feel accurate. When compared to an optical sensor like the one found in the Pixel 6, this ultrasonic solution is much more reliable and much easier to hit. It feels right on par and sometimes even faster when comparing against a capacitive sensor like the one found in the power button of the Xiaomi Mi 11 Lite.
When you hit the sensor right in the middle, it usually unlocks instantaneously, making the process feel less like a fingerprint scan and more like a simple tap. You don’t need to apply any additional force as you sometimes have to with optical sensors — the Sonic Max is happy with a light touch. As you move slightly over the edges of the sensor, things get a little more iffy, but that’s to be expected. And given the size of the sensor, you’ll be hard-pressed to get there in the first place.
For me, issues only cropped up when unlocking the phone after a longer period of deep sleep, with the sensor suddenly more in line with the Pixel 6’s optical sensor and taking a few extra milliseconds, but that’s okay.
The sensor also manages to convince in another area. Qualcomm touts that it is massive, measuring 20x30mm — “over 4x the size of 3D Sonic Gen 2.” That makes it easier than ever to hit it, and offers remedy for one of the arguments used against in-display fingerprint scanners. In contrast to capacitive sensors on the back or in the power button, in-display sensors don’t offer any haptic features helping you find them. They don’t have anything guiding you to the spot where you need to place your finger, so when they’re bigger, they’re simply harder to miss when you’re not quite looking at your screen while unlocking.
It’s also possible to adjust the size of the unlock area, though I can’t imagine why you would want to make it smaller deliberately — it’s pre-set to the biggest possible area.
The fun bits and pieces
If you’re confident that you’ll be able to hit a smaller area to unlock your phone, the huge sensor offers another advantage. You can partition it in up to three distinct areas, allowing you to tap a certain part of the sensor to jump right into an app of your choice. While lockscreen shortcuts are nothing new per se, this method doesn’t require any additional authentication, introducing no friction at all compared to other lockscreen shortcuts. Personally, I opted for quick access to Google Pay and Telegram.
This method does leave you with a smaller unlocking area, but I still haven’t found it particularly difficult to hit the correct space for the intended action. After all, we have all been conditioned to hit smaller spaces on older phones already.
iQOO also offers two unlock shapes for the sensor. The default round variant helps you avoid hitting the sensor on the very edges which could lead to failed authentications. There’s also a square version that roughly shows you the real outline of the sensor (though with a little margin of error, too). It truly gives you an idea of just how massive the sensor is, giving you a small glimpse into the inner workings of the smartphone.
Given that the third-generation Sonic Max has been on the market for more than a year already, it’s a shame that it hasn’t made it into too many phones other than the iQOO 9 Pro and the iQOO 8 Pro half a year before it , both of which have limited international availability. While the second-generation ultrasonic sensor found in the Galaxy S22 series isn’t a slouch, either, it would have been great to see the latest and greatest in Samsung’s flagship lineup.
After using the iQOO 9 Pro and its incredible fingerprint sensor for a while, I can’t wait for more manufacturers to jump on the bandwagon, integrating the sensor across all of the best Android phones out there. The experience is just on a different level.
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