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Fingerprint Faceoff: Apple Touch ID vs. Samsung Finger Scanner

Al Sacco | July 17, 2014
Apple's iPhone 5s and Samsung's Galaxy Tab S both pack fingerprint scanners for authentication.

My single favorite feature of the iPhone 5s is the Touch ID fingerprint scanner, which lets you unlock your device with the tap of a finger. So when Samsung recently sent me its new Galaxy Tab S 10.5" tablet for review, the first thing I did was test the Tab S fingerprint scanner.

It was immediately clear that Tab S's scanner is more "finicky" than Touch ID, but it's also more functional. Here's a quick breakdown and comparison of the iPhone 5s Touch ID scanner and Galaxy Tab fingerprint scanner. 

Apple iPhone 5s Touch ID

Apple's Touch ID sensor sits just beneath the circular sapphire-crystal panel of the device's home button. Setting up Touch ID and recording fingerprints is simple and intuitive. You can tap the sensor from any angle to unlock the device or to make purchases in any of Apple's on-device stores.

That's it for functionality. Apple plans to integrate Touch ID with more services, and it announced at its recent WWDC that third party apps will get access to Touch ID as part of iOS 8, which is expected in the coming months. But for now, Touch ID really doesn't do much.

What it does, it does well. As mentioned, Touch ID is my favorite iPhone feature. It just works. It's not perfect; if you're sweaty after a workout, or if you've just washed a bunch of dishes and your fingers are pruned, it might not recognize a digit. But in normal circumstances, it works like a charm. I'm already so used to Touch ID that it feels like a burden to manually enter password on my other devices.

Touch ID lets you enroll as many as five fingers, so you don't have to use just one -- though Apple says Touch ID could take slightly longer to recognize a finger if you store multiple prints. (I store five prints, and I haven't noticed any reduced responsiveness.) You can edit and rename the finger listings in the Touch ID fingerprint manager. And a helpful feature lets you tap the sensor while in the fingerprint manager to see the fingers that correspond with specific readings. Apple also says that "[a]s you use Touch ID, it will continue to learn and improve recognition of your fingerprint."

When I first purchased my iPhone 5s, I was a bit concerned with the security and privacy implications of storing my fingerprint on my Apple device. At first, Apple was relatively tight-lipped about the details of Touch ID security, but it has since published a related Web page.

From that Apple Touch ID security page:

"Touch ID doesn't store any images of your fingerprint. It stores only a mathematical representation of your fingerprint. It isn't possible for your actual fingerprint image to be reverse-engineered from this mathematical representation. iPhone 5s also includes a new advanced security architecture called the Secure Enclave within the A7 chip, which was developed to protect passcode and fingerprint data. Fingerprint data is encrypted and protected with a key available only to the Secure Enclave. Fingerprint data is used only by the Secure Enclave to verify that your fingerprint matches the enrolled fingerprint data. The Secure Enclave is walled off from the rest of A7 and the rest of iOS. Therefore, your fingerprint data is never accessed by iOS or other apps, never stored on Apple servers, and never backed up to iCloud or anywhere else. Only Touch ID uses it, and it can't be used to match against other fingerprint databases."

 

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