updated 11:40 pm EDT, Thu April 3, 2014
Touch ID more reliable, but S5 swipe reader able to be used with more merchants
A new video posted to YouTube offers a head-to-head demonstration of the iPhone 5s' "Touch ID" fingerprint-recognition technology and the "swipe-style" fingerprint reader found in Samsung's Galaxy S5, its just-released latest flagship smartphone. Over the course of five minutes, the poster of the video makes clear that Touch ID, first introduced late last year, continues to offer a better overall experience. The clip covers the technical aspects of both companies' approaches.
Both systems work similarly: a users places (or in the case of Samsung, swipes) a pre-registered digit on the home button, and recognition algorithms recognize the fingerprint from secured data, and unlock the device. Apple also allows the Touch ID recognition to be associated with its iTunes stores, allowing purchasing from a pre-registered credit card or store credit through another fingerprint scan.
While the technical achievement of putting a swipe-style fingerprint reader into the S5's small home button is an achievement, in practice it does not work quite as well as Touch ID. However, the Galaxy S5 allows fingerprint scanning to be used to pay for general items through merchants that accept PayPal -- though it hasn't detailed (as Apple has) how the fingerprint data stays secure (the company says it does not share the data with merchants, but instead verifies that the fingerprint data has was correct).
Until a recent software update which appears to have fixed the issue came along, some iPhone 5s owners had complained that the Touch ID button seemed to not match the stored fingerprints over time, requiring users to re-train the Touch ID system. It is unclear if Apple's original sensitivity for fingerprints relied too much on clean hands, or if the fingerprint data hash degraded with frequent use, or if there was some other problem. MacNN and Electronista staffers who have iPhone 5s units haven't reported an issue with the fingerprint scanner, and the update appears to have resolved the issue for most users who were having problems.
In the video, it becomes clear that Samsung's implementation is more finicky, requiring a uniform method of swiping down on the home button to get it to recognize the fingerprint. This limitation makes one-handed unlocking all but impossible, the narrator of the video said, and limits those with smaller fingers to rely on fewer registered digits for reliable success (the Samsung scanner supports a total of three fingerprints; the iPhone 5s, five).
The video presentation was inconclusive about a "winner," since the Galaxy S5 offers Paypal payment with fingerprint ID, broadening the number of stores where it can be used. However, from a practical standpoint of usability, the Galaxy S5 swipe fingerprint ID appears to lag behind the iPhone's Touch ID in reliability of experience.