The Galaxy Note 7 has just been announced and one of its most unique features is the new iris scanner. It's not the first time we've seen eye-recognition capabilities in a smartphone, but it is arguably a better implementation than we saw in the Lumia 950 smartphones.
Along with the usual fingerprint scanner, the Note 7's iris scanner adds a layer of personalised security to the device. In use, the iris scanner is likely to be used for the same purposes as the fingerprint sensor. That's to say, it will be used to recognise the user, and ensure no unauthorised person can use the device.
Here is everything you need to know about the iris scanner on the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, including how it works.
Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Iris Scanner: What is it?
The best way to describe the iris scanner on the Galaxy Note 7 simply, is to say the it is essentially a bespoke camera with a very specific function.
It works alongside an infrared LED and is programmed to recognise the pattern in your iris, and that's pretty much it. It has no other function aside from that.
Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Iris Scanner: How does it work?
As previously mentioned, the scanner uses an infrared sensor to detect patterns in a user's iris. Simply pointing it at a registered user's eyes unlocks the phone, and does so incredibly quickly.
In the Lumia 950 XL, a device on the market which already has the feature, there's an infrared camera as well as a secondary camera. The infrared sensor lights up the user's eye, so that the secondary camera can snap a good image and record the data, then turn it in to an encrypted piece of information stored on the device.
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The Samsung version works in a similar manner. On the front panel of the phone, there's an IR (infrared) LED and a dedicated iris camera. The camera is designed with a special image filter which receives and recognises the reflected picture of the irises with a red IR LED light.
Red light was chosen because - according to Samsung - it allows for the best range. Unlike traditional colour images, which are affected by iris colour and ambient light, infrared images show clear patterns and don't feature much light reflection. These properties mean the camera is able to pick out clear data more easily.
The setup process basically involves lifting the phone to eye level at arm's length and waiting for the phone to capture your iris data. It's able to detect which part of the image is your iris, then deletes the rest of the information, like your eyelid, pupil and sclera (white bit). The process takes just a few seconds, unlike the fingerprint sensor, which requires you to lift your finger/thumb and place it on the sensor multiple times.
Once the iris is registered, the phone stores the iris data as an encrypted piece of code. Then, when the user tries to access the phone, or any protected content or apps, the LED and camera work together to capture the iris, then extract the file and compare the pattern with the code to allow access. All this is done in a fraction of a second.
Galaxy Note 7 Iris Scanner: When doesn't it work?
Setting up the iris scanner is pretty simple, but it's critical to avoid conditions that might distort the infrared camera's view. Especially since you can only register one iris.
Those conditions include wearing glasses or contact lenses, having narrow or "puffy" eyes, shaking or tilting the device, covering the scanner or LED with a screen protector or having dirt on your glasses. You also need to be mindful of registering your iris in bright light but then trying to scan them in low light (or vice versa), as well as when light reflects onto your eyes or glasses, or just when you're in bright sunlight or low light conditions.
In our experience, when avoiding the conditions mentioned, the iris scanner works really well. Easily as quick as some of the fastest fingerprint sensors out there. However, outside these ideal conditions, it could be a real pain.
In other words, the fingerprint sensor is going to be the easiest, least frustrating way to unlock your phone when you're outdoors in bright daylight. Since the sun gives off a tonne of infrared beams, it easily confuses the scanner on the phone.
Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Iris Scanner: Fun features
To make it seem less like a unexciting security feature, Samsung included a handful of "masks" that show up on the lockscreen when you're unlocking the phone. These range from futuristic space-shades, to bunny eyes. Just line up your eyes with those, and the phone unlocks.
Or you can just be super-boring and not have any mask at all. It's up to you.
Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Iris Scanner: What can it do?
As it stands, the Note 7's iris sensor is going to be used predominantly to unlock the phone. While that's undoubtedly going to be the most-used feature, it can do more.
Part of the Note 7's new software includes the ability to add apps and files to a secure folder which can only be accessed upon verification, either through a password, fingerprint scan or - you guessed it - scanning your irises.
There's also Samsung Pass which lets users quickly and easily log in to websites on Samsung's own pre-installed browser. Users won't have to waste time repeatedly adding usernames and passwords, they can just quickly scan their eyes, and log in to frequently used sites that may have stored personal data.
Further in the future it could even be used to authorise online payments with Samsung Pay, or even opening up payment or banking apps like PayPal. Samsung is already working with major financial companies in the States to explore bringing iris scanner integration to popular banking apps.