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I've Got Windows 10, But What's Windows Hello?
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I've Got Windows 10, But What's Windows Hello?

Patrick Lucas Austin, Gawker Media

Image credit: Drew Angerer/Getty

Hopefully you took advantage of Microsoft's free upgrade offer that allowed consumers to update computers running Windows 7 or 8 to Windows 10 (and if you didn't, it's not too late!). If you did, you should take advantage of one of the most convenient and downright pleasant features in Windows 10: the ability to login by simply looking at your PC, using Windows Hello. It's easy to setup, but may cost you a few bucks depending on the PC and accessories you currently own.

What's Windows Hello?

Microsoft's umbrella term for its body-scanning login method is called Windows Hello. It allows you to avoid entering a password by using biometrics (like fingerprint scanning, iris scanning, and facial recognition) to grant you access to your account. (Note that to use the security feature, you'll most likely need some additional accessories for your computer, like a compatible webcam or fingerprint scanner.)

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Windows Hello also works within certain Windows 10 apps, letting you login to your Dropbox or OneDrive account without a password. Unfortunately, Windows Hello isn't as ubiquitous as one would hope, and very few apps support the feature.

Using your face as a password isn't new, but the technology wasn't exactly good enough in the past to serve as a security measure. Photographs, videos, masks, or even painted faces were able to fool face-scanning tech, thanks to its reliance on a basic camera. The improved scanning tech found in devices like the Surface Pro or iPhone X now combines a traditional camera with integrated infrared projectors (good for recognition in low light conditions) and depth sensors in order to properly identify which face is real and which is false.

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I've been using Windows Hello to log in to a Surface Pro laptop (a loaner from Microsoft) and have been impressed with the results. As a bearded black man with glasses, I'm acutely aware of the, uh, checkered success rate facial recognition has in relation to people who aren't white. I'm pleased to say Windows Hello rarely disappoints. In the rare instances where it does fail, Windows Hello will attempt to scan your face again and offer suggestions on how to adjust your position. If it fails again, it'll ask you to enter your security PIN you chose during setup, and let you dismiss the lock screen and get back to work.

How To Enable Windows Hello

Open your Settings app, and select Sign-In Options (or enter "sign in" in your taskbar's search box). From there, select Setup under facial recognition. Your webcam will activate, and you'll see, well, your face. Center your head in the blue box until the scan is complete.

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After your scan, you'll need to enter a PIN number in case Windows Hello flubs your login attempts. You can select Improve recognition to scan your face again if you find yourself running into login troubles more often than not. It's a pretty straightforward process.

You Might Need a New Webcam

There's no beating around the bush: If you want to use Windows Hello's facial recognition feature, you might need to buy some new hardware. Windows Hello requires a "RealSense" camera, Intel's term for its facial and gesture recognizing tech. Unfortunately, they ain't cheap. Logitech's only Windows Hello-friendly webcam costs nearly $200. There are cheaper options available, but not many. Consider it a reason to upgrade that aging webcam anyway.

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If you're on a webcam-equipped laptop that doesn't have Windows Hello support, it just might not be the most convenient login method for you (I mean, you're not going to carry that USB webcam around, are you?).

You Can Use Your Fingerprint, Too

Though Windows Hello employs a smiley-face in its branding, facial recognition isn't the only trick it supports. With a compatible fingerprint scanner, or Microsoft's uncomfortable-looking keyboard with built-in fingerprint reader, you can secure your device no matter how much facepaint you're wearing. You'll need a Windows Hello-compatible fingerprint reader, which are cheaper (anywhere from $25 to $50) and much more prolific than compatible webcams.

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You can set up Windows Hello for fingerprint scanning the same way you enable it for facial recognition. You'll be asked to place your finger on the scanner a few times, then enter a PIN.

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