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Hands on with Windows 10's Windows Hello: It just works

Mark Hachman | July 29, 2015
Windows 10's facial-recognition technology, Windows Hello, has been the great white whale of Microsoft's new operating system: Microsoft has demonstrated it, but rarely has anyone been able to see it in the wild.

windows 10 hello lock screen
Credit: Mark Hachman

Windows 10's facial-recognition technology, Windows Hello, has been the great white whale of Microsoft's new operating system: Microsoft has demonstrated it, but rarely has anyone been able to see it in the wild.

We had to tiptoe around the issue a bit in our review of Windows 10. While we had a standalone RealSense camera that Intel provided earlier, and were able to see what effect connecting that camera had in the Settings, we had to base our opinion on what Microsoft had publicly shown to date. (Note that Hello also works with fingerprint readers, but they aren't nearly as fun.)

That's changed. I'm writing this story on a Hello-capable Lenovo Yoga 15 that Lenovo loaned us for the purposes of testing Windows Hello, and, well, it just works. Unfortunately, laptops equipped with Windows Hello may be difficult to find, although their numbers will increase over time. For now, we have a list of Hello-equipped hardware here.

Why this matters: More and more modern cars include remote unlocking technology, where your proximity unlocks your car and tells it to get ready to go. Hello works the same way: You sit down at your PC, and it automatically unlocks your PC with your face--no password required. (We all hate passwords, right?)  I look at Hello as a similar feature: a convenience, nothing more. Still, I think you'll be loathe to go back to the old way of doing things once you have a PC with Hello enabled.

Face unlocking in Windows 10

The concept behind Windows Hello is extremely simple: You sit down at your PC, which recognizes you and automatically logs you in. Windows 10 Hello uses a special RealSense depth camera module designed by Intel. In the Yoga 15, that camera is embedded where the webcam normally would be, right at the top of the screen.

Visually, you can tell there's a Hello camera there, because it looks like not one, but three lenses: a conventional webcam in the middle, but two others to the left and right. The right-hand camera is actually an infrared camera, apparently bouncing IR light off your face in an effort to recognize you. (A faint red glow is visible when the camera is active.)

Hello works by trying to determine the "real you." It can peer through facial hair and makeup. It then compares your image with its stored image file to make a match. 

Training the Hello camera itself is a tiny bit convoluted. You'll first need to navigate to Settings > Accounts > Sign-In options, then scroll down to Windows Hello. You're probably used to using a password to log in. But Microsoft first requires you to set, then sign in with a four-digit numeric PIN before you start the Hello authentication process.

 

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