Back in 2015, Microsoft introduced a feature called Windows Hello to the Windows 10 platform with free OS update, allowing rich, secure facial recognition for the first time just like the iPhone X.
Not only is it incredible, once you've tried unlocking your machine or your password vault with your face it's hard to go back to typing it out like a caveman.
The only problem: nobody knows Windows 10's face unlocking exists, despite how well implemented it is, and how it shipped years before the iPhone X popularized it.
Microsoft has done a bad job of promoting the feature, so few people have the right hardware or know the feature exists.
Here's what the Windows Hello experience looks like in practice: swipe open the lock screen, look at the display and boom, it's unlocked already. Microsoft also has the Windows Biometric API, so it's possible to use your face to unlock other apps too, like 1Password, which recently added support:
If Windows Hello fails, you can fall back to a pin code or password, but it's easy enough to add additional training data for it to use to help make it more reliable.
For example, I've scanned myself in without my glasses and it works great in a bunch of different scenarios, including in a pitch-dark room at night.
Not only is it similar to the technology found in Face ID most people are already using on the iPhone X, it works great and I wish every damn Windows device out there supported it.
Unlocking with your face is addictive and it transforms the way I work because it dramatically reduces the amount of times I need to type passwords repeatedly. With my Surface Book 2, I can open the lid and be working in a matter of seconds, rather than poking around on the keyboard or rubbing up a fingerprint sensor.
I hope Microsoft invests in the Windows Hello more and tries to help the average user understand how great it is, because it's totally missed by the majority of people. This is a transformative tool that could help people on a daily basis, but at times it's like it's not there, or often seems unfinished, so flies under the radar.
It needs a little love to make it something people seek out. With 1Password support, it gets a lot more interesting, and I'm hopeful more tools will pick it up soon too.
How it works
Windows Hello's technology itself is interesting and well considered: it requires a high resolution camera paired with an IR sensor to detect the user, scans their face and analyses multiple frames from both cameras to ensure that they're the correct person.
This happens in about a second or less, and feels like magic. The data that makes up your face scan is hashed, then stored in the secure TPM chipset, so software can't mess with or steal it.
Hello can't be fooled with a photo or video, due to the IR sensor, and is built in at the OS level, so can't be tampered with, and false positives are claimed by Microsoft to be less than 0.001% of instances.
Because of the security requirements attached to facial recognition, you'll need specific hardware to use Windows Hello: it can't just be switched on unless your laptop or webcam maker actually included the right hardware.
The good news for those who want to use Windows Hello is there's hardware out there that can add it to your desktop machine.
The Logitech Brio, for example, is a fancy 4K USB-C webcam that supports Windows Hello out of the box, and adds it to any computer for a steep price. I've also seen cheaper alternatives for as low as $50 circling on Amazon, though I'm unsure how well they work.
On the laptop front it's a little trickier. The Surface Book 2, which is a superb laptop, supports Windows Hello out of the box along with many other Microsoft-made devices.
Windows Central keeps a great list of third-party laptops, including many from Samsung, Dell, Lenovo and HP, but you'll need to specifically look for Windows Hello support.
Having experienced it, I don't think I can use a computer without Windows Hello again. It makes proper password management with 1Password frictionless, and helps get to work faster.
Using a machine without it feels weird now, and I encourage you to seek it out in your next upgrade as well.