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How to Unlock Your Windows Laptop With Your Face

Yep, you can log in to your Windows laptop by looking at the webcam using Windows Hello. Here's how to set it up.

Joshua Goldman Managing Editor / Advice
Managing Editor Josh Goldman is a laptop expert and has been writing about and reviewing them since built-in Wi-Fi was an optional feature. He also covers almost anything connected to a PC, including keyboards, mice, USB-C docks and PC gaming accessories. In addition, he writes about cameras, including action cams and drones. And while he doesn't consider himself a gamer, he spends entirely too much time playing them.
Expertise Laptops, desktops and computer and PC gaming accessories including keyboards, mice and controllers, cameras, action cameras and drones Credentials
  • More than two decades experience writing about PCs and accessories, and 15 years writing about cameras of all kinds.
Joshua Goldman
4 min read
Acer Aspire Vero

You can unlock your Windows 11 laptop with your face.

Josh Goldman/CNET

Apple's FaceID makes it easy to unlock an iPhone or iPad hands-free. But did you know your Windows laptop might have a similar option with Windows Hello? Using your Windows 10 or Windows 11 laptop's built-in webcam, Hello uses facial recognition to get you in and working in under two seconds.

Brett Pearce/CNET

Read more: Microsoft Now Lets You Scrap Your Password for Outlook, Xbox and Other Online Services

Unfortunately, not every webcam works with Windows Hello. Your laptop webcam needs an infrared (IR) camera to use the feature, which are more common in new laptops and two-in-ones from the past several years, including those from Dell, Lenovo and Asus. If you're not ready for a new laptop, you can opt to buy a supported external webcam like Logitech's Brio 4K Pro, Dell's 4K UltraSharp or Lenovo's 510 FHD

Check for Windows Hello compatibility

Windows 11 sign-in options settings window.
Screenshot by Josh Goldman/CNET

If you're not entirely sure what, if any, Windows Hello support your computer has, it's simple to check. Using the Windows search bar or press the Windows key plus S, type "sign-in options." You can also ask Cortana for sign-in options if you have it activated. 

Once you're on the sign-in options screen, you'll see the Windows Hello options available to you. To check if your laptop has a supported webcam, click on the box labeled "Facial recognition (Windows Hello)." If the camera isn't supported, you'll see the message "We couldn't find a camera compatible with Windows Hello Face" appear directly under the box. If you have a supported camera, you'll see the option to set it up (likewise if you have a supported fingerprint sensor). Click "Set up" and you're on your way. 

Note that if the "Set up" button is grayed out, it's because you must set up a system password before you can use other sign-in options. On the same screen, you click the Add button under the Password heading and create a password (or a PIN for Windows 11). Once that's done, your Windows Hello options should no longer be grayed out. 

Create a PIN

Even if you have a password set up, Windows Hello requires a PIN as well before you'll be able to turn on facial recognition or a fingerprint reader. The PIN can be used in case Hello has trouble recognizing your face -- a pretty rare experience in my testing, if you did a couple of face scans. Your PIN cannot be the same as your password but you'll still want to pick one that's easy enough to remember but too difficult to guess. It can be all numbers or a combo of numbers and letters. 

Look at the camera 

Windows Hello facial recognition setup screen with face scan.
Screenshot by Josh Goldman/CNET

Once you click through to set it up, you'll hit a "Welcome to Windows Hello" screen, which gives you one last chance to back out of setting it up. Don't worry, though: If you decide you don't want to use face recognition, you can delete the profile later. 

Click the "Get started" button and a prompt to enter your PIN will appear. Once entered, your camera will turn on and scan your face. Just keep looking directly at the camera until the blue status box around your face finishes. It takes just a couple of seconds to finish as long as you keep your head still and look at the camera.

Once it completes, you're given the option to improve recognition by running the IR camera scan again. You should do this if you regularly wear glasses or a hat so you can run the scan with those things on and off. Or run it with your head at slightly different angles while still looking at the camera as well as in dark and bright lighting.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Look to unlock

In the Windows Hello settings under sign-in options, you have the option to automatically dismiss the lock screen if Windows recognizes your face. This means that as soon as you boot up or wake your PC from sleep, it will scan your face, unlock and take you to your Desktop or whatever you were working on most recently in less than two seconds. If you have this option turned off, you'll be asked to dismiss the lock screen manually after Windows recognizes your face, which means clicking a mouse button, keyboard key or swiping your touchscreen. Otherwise, you should be all set up for facial recognition with Windows Hello. 

If you've skipped using a system password in the past because you hate having one more password to remember, face recognition is a good, better-than-nothing compromise. And it works so well, you might find yourself locking your computer down just to use it. 

Let your fingers do the unlocking

Windows Hello can also be used with integrated or add-on fingerprint readers. They accomplish the same task, but require you to lift your finger to a sensor to quickly sign you in to your computer and apps, make in-app purchases or sign into websites with Edge, Chrome and Firefox browsers. The setup process is essentially the same as with facial recognition, you'll use your finger on a sensor instead of looking at your camera.