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Laptops

How to set up Windows Hello facial recognition on your laptop

You can log into your Window 10 laptop or tablet by looking at your webcam. Here's what you need and how to set it up.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The upcoming iPhone X might be Apple's first to let you unlock the device with your face, but Microsoft was there first with Windows Hello

Using your Windows 10 laptop or tablet's built-in webcam, Hello uses facial recognition to get you in and working in under two seconds. It also works with more than a dozen apps like DropBox, iHeartRadio and OneDrive, so you can skip typing in a password. 

Unfortunately, not every webcam will work with Windows Hello. Your PC will need an infrared (IR) camera to use the feature, which are more common in new laptops and two-in-ones from the past couple years, including those from Dell, Lenovo and Asus. If you're not ready for a new PC, you can opt to buy a supported external webcam like Logitech's Brio 4K Pro or Razer's Stargazer. They're pricey, but cheaper than buying a new laptop just to get facial recognition. 

Check for Windows Hello compatibility

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The Microsoft Surface-like Lenovo Miix 720 has a built-in IR camera. 

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If you're not entirely sure what, if any, Windows Hello support your computer has it's very easy to check. In the Cortana search bar at the lower left of your screen type "sign-in options" or simply click on the the microphone icon and ask Cortana for sign-in options. 

Once you're on the sign-in options screen, you'll see the Windows Hello options available to you. If your system's webcam supports face recognition, 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. Once that's done, your Windows Hello options should no longer be grayed out. 

Look at the camera 

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Once you click through to set it up, you'll hit a "Welcome to Windows Hello" screen, which simply gives you a 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 the IR camera will turn on and scan your face. Just keeping looking directly at the camera until the blue status bar below your picture finishes. It takes just a couple seconds to finish as long as you keep your head still and looking at the camera.

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Create a PIN

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. 

After that, you'll be asked to set up a PIN to get you into Windows if for some reason Hello is not available or is having trouble recognizing your face, which is a pretty rare experience in my testing. First, you'll be asked to enter your system password, and then you'll be asked to create a PIN, which cannot be the same as your password. 

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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 last in less than two seconds. If you have this option 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 into your computer and apps, make in-app purchases or sign into websites with Microsoft's Edge browser. The setup process is essentially the same as the facial recognition, you'll just use your finger on a sensor instead of looking at your camera.