For the past several weeks, I’ve been using Windows Hello on a loaner ThinkPad X1 Carbon. This new type of login, unique to Windows 10, makes it easier than ever to authenticate yourself on a PC. And it works with both existing and emerging technologies.
As Microsoft describes it, Windows Hello enables Windows 10 to recognize you and allow you into your computing devices more easily than with a password. What that really means is that Windows Hello is an evolution of the simpler sign-in capabilities that Microsoft first added to Windows 8. In that release, you could sign-in with a 4-digit PIN or a picture password, where you would draw a few unique squiggles on a touch screen displaying a favorite photo. (Windows has also long supported smart cards for dual-factor authentication, but this technology is generally relegated to enterprise users.)
In Windows 10, these capabilities are extended to three new sign-in types—a fingerprint press, or a facial or iris (eye) scan, both of which require special new cameras—and called Windows Hello. But you can also use Windows Hello with an existing authentication type that remains somewhat unusual on Windows devices, the fingerprint swipe. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon, like many ThinkPad devices, supports this technology, and Windows 10 and Windows Hello has worked natively with this scanner in the builds (public and private) I’ve been using recently.
As you might expect, you configure Windows Hello authentication types in the same place you do PIN and picture password sign-ins, in the Sign-In Options area in Settings, Accounts.
The X1 Carbon doesn’t include a Windows Hello-compatible camera, so that option is not available.
But the fingerprint scanner works great, and is quickly set up for however many fingers you wish to enroll. In previous versions of Windows, you needed to use a Lenovo utility to configure this capability. Now it’s just built right into the OS.
Better still, the X1’s fingerprint scanner is the quickest way I’ve ever signed into a PC: it is fast and accurate, and I really have to try hard to get it to misread my finger. When it does, Windows Hello explains what’s wrong—perhaps the finger is too far over to the left or right—so you can get going quickly.
And it is used within Windows when you need to authenticate as well.
To be clear, Windows Hello doesn’t “replace” your Microsoft account password. Instead, it ties that password—and the resulting authentication—to a new biometric sign-in, much as was the case with PIN and picture passwords in Windows 8.
But it really does work well.