Oh, Hello

I’m just a normal guy with an iPhone 8 Plus, not an X, so I’m not used to having a device that unlocks just by looking at my smug mug. But Windows has a feature called “Windows Hello” that does exactly that. Of course I turned it on as soon as I got my Surface Go.

What I Like

Windows Hello works…fine. It’s not a life-changing way of unlocking my tablet, but it’s convenient enough that I’m keeping it active on the Go and have intention of switching back to a regular old passcode.

I like that I can just turn on the screen, wait a few seconds, and then be into the device. It’s minimal effort and feels relatively effortless.

When it doesn’t recognize you, it will show a notification that says something to the effect of “we didn’t recognize you, please let us scan your face again to get more data.” Ideally it would automatically do this when I entered my PIN, but I still like that it’s trying to get better.

I also like that, like Touch ID, Hello can be utilized by third party apps, so 1Password will let me access my passwords via my face and not with my long, secure password. Note that all entries shown in the GIF below are bogus.

Finally, this works in the dark. I turned off all the lights in my office at night and held the screen in front of me: it worked. The screen was on, so it provided a little light, but for all intents and purposes there was not light. Love this.

What I Don’t Like

The experience is inconsistent enough that I can’t get totally on board.

First, and this may be the slower device I’m using, but the recognition takes too long sometimes. A few times it’s quick, but often it takes 3-5 seconds to recognize me. After 3 seconds, the seconds start to feel like days, and you start to wonder if it’s going to work at all.

It’s also not wildly reliable. I’d say about one in ten tries doesn’t recognize me at all. It’s not a ton, but combined with the sometimes slow response, makes me think it’s not going to work, even if it usually does. Knowing that it will fail a couple times per day plants the seed of doubt.

While it’s mostly reliable indoors and works well in pitch black, it’s less reliable outdoors. I’ve had more failures outside than anywhere else. If the success rate is 90% indoors, I’d say it’s closer to 40-550% outside.

Inconsistent behavior is the final hurdle for me. On the lock screen, sometimes the device unlocks and takes me to my desktop without me needing to do anything besides look at the thing. Other times, it tells me it recognizes me, but needs me to swipe up on the screen to unlock the device. I’d prefer it did one or the other every time. This carries over to third party apps, where apps like 1Password will recognize me for authentication, but then require me to click a button to continue. Why not continue as soon as you see me?

Takeaway

I like Windows Hello a fair bit. It’s not a complete gamer changer that makes me want to throw my iPad Pro out the window, but it’s a nice feature that makes me enjoy the Surface Go a little bit more.

I sincerely wish I had an iPhone X to compare this to, because I’m really curious how this stacks up, but it seems slower and less reliable overall. I’d be very curious to see if that’s the case.