With Windows 10's built-in Hello feature, logging in via fingerprint is easier and more useful than ever. But what if your laptop doesn't have a built-in fingerprint reader or you have it plugged into a dock all day with its lid closed? Bio-key's EcoID solves these problems, connecting to any USB port and giving you extremely accurate reads with a single, quick touch. Whether you're a home user looking for a quicker way to authenticate without a password or a business wanting to add another layer of security for your employees, this $39.99 fingerprint scanner is a great solution.
A slim white rectangle that attaches to any USB port via an included micro USB cable, the 1.25 x 2.25 x .3-inch Bio-key EcoID is small enough to fit on even the tiniest desk. At only 0.8 ounces, the device certainly won't weigh you down if you choose to carry it, but its best-use case is staying put on your desk, attached to a dock, hub or laptop that you rarely move.
Rubber feet on its bottom surface keep the EcoID from being jostled around too much, though I wish it were actually a little bulkier, so I wouldn't lose it as easily under the mess of junk on my desk or accidentally flip it over when I brush against its wire. A pair of holes in the left and top surfaces allow users to physically secure the fingerprint reader to their desks, provided that they can find a superthin cable to thread through them.
If you want an external fingerprint reader that you can use on the go, Bio-key's SideTouch scanner, which hangs directly off your laptop's USB port like a dongle, is a better choice. However, I prefer the corded EcoID, because I can place it right next to my external keyboard and mouse, as part of my work setup. When I go to sit down at my desk and unlock my computer, the keyboard and mouse are the closest touch points.
More important than the size of the entire EcoID is the girth of its sensor. The 0.4 x 0.6-inch surface is more than big enough to allow it to scan an entire adult finger in a single touch. Unlike superthin readers that force you to swipe your digits, you just press down on the EcoID once for it to recognize you. More and more laptops that have built-in readers are using the touch sensors, because swipe-based scanners often misread your finger if you move too slowly or too quickly.
Fortunately, in my tests, the sensor usually recognized my finger in a second or less. However, when logging into Windows 10 with my digits, I had to make sure I pressed down with enough force and got enough of my finger over the sensor. Several times, I was too quick or I used too light a touch, and I got a Windows message saying that I should clean my sensor or try again. After some trial and error, I got better at using the right touch.
If you're using the Bio-key EcoID with Windows, which is its primary purpose, you don't need to install any software at all. As soon as I connected the device for the first time, Windows 10 downloaded a driver in the background and didn't even prompt me to do anything to complete the install. The EcoID uses the Windows Biometric Framework (WBF), so it not only works with Windows Hello, but also with the built-in fingerprint software that comes with Windows 7 and 8.
To set up Windows Hello for fingerprints, I first went to the Sign-in options submenu in Settings and set up a four-digit PIN code, which is required by the OS. Then I clicked the Add button under the Windows Hello subheader and was prompted to scan a finger for enrollment.
With most fingerprint readers I've used, I have to scan a finger five times or more to enroll it. However, on one laptop I tested, Windows Hello only needed three reads to register my digits and, on another, only one long press. After I finished setup, I was able to use a single press to log in to the OS, unlock my computer or use the Windows Store app's authentication feature.
According to Bio-key, the EcoID is extremely good at avoiding false positives. The company says that its scanner achieved a False Match Rate (FMR) of 0.000001 percent and a False Non-Match Rate (FMNR) of .01 percent on the NIST PFT II test, a common benchmark of biometric accuracy. Those are both extremely small percentages.
Cost and Competition
The EcoID will cost $39.99 when it's available in a single-unit package later this fall. However, right now, you can only buy the device in three packs, which are available from Amazon for $119.99. Similar external fingerprint readers that I found on Amazon are much more expensive, and many of them use annoying swipe scanners. For example, the highly rated Verifi P2000, which goes for $64.95, is a swiper-type device.
It's less expensive to get a fingerprint reader built into your computer, provided that you're buying a business notebook that has it as a configuration option. For example, Dell charges just $21 to add a smart card reader and touch fingerprint reader to the Latitude E7270, and Lenovo asks for just $10 more to put a fingerprint reader on the ThinkPad 13.
The Bottom Line
If you want to use Windows Hello with a computer that doesn't have a built-in fingerprint reader or lives primarily on your desk, the Bio-key EcoID is an extremely compelling choice. Its fast and accurate touch sensor and convenient design make it a great addition to your work setup.
If you frequently log in while balancing a notebook on your lap, you may prefer Bio-key's dongle-shaped SideTouch reader or the convenience of typing in a PIN instead. However, if you want to be able to walk up to your desk, tap a finger for under a second and get into Windows 10, the EcoID is your best choice.