If there’s one device and function where technology could definitely improve and lend a helping hand, it has to be the front door lock on your property. It’s the gateway to your home. It’s where you receive visitors, get mail deliveries and the first barrier you’ll come to when you return home with your arms full of shopping. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could enter your home without putting down the carrier bags and fumbling for your door keys? Wouldn’t it be great if you could let expected visitors in without getting out of your armchair? Well, the good news is you can, if you invest in a smart lock.
What does a smart lock do?
A smart lock gives you keyless access to your property, and allows you to control access to the property via a numerical keypad or from your smartphone. A smart lock can also furnish you with smartphone alerts about who’s coming to, and going from, your front door, and automatically trigger other smart devices like your lights and security system. The principal benefit of a smart lock, however, is that you can unlock and lock it from anywhere – be that your sofa, your car or from work.
If that sounds almost too good to be true, then you might just have hit upon the nub of the issue. As with all advances in technology, there are benefits and drawbacks. The question you’ll need to answer before you spend your hard-earned money is, are the benefits sufficient to outweigh the disadvantages and, if so, do they justify the cost.
What are the benefits of a smart lock?
Well, as mentioned you can lock/unlock your door via a smartphone or keypad, or in some instances carry out these functions just by approaching the door. So the need to put the shopping down and search for your house keys will no longer be necessary. The other benefits of a smart lock are that you can track who enters or exits your home and when, and you can assign timed “guest” keys or PIN codes for temporary visitors, like family or friends staying for a few days, or service workers who only need entry for a few minutes or hours.
What are the drawbacks with smart locks?
The simple answer to that is that once you opted for a smart lock, then life will never be simple again. Yes, you’ll be able to access your property without a key, but you’ll have to install the lock first, and if you’re not good with your hands then you’ll have to pay someone to do it for you. Then you’ll have to spend time learning how your new smart gadget and smart lock app work. Then there’s the issue of potential unreliability. What happens if for one reason or another it doesn’t work, or stops working? What happens if the battery on your smart lock or smartphone suddenly dies? How do you gain access to the property then?
Some of these concerns may be more theoretical than real, but you’ll still need to consider them and work out strategies for potential failures before you make a purchase. The good news is there are numerous smart locks on the market offering a variety of technologies and features that address or alleviate many of these concerns. So, if you search carefully enough, you should be able to find a smart lock that suits your specific situation and home security needs.
Which smart lock is best for your home?
When it comes to buying a smart lock, it has to be said at the outset that one size doesn’t fit all. The final choice will depend on a number of factors, including amongst others, where you’re installing the smart lock and who will be using it. Hopefully the following 10 pointers might help you to make a more informed choice.
What types of smart lock are available?
There are two distinct categories of smart lock available: those that completely replace your existing in-door bolt lock -as opposed to add-on front and back door latch bolt locks – or retrofit smart locks that simply replace or are installed on top of the rear thumb-turn cylinder on the inside of your door, leaving the existing key lock on the front of your door untouched.
In general terms replacement smart locks are the recommended choice as they will provide you with far more entry options. They are also far more obvious, so anyone visiting the property, whether their intentions be good or bad, will clearly be able to see the property is protected by a smart lock. A retrofit smart lock on the other hand is much simpler to install and use, and boasts many of the features of its more-expensive cousin. Retrofit smart locks also offer no outward visible clue of their presence to potential intruders – whether that’s positive or negative wholly depends on your own particular point of view.
For the purposes of this article, to be defined as a smart lock a lock has to include, as standard, Bluetooth for local wireless entry and/or Wi-Fi for away-from-home remote control/lock/unlock capabilities, and an app to provide keyless or even keypad-less unlocking and locking. There are also a number of more traditional-looking locks that provide “smart” and wireless connectivity via an external adapter only, and another handful of smart locks that include Bluetooth for in-person unlocking, but require an adapter to add Wi-Fi for remote operation.
10 features to consider before buying a smart lock
1 – Battery life
The majority of smart locks operate on either multiple AA alkaline batteries or a rechargeable lithium-ion cell. Whichever type of battery your smart lock uses, you’ll still get an alert on your app when battery power gets low: moreover, the housing mounted on the inside of your door will often include an LED that will flash red when the battery needs to be replaced/recharged. How long do these batteries normally last? Well, it all depends on the lock and its functions. Many companies rate their battery life in terms of the number of “cycles” — that is, the total number of physical locks and unlocks — and power usually lasts anywhere from three months to a year, depending on the type of lock and the functions it performs.
2 – Alternate entry options
Bluetooth and Wi-Fi may be great, but they are none the less occasionally unreliable. Even technology companies whose job it is to manufacture smart locks are aware of this potential problem. So they’ve come up with alternative ways for locking/unlocking smart locks. As well as wireless unlocking techniques, more and more practical smart locks now offer alternative physical or electronic entry options, including PIN codes (sometimes with an add-on keypad, also Bluetooth-connected) and/or a physical key. A small number of smart lock suppliers also offer a key fob to wirelessly unlock a door if you don’t have your smartphone with you.
3 – Auto lock/unlock
Bluetooth-enabled locks usually provide keyless/PIN-less entry. When you’re carrying your smartphone, a smart lock — particularly a retrofit lock — may let you auto-unlock your door when you are a prescribed distance away, and auto-lock behind you after a user-prescribed period of time. However, this prescribed distance is usually limited to around 30 feet, and it has to be remembered that you can only carry out this function from outside the property. Smart locks with keypads generally won’t include proximity auto-unlock capabilities for sound security reasons, like preventing an intruder or thief from entering a property using a lost or stolen phone.
4 – Guest keys
Smart locks, particularly retrofit models, let you assign “keys” for visitors who you’re happy to let into your home in your absence: visitors like out-of-town friends or family members, service workers or delivery people, or neighbours watering the plants, taking in the mail or or feeding the cat while you’re away. You may have come across this particular practice if you’ve ever stayed in an Airbnb property. Entry ‘keys’ are sent via a text or email code through the smart lock app, and these keys give your visitor wireless entry capabilities for a prescribed period of time or a prescribed number of entries. Replacement smart locks with keypads allow you to simply assign temporary PIN codes, timed for single use or for a specific number of hours or days. Most smart locks also track who comes and goes, and smart locks with Wi-Fi can send an alert to your phone when someone comes or goes, so even when you’re still at work you’ll be able to find out whether the kids have returned home from their schools.
5 – Weatherproof rating
Smart locks are complicated pieces of kit, housing not just the traditional metal pins, tumblers, gears and other standard lock mechanics, but also sensitive electronics. So they need to be able to withstand extremes in weather conditions to function properly. Complete replacement smart locks will indicate what temperatures the lock is designed to withstand and often have an IP water/dust-proof rating. However, not all smart locks are born equal: not all can withstand adverse weather conditions over a prolonged period. If you want to ensure that your smart lock is up to the job, no matter what the weather throws at it, then only buy from a reputable lock manufacturer with a long and proven track record of testing for such conditions.
6 – ANSI lock quality rating
Most physical door locks will have their own distinct specifications and idiosyncrasies; so it’s difficult to establish whether the smart lock you’re considering buying will be up to the job. In order to make that choice a little easier, 3 standard lock designations have been introduced by the ANSI/BHMA (American national Standards Institute/ Builders’ Hardware Manufacturers Association). These designation tests judge locks on their robustness and security against picking, bumping, other physical attacks along with the longevity of the locking/unlocking mechanism. The 3 designation grades are:
- Grade 1
The strongest grade, usually reserved for commercial applications
- Grade 2
The most common residential lock, and most commonly bought ANSI-approved lock
- Grade 3
Usually a secondary lock to supplement a grade 1 or 2 lock.
7 – Wireless security
Security is always a concern, especially when you constantly hear and read about hacking attacks. That concern is no different for Wi-Fi security. Most smart lock manufactures will publish the technical specification of their locks and tell you just how secure their W-Fi security is, but it should be remembered that there is no ‘best’ wireless security scheme or standard for smart locks. The best you can hope to discover is just how high a priority the smart lock manufacturer places on the issue. The only way you’ll discover that, unfortunately, is through extensive research. What can be said with some sort of conviction, however, is that the best smart locks – that is the most hack-proof – are keypad-enabled models that don’t use Bluetooth or Wi-Fi as their primary entry method.
8 – Smart home compatibility
Most smart locks can be integrated into an existing smart home environment — using Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Apple HomeKit, IFTTT (If This Then That), Z-Wave, ZigBee, Samsung SmartThings — so it’s easy enough to incorporate the locking of doors, turning on lights and adjusting temperature controls into your smart routine. However, as things currently stand, very few smart locks are compatible with all smart home technologies.
9 – Voice control
An increasing number of smart locks that are compatible with Amazon and HomeKit also provide Alexa and Siri voice control. However, this voice control capability is usually limited to locking the door when you’re inside your home. Amazon recently approved an unlock voice control protocol which requires the user to provide a spoken PIN code after a spoken unlock command. A growing number of lock makers, including August, Kwikset (Kevo) and Schlage, are also just beginning to implement this new Alexa Key “speak to unlock” feature.
10 – Fit and finish
Traditional lock vendors with a vaulted pedigree, like Yale and Schlage, offer a wide variety of smart lock hardware finishes and trims and matching latch mechanisms, including variations of silver, bronze, brass and black. Newer tech-focused smart lock providers, however, do not offer such choices. So if aesthetics is important to you, your smart lock purchase options are limited.