I don’t think I’m asking much if I want a front door that knows when I’m approaching and unlocks itself. I mean, when I’m grappling with a pile of groceries and my keys have sunk to purse depths that even James Cameron wouldn’t probe, all I’m asking for is little help. Smart locks do fun things like anticipate your arrival or let you lock up from bed, they’re easy to set up and use. The tough part: Figuring out which brand is worth buying.
Full disclosure: I’ve always had misgivings about smart locks, partly because it’s early in their lifetime. The ones produced by tried-and-true lock companies make me nervous about their technology, and the ones that are made by tech start-ups make me nervous about the quality of the mechanism. I don’t want to invite a break-in with poorly-made hardware, or a digital hack that leaves my front door wide open. The reviews on many of the smart locks in the market aren’t stellar right now— many bugs to work out.
That said, they provide such great peace of mind: Imagine being able to see the status of the lock from your phone, and to lock it or unlock it from wherever you are (those of you who have ever had OnStar unlock your car remotely will know how thrilling that is) creating virtual “keys” that can be temporarily assigned and revoked (no more leaving keys under the mat— never smart) and getting a text when your child enters his unique combination, so you know he’s arrived home safely from school.
Smart locks are a compelling home automation story, and they continue to do very well in the markeplace, all the while steadily improving in security
Still, they’re interesting devices that are steadily being improved. With that in mind, here are the most talked-about smart locks on the market. Let’s see how they measure up.
With a clean, anodized aluminum design and a ring of LEDs that appears upon locking or unlocking, August installs on the inside of your door, and looks both upscale and befitting of a sci-fi flick. The device is said to be installable by a non-pro within ten minutes, and it comes in pretty champagne, silver, dark gray and red. You can program August to issue virtual keys to anyone in your address book, allowing them to automatically open the door via app. You decide how long they’ll have access—even for a few days or hours. August promises to send you notifications of who’s entered and exited, and when. The company claims its “encrypted locking technology” is safer than physical keys, which can be copied and stolen. (But read on for more about safety.) If your phone is lost or stolen, you’ll need to use August’s website to remove your device’s access, but you won’t need to re-key your house (though if I lose an August-connected phone and can’t get online right away, I anticipate panicking). August is made to auto-lock behind you, and for an extra fifty bucks on top of August’s $249.99 base price, the August Connect accessory will let you command August from afar. The lock runs on batteries, so even if your Wi-Fi goes down, it’s made to continue functioning. You can also continue to use a physical key. All this is great—as long as it works. Users complain that the lock sometimes unlocks without being commanded to do so (cue panic), and takes up to 30 seconds to connect with the app, leaving users literally standing out in the cold.
Though it may not look quite as cool as the futuristic August, Kevo is made by Kwikset, a company that’s been manufacturing traditional locks for sixty years—and that inspires confidence in the hardware. It’s design is a bit “meh” but it won’t fight with your more traditional hardware like some of the new futuristic smart locks will. It has a regular ol’ keyhole in the center and an LED band that lights in blue. At $199, it promises to do a lot of what August does, with slight differences. With your Kevo-connected phone in your pocket, you touch the lock to unlock it. Unfortunately, according to many users, Kevo has trouble detecting the phone in a pocket as they approach the door. You do have the option of using a Kevo key fob, which is essentially a keychain that will give you the same touch-to-open effect, and users tend to say the fob works better than the phone. Kevo is also made to work with the Nest thermostat, so it can optimize your energy usage based on when it detects you’re away. Note that the device comes with only two regular eKeys, which never expire and can be reassigned to new users. Getting more of those will cost you $1.99 each. Guest eKeys are free and unlimited but last only 24 hours, which could be annoying if your guest runs late and you get stuck somewhere without access to the app. Some reviewers also complain that the unit spontaneously locks itself, which is at least better than spontaneously unlocking itself, I guess…
With a hip name and slick design, Goji may be the most tricked-out smart lock on the market. It’s made to do everything the other smart locks do, plus a few bonuses: it takes a photo of your guest and sends it to your phone, so you can actually see who’s at the door. It also has an impressive-looking screen on both the interior and the exterior. The one outside looks a bit like a Nest thermostat, and will greet you by displaying “Welcome” and your name when you approach. The interior looks a bit like you’ve pasted a smartphone to your door. Its optional key fobs have a smooth, clean design, and the system can still be used with mechanical keys. It has DIY, no-drilling, no-wiring installation, and if you ever have a problem (say, your phone is stolen), you can call Goji 24/7, which feels more reassuring than needing to go online. Of course, luxury comes at a price—in this case, $324 including only four electronic keys and two mechanical keys. Adding a fob will run you another $40. Also, you’ll need to be patient because the next batch of Gojis won’t ship until November. Yes, that also means you’ll be using a beta version that’s likely to have quirks.
In 2012, Lockitron started crowdfunding for a similar-yet-larger product. That original was long delayed with reliability issues as well as difficulties producing in quantity. Now, Lockitron promises imminent release of BOLT, a new model. Looking like a cross between an oversized eraser and a huge, flat pill, this black and brushed metal smart lock whirs and emits three beeps as it spins open. Those noises sound like a hotel room lock, which may be why its website features an Airbnb owner advocating it. Like its competitors, it uses Bluetooth, sends notifications when guests come in and out, and is set to automatically unlock as you approach. It requires a second, $80 device called “Bridge” in order to add Wi-Fi so you can activate it from anywhere—though at $99 for the BOLT alone, it’s the most economical smart lock out there. Don’t get too excited, though: It’s still in pre-order, and backorders from the crowdfunding campaign must be fulfilled before new orders are mailed. I’m hopeful that BOLT won’t have as many bugs as its smart lock competitors, but if it does you might want to wait for a second-generation model.
All these locks make big promises, and still have technological issues to work out. My suggestion is to keep watching, reading reviews, and waiting. Problems will be solved and newer, better versions will hopefully be released. I’ll also be keeping an eye on outside-the-box technology like Haven, an entirely different take on a door lock. For now, I’m relying on a transitional keyless entry lock with a digital touchpad, made by a trusted lock company. It may not be “smart,” but it’s what’s smart to me for now.