Facades & Exteriors: Smart Door Locks

We’ve all been there: standing outside the front door, fumbling for our keys and inevitably realizing they’re in the least accessible pocket—or maybe left inside. But now there’s a way to unlock your door without a key. It’s called a smart lock.

If the notion of a smart-anything makes you feel anything but smart, you’re not alone. But while it may take you a little time (and maybe some assistance) to set up one of these devices, you’ll be happy once it’s in place. After all, cars have had smart locks for years; it’s about time our front doors got them.

August Smart Door Lock
Above: The August Smart Door Lock in situ.

What exactly is a smart lock?

The term refers to any device that lets you unlock a door without using a key. Some smart locks have touch pads where you enter a PIN code. Others use Bluetooth technology (which operates without an Internet connection), a wireless fob, or a smartphone app—sometimes you can just ask Siri to open up as you approach. Some devices offer belt and suspenders: Besides keyless access, they also let you use a plain old key to get inside.

Are there different types of smart locks?

There are currently two basic categories: The first involves replacing your existing deadbolt and swapping in new hardware on your front door—which may not match the aesthetics of your door. The second category is an add-on device that only requires you to replace the hardware on the interior side of the door, keeping the same deadbolt. You can do that with just a screwdriver and a little tinkering. And, as described above, the locks operate in several different ways. Lastly, many smart locks can be integrated with other smart devices in your home, such as a doorbell.

Above: The Qrio Smart Lock, made in Japan with Sony technology, is available via Amazon.

Why would I want a smart lock?

Here are some good reasons to consider a change:

  • You can leave home without taking your keys.
  • You can get an alert whenever your front door is unlocked and locked—say, so you’ll know when the kids get home from school.
  • You can send a virtual key to allow access to houseguests, a dog walker, or a cleaning person when you’re away from home. (You can also revoke access at any time.)
  • You can make sure your door is locked after you go out.
Samsung Digital Deadbolt Smart Lock
Above: The Samsung Digital Deadbolt has a touch screen and keyless deadbolt.

How much do smart locks cost?

The locks described below start at around $225; add-ons cost extra.

Which smart locks are recommended?

Here are three well-regarded options that offer different features.

Kwikset Kevo Smartlock
Above: The Kwikset Kevo Touch-to-Open Smart Lock 2nd Gen.

The Wirecutter calls the Kevo “the best smart lock for most people.” It’s also available via Amazon.

August Smart Lock Two Finishes
Above: The August Doorbell Lock.
This lock, operated by highly secure Low Energy Bluetooth and designed by Yves Behar, earned top marks with CNet (2016 Editor’s Choice Award), Good Housekeeping (“the top-tested connected deadbolt”), and more. (See World’s Best-Looking Thermostat, UK Edition for more by Behar.)

Schlage Connect Touchscreen Deadbolt
Above: The Schlage Connect Touchscreen Deadbolt.

While some consumers may pass up this lock because the design doesn’t complement their front door, others consider the easy-to-use electronic keypad and built-in alarm a plus. (Also available via Amazon.)

Will other smart-home devices work with my lock?

Let’s say you have a smart doorbell: Depending which lock you choose, you’ll be able to use your lock’s app to view the doorbell’s live camera feed, see who’s outside and, even if you’re not home, open the door to let them in. Other connected smart devices can be programmed to turn on your lights and crank up the heat or air-conditioning when you unlock the front door.

Note that integrating these devices sometimes requires you to add on a compatible hub, and new options for coordinating smart devices are changing all the time.

Sesame Candy House Smart Locks
Above: Candy House, the company behind the Sesame Smart Lock, bills the device as very easy to install (though that may make it less sturdy than other options). It’s available via Amazon.

What are the major concerns with smart locks?

  • If you have more than one lock on your door, you’ll be restricted to using only the deadbolt—but after all, that is your most effective lock.
  • Consumer pubs cite some security issues; in response, manufacturers are constantly bringing in upgrades with tighter controls.
  • Batteries can run out; you might want a lock with a backup (i.e., a key).
Yale Linus Lock
Above: Forthcoming: The Yale Linus Lock, in collaboration with Nest.

What else should I know before I buy?

The various devices differ in terms of connectivity, ease of use, add-ons, and the like. We recommend you research the consumer sites to figure out what will work best with your home’s set-up, your security needs—and your design preferences.

Bear in mind that the field is changing rapidly, with companies bringing out new innovations almost yearly, so you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the latest options before choosing. For example, Kwikset now makes the Kevo Convert, which lets you keep your existing deadbolt. (Unlike the August, however, it’s installed on your door’s exterior side.) And Kwikset’s Obsidian smart lock, unveiled at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show, should hit the market in late spring 2017. The Obsidian opens with a touch screen; the absence of a key or traditional cylinder means it won’t protrude from the door as much as other locks.

Before making your decision, you’ll also need to check that your door’s existing hardware is compatible. If the handle and deadbolt are in one integrated unit, these locks won’t fit. You’ll have to replace the combined unit with a separate doorknob or handle, and maybe replace the deadbolt as well.

For more smart essentials for indoors and out, see our posts:

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