What Nobody Tells You About Smart Locks

published Apr 11, 2019
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
( Image Credit: Heather Keeling)

Ever find a skeleton key? How quaint they look—what a throwback to another time! But if you’ve looked in the locks aisle at a big-box hardware store lately, that may be the way modern keys are headed, too.

Smart locks are crowding out traditional locks, and they just keep getting smarter. I’ve been curious about these fancy locks since hearing about a version Airbnb hosts use that assigns a keypad code to guests, automatically sends it, and then expires the code after the reservation ends. What wizardry is this?!

Are you smart-lock-curious, too? To find out the deets, I called up Brian Cox, Head of Product for August locks, to discuss all things smart.

The Nest x Yale smart lock. (Image Credit: Nest)

First, why even bother? For Airbnbs, a smart lock makes sense. But why would a typical homeowner or renter trade in their good ol’ keys?

If you’ve ever hidden a key under a doormat, there’s your reason. Whether you’ve asked a friend to water your plants while you’re away or you need to let in a contractor or a dog walker, you can unlock the door for them remotely using an app on your phone. Some brands even let you schedule times to give someone access—so your contractor won’t be poking around after hours.

And if you’ve performed the contortions necessary to find your key and unlock the door while balancing bags of groceries, the appeal of having the door unlock as you approach is pretty clear.

Different brands come with different bells and whistles. August has a feature called DoorSense, Cox says, which is a small sensor you install on the door frame. “Basically, it can tell you at any moment if the door is open or not, and locked or not,” he says. And Nest’s Yale lock lets you check your lock’s status using Google Assistant. (If we could just do that with the iron and the stove burner!)

August smart lock. (Image Credit: Amazon)

The further up the price scale you go, the more bells and whistles you get. Think: Integrated cameras that let you see when someone approaches your door. (No more wondering if your Amazon package is on your doorstep.) You can even talk to the delivery person through the camera. Some systems let you monitor your family member’s comings and goings… something that probably appeals more to a parent of a teen with a curfew than said teen.

So, this sounds complicated. How do they work? And for those of us who haven’t yet ventured into smart home territory, how doable is this?

Luckily, you can get retrofitted smart locks that fit right into your existing locks “so the outside is the standard deadbolt that you have today,” Cox explains. These styles don’t have the number pad you might normally associate with a smart lock. “This appeals to a lot of renters who have a landlord who requires they don’t change out the lock.”

One retrofitting caveat: People who need access to your home will either need a key, the app, or for you to unlock the door remotely. If you want visitors to use a PIN, you’ll need a model that includes the outside keypad, too.

Smart lock systems use Bluetooth for all this smartness to happen. And to operate the lock remotely, you’ll need WiFi and a bridge, Cox says. That sounds technical, but “It’s just a little square guy you plug into the wall. It talks to the lock over Bluetooth, and then talks back to the internet via Wi-Fi,” he said. Basically, it’s what lets you talk to your lock from far away.

If you don’t have this bridge, your app can still talk to the lock as long as it’s within Bluetooth range, which is usually around 30 feet. But that bridge brings other benefits: You can even make Alexa open your door.

Installation is really easy, Cox says. Each smart lock will come with detailed instructions, and in most cases you should be able to install the lock directly into your existing door. You may need a drill or screwdriver, and you might need a door lock installation kit—check your smart lock’s instructions.

The Friday smart lock. (Image Credit: Friday)

Expect your smart lock to run on batteries—but don’t fret. For August locks, the four AA batteries last six to 12 months, Cox says, and you get an email and app alert when the juice is low. Friday’s locks last three months, but you can simply recharge the battery when they die.

And if a smart lock’s batteries do sputter out on you, you can still open the lock with a key—so don’t toss that relic just yet.

This all comes at a cost, but no matter your budget or needs, there’s a smart lock for you. A basic August lock costs around $120 on Amazon, and goes up from there: A keypad is $60, WiFi bridge is $63, and doorbell cam is $199. The Nest x Yale lock will run you $249, and Friday costs $299.

But can you really put a price on never again dropping a bag of groceries while scrounging for your key?