How to buy the right smart lock for your front door
The deadbolt on your front door right now likely serves its purpose. It locks, it unlocks and keeps out any unwanted guests. And that’s enough. However, if you’re tired of leaving keys under your mat (like everyone else), or you don’t want multiple keys floating around, a smart lock might be the answer.
Smart locks won’t necessarily make your home any safer, but they allow for more control. You can lock and unlock your door from anywhere and extend digital “keys” to friends, family, caregivers or anyone else who regularly visits your home.
Sure, you can still use a regular ol’ key to open a smart-lock-equipped door (or most of them, anyhow), but don’t be too quick to discount the convenience of connectivity — especially when your hands are full of grocery bags, squirming tiny humans or anything else that makes it tough to rummage around for your keys. And when you crawl into bed, only to second guess whether you locked the door or not, you won’t need to throw on a bathrobe and stumble to the front door. You can just pick up your phone and check the lock status.
That said, not all smart locks are the same. There are keyless options, Bluetooth options, locks that use your fingerprint, locks that fit on your existing deadbolt and complete deadbolt replacement locks. It can be tricky to navigate if you’re new to smart home tech. Here’s a look at today’s smart lock options, what you need to know before buying one, and how to choose the right lock for your home.
Should you keep or replace your existing deadbolt?
With some smart locks, you can hang on to the deadbolt that you already have. They’re typically described as “retrofit” options, and they can be great for renters or anyone not wanting to change keys.
Models like the August Wi-Fi Smart Lock, Kwikset Kevo Convert and Sesame Smart Lock are designed specifically to clamp in place over top of your existing deadbolt hardware. All three work with a lot of standard deadbolt brands. In August’s case, the compatibility ranges from Arrow Hardware and Baldwin to Defiant, Kwikset, Schlage and many more. (Here’s August’s and Kwikset’s deadlock compatibility charts for more details.)
icking a protocol: Bluetooth, Z-Wave or Wi-Fi
A smart lock needs to be able to communicate with the rest of your smart home setup and with your phone. Most will do that using one of three common communication protocols: Bluetooth, Z-Wave or Wi-Fi.
There are pros and cons to each, so you’ll want to be sure to understand the differences before making a purchase.
• Examples: August Smart Lock, Poly-Control Danalock (Bluetooth version), Schlage Sense Bluetooth Deadbolt, Kwikset Kevo, Friday Lock
Bluetooth is a common smart-lock protocol because it doesn’t burn through battery life as quickly as Wifi does. After all, it’s not like you can plug your deadbolt in, and who will remember to change the batteries on a door lock? With Bluetooth, your lock’s batteries should last a year or longer.
The downside to Bluetooth is that your range is somewhat limited — roughly 300 feet in a best-case scenario, and probably a lot less than that depending on how your home is laid out. It’s enough to control your lock while you’re at home, but wander too far afield and you’ll lose the connection.
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Something else to keep in mind is that Bluetooth locks will connect directly with your phone or tablet. You don’t need any sort of hub device to act as translator, since your phone already speaks the language. That’s convenient if your smart-home aspirations end at your lock, but hubs grant you the ability to control multiple connected devices from a single app, which can be more convenient than dividing home control among an assortment of device-specific apps.
There are still some neat integrations available with Bluetooth-only smart locks, though. For instance, the August lock has an opt-in auto-unlock feature that’s tied to your phone’s Bluetooth. Lock your front door, leave home, then return within Bluetooth range, and your front deadbolt will automatically unlock.
If you want to control your lock remotely, adding passcodes or letting people in while you’re away, you’re going to need a Z-Wave hub or Wi-Fi-connected smart lock.
• Examples: Poly-Control Danalock (Z-Wave version), Schlage Camelot Touchscreen Deadbolt, Yale Real Living Touchscreen Z-Wave Deadbolt
Z-Wave smart locks are available from brands like Schlage, Poly-Control and others. Unlike Bluetooth locks, Z-Wave locks don’t connect directly with your phone. Instead, they’ll need to connect to a Z-Wave-compatible hub. That hub will translate the lock’s Z-Wave signal into something your router can understand — once it does, you’ll be able to connect with your lock from anywhere.
• Examples: August Wi-Fi Smart Lock, Kwikset Kevo Plus
Wi-Fi is available as an optional add-on with some smart locks. For August’s line of locks, a $79 August Connect plugs into a power outlet and bridges the connection between the Bluetooth August lock and your Wi-Fi network. The same goes for the $100 Kwikset Kevo Plus. Once you’ve plugged in these accessory devices and made that connection, you can control your lock from anywhere with an Internet connection.
This year, August released a new smart lock with Wi-Fi built in. Schlage and Kwikset are also ditching Wi-Fi modules, so I’d advise against filling up another outlet in your home with a Wi-Fi module if you aren’t dead set on a specific smart lock. That said, built-in Wi-Fi will likely drain your batteries quicker than Bluetooth, so stock up on the required batteries.
With Wi-Fi enabled, you can lock and unlock your door remotely, create new users or access codes from anywhere and view your lock’s status and activity log. Connecting your smart lock to the internet with Wi-Fi is going to give you the most options for features, including integration with Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa.
Connecting to third-party products
Related to all of this protocol-talk is the question of interoperability with products from other manufacturers.
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With the Z-Wave locks that work over “universal” hubs like SmartThings and Wink, this functionality is built in. That means other smart gadgets that are compatible with your Z-Wave hub should have some level of integration with your smart lock. Want to set up a rule that turns on your Zigbee-powered Philips Hue LEDs whenever you unlock your door? That’s a reasonable option when you have a hub that speaks both Zigbee and Z-Wave. There are even more possibilities with locks that have IFTTT (If This Then That) services. Read up on smart home IFTTT recipes here.
In addition, products like the Schlage Sense Bluetooth Deadbolt ($168 at Amazon), the Kwikset Premis, and the second-gen August Smart Lock and newer models work with Apple’s HomeKit, Apple’s own network of smart home devices that harnesses the voice-control powers of Siri to control your lock. The Schlage model works with Siri today, and August allows you to use voice control to lock and unlock your door with a PIN code.
Then there’s Amazon’s Alexa. After first rolling out support for the August Smart Lock, Amazon’s virtual voice assistant now has an entire set of software development tools for smart lock integrations, along with a whole host of partners, including Yale, Kwikset, Schlage and the Z-Wave Alliance. As a result, it’s easier than ever to find a smart lock that you can control with Alexa voice commands for locking, unlocking or checking the lock status.
Google is also in the mix with Google Assistant. August smart locks work with Google and Nest, owned by Google, has partnered with Yale on a smart lock designed to work with the Nest Secure ($388 at HP) system that includes Nest’s Weave technology for wireless smart home communication.