What you need to know when considering a smart lock for your home

There are some incredible benefits to home automation, but when it comes to securing your home, it's important to not simply buy the cheapest thing on the shelf. There's a lot to these "smart" locks, and not all of them live up to the promises in the packaging.

Here's a quick look at what you can do to make sure your smart lock is both convenient and safe.

Understand how the lock you want works

Smart locks come in several different flavors. Some add a Wi-Fi connection to your lock and let you control the ability to lock and unlock from wherever you are. Some rely on Bluetooth and only give you the ability to automatically unlock when your phone is close by. Some rely on touch to unlock, while others offer a keypad for a security pin.

The point is, there isn't one kind of smart lock. It's important to understand how the lock you install works and understand how it keeps you safe when locked.

Make sure the lock itself is safe

Just because your smart lock is shinier and more expensive than a normal door lock does not mean it is more safe or secure. Many first-generation smart locks offered compromised, less expensive locks with all of the smart trimmings around it.

It's also important to make sure the smart tech you are buying actually works as advertised. That's not always the case, which is dangerous. Some early locks using Bluetooth Beacons couldn't actually tell which side of the door you were on, meaning if your phone was inside the house and near the door it could still be unlocked. Obviously, that's not great.

Beware of misbehaving apps

Assuming you have found a lock that is safe and works the way you want it to, it's important to keep an eye on how the app behaves on your phone. Early versions of the Kwikset Kevo app, for example, kept the phone awake when nearby a lock and constantly draining the power from your phone while doing largely nothing.

This isn't easy to test before bringing the lock home, so it's important to rely on hands-on reviews with testing on battery life over time. App power problems are less common now, especially with changes Google has made to recent versions of Android, but it's still something to keep an eye out for.

The good ones really are worth it

As disheartening as it can be to see stories about connected home tech going wrong and leaving people vulnerable when they think they are more secure, there's a lot to like about the good smart locks.

Being able to remotely lock your home if you forget, or being able to give someone a temporary virtual key if they're house sitting while you're away, or even using the locked state of the door to control the away modes of other connected home tech are all important. These features save you money over time by conserving energy, keep your home safe by using smart lights to make it look like people are here when you're away, and are generally more convenient than digging around for your keys.

The most important first step is making sure you're buying a quality lock from a reputable company with features you actually want. When that happens, you'll be much happier with how you use your front door.

Do you have a smart lock?

Which one? Has it worked out well for you? Share your success or horror story in the comments below!

Russell Holly

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter

  • It's good that you mentioned that many first gen products were flawed, but since you posted that Kevo video you probably should've pointed out that it's an old video and Kevo specifically has fixed the flaw shown in the video in their second gen lock.
  • I need a key to open my door from the inside as well as the outside. I have a window in the door and it would be easy to break it and reach in if it had the turn lock. Do any off the smart locks protect from inside as well as outside entry?
  • So if there was a fire and your deadbolt is locked, how are people supposed to get out? We have fire codes for real life reasons... Do you think a dual key deadbolt is going to keep someone out when your house is made of glass? Security is just a state of mind...burglars just WANT you to think your house or car is safe...
  • Exactly. Burglars will take the path of least resistance. Whether that path is through the glass window, or hacking a new "smart lock" over the worldwide web. Smart Locks are ONLY ABOUT CONVENIENCE. Everyday we read about some large corporation being hacked. At the recently held convention: DEF ON 2016, the guys there demonstrated just how easy it is to hack into ANY smart lock with Bluetooth LE, or an "IP" address. In fact, if any IoT device has an IP Address, it can be hacked.
  • "So if there was a fire and your deadbolt is locked, how are people supposed to get out?" We have keys hanging out of sight from the outside near each of the dual-cylinder locks. They are also out of reach of anyone who tries to break the sidelights of the doors and get in that way.
  • I just bought the Schlage lock myself (had it about a week). I really liked the look of the August lock, but the reviews on Amazon are subpar. I'll look for Youtube & Tech comparisons/reviews, but I also like to pull from Amazon for real user experience (only if there's a good number of reviews, and plenty of non-sponsored reviews). There's not a lot of smart locks with 4+ stars, giving the impression that we're still a little early on this tech (i.e. - still several kinks to work out). ... That said, Schlage had over 4 starts (out of 5), it had a digital key pad, good look, a key option, and bluetooth option (i.e. I was sold). They're a little tricky on how they advertise on Amazon though. I bought the lock thinking I'm getting the full handle assembly (for the bottom handle), and that was not the case (another $100). The lock works great; easy to install. I have it hooked up to a new Smarthings hub and can control it from my phone. I also have presets so that it automatically locks at a certain time, and if I leave a certain distance from my home (so I'm always secure if I forget to lock the door). It notifies you when these actions take place, and you can always check from the app. The only negative is that you cannot create temporary keys for guests from the app (only on the device itself). My set-up was expensive though. I think it was $170 for the lock and another $100 for the matching door handle (below the lock). I also paid another $100 for the Smartthings hub. It all works great though. I just got a Nest and a Google Home as well, so I'm pretty set.
  • What happens during a power outage? What's the backup if the electronics fail, is there a key?
  • I bought an August smart lock. It's so ugly that my wife wouldn't let me install it. So, I bought a Schlage that fit in exactly with my decor. Is it safe? Who knows for sure. But It doesn't have it's own app and instead connects to the Wink hub. Wink has been very good about keeping their hub up to date. Hopefully it stays up to date.
  • The video shows a very destructive method for breaking a deadbolt. But the majority of locks, smart or not, can easily be bypassed non-destructively using a bump key. Anyone can take a shaved-down key, slip it into the lock, give it a few taps with a hammer while putting tension on the pins, and presto! The door will unlock and no marks will exist to let anyone know the lock has been compromised.
  • Hopefully there will be a few Smart Locks that are bump proof as all the big lock makers have bump-proof models. I had the same reaction though to smart locks. None of them look at all attractive. I'd have trouble putting something so junky on my house no matter the smartness.
  • That's the first gen lock in the video. The second gen is supposedly bump proof.
  • We have the August lock and absolutely love it. We even have it hooked up to a Wemo light switch and Nest to have a light and the fireplace automatically turn when the door unlocks in the evening. One word of caution for Android users though. While the door unlock via the app worked fine on the three Android phones I've used with it (LG G4 & G5, Pixel), only the Pixel has consistently worked with the Auto-Unlock feature. Now, as I'm pulling the car in the garage the door auto-unlocks with the Pixel - this rarely happened with the other two phones. It's even faster than my wife's iPhone now!
  • I have kevo with kevo plus add on to control from anywhere. Love it and the clean exterior design.
    If you have a high-end deadbolt that's very secure, kevo now sells just the interior module that will convert your existing lock to a smart lock. Not sure how well it performs as it hasn't been on the market for too long.
  • I enjoy pulling into my driveway, opening my garage from 80 feet away, while also unlocking my front door's deadbolt.
    Both key fobs are velcroed to my car's visor; so, unlike my phone and car keys, it is never misplaced. Finally, I enjoy the convenience
    as I did not have to replace my lock, alter my door, or connect my lock to the worldwide web. My smart lock operates using encrypted RFID--
    the same successful technology automotive key fobs have used for decades.
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