Freelance Contributor, TechHiveFeb 8, 2023 3:00 am PST
Image: Rob Schultz
While traditional lock-and-key systems have improved over time, the basic mechanism hasn’t really changed since the first lock was invented more than a thousand years ago: A piece of metal that is just the right shape pushes pins inside a lock into the proper position, allowing the lock mechanism to turn. As a society, it’s been tough to replace a system that has worked reasonably reliably for literally a millennium.
Whether you have a teenager who tends to break curfew or merely want to give temporary access to houseguests, service providers, or Airbnbers, smart locks are an incredible upgrade over the old way of doing things. Ready to make the jump to smart lock technology? Here are our top picks of the market at the moment.
Some will argue that we should have named the Level Lock Touch Edition our top pick in this category—it earned a higher score, after all—but Level requires iPhone and Android users to have additional hardware to remotely control their locks (you can read the details below). Kwikset’s use of a fingerprint reader on this lock enabled it to dramatically shrink the footprint the lock presents on the exterior side of your door (yes, Level’s design is cooler still, but…). Kwikset (and Level) give you the option of opening the lock with a conventional key, in the event the reader won’t recognize an authorized fingerprint (should your skin prune up after a dip in the pool, for instance).
The minimalist Level Lock Touch Edition looks as good as it operates and is our highest-rated smart lock. The reason we’ve named it runner-up, versus best-of-the-best in this category, is that controlling it remotely is more complicated than with other locks, and it requires the purchase of third-party hardware. Android users must have at least one Amazon Sidewalk bridge device, while iPhone users must have a HomeKit hub. If you can give up the convenience of touch operation, the new Level Lock costs $80 less, but it has the same limitations in terms of remote control.
Inclusion of a fingerprint reader is impressive at this price
Worked perfectly throughout our evaluation
You can establish temporary PIN codes from afar, even without Wi-Fi
Bluetooth only, no Wi-Fi connectivity
Can't be incorporated into a broader smart home system
Uninspired industrial design
Can't detect if the door is open or closed
No physical key
If you can do without Wi-Fi connectivity, the Wyze Lock Bolt is a phenomenal value for a full-fledged smart lock (this isn’t just a retrofit device. The onboard fingerprint reader and the ability to establish temporary PIN codes from afar are particularly noteworthy features. The trade-off of being a Bluetooth-only device, however, is that you can’t incorporate this smart lock into a broader smart home ecosystem. That means no geofencing support that would automatically lock the door when you leave, no ability to control the lock with voice commands via Alexa or Google Assistant, and no ability to program the lock so your smart lights automatically turn on when you unlock the door. None of that changes the fact that this product is a great value for the money.
Level Home’s Level Bolt is our favorite retrofit smart lock, thanks in large measure to its ability to disappear. The smart components of the Bolt hide inside your door, where they replace the interior mechanical elements of your existing deadbolt. You re-attach your existing interior and exterior components, so that your door’s overall aesthetic doesn’t change in the least. As with other locks in the Level family, however, in order to remotely control the lock, Android smartphone users will need to have an Amazon Sidewalk bridge and iPhone users will need to have a HomeKit hub if they want to control the lock remotely.
The Bosma Aegis isn’t particularly handsome, and at four inches across, its octagonal lock is a bit awkward to grip and twist. That said, this Wi-Fi-enabled retrofit lock is a snap to install, works great, and comes with most of the features we’ve seen in far pricier competitors. So while the Aegis isn’t much of a looker, it packs plenty of value.
Lockly’s $500 Vision Elite is the most expensive smart lock we’ve tested, but its mountain of features and solid operation make it worth consideration. You should also take into consideration that it eliminates the need for a video doorbell, and that it features both a numeric keypad, a fingerprint reader, and a conventional key cylinder. It is the most sophisticated smart lock we’ve seen, but it’s hard to hide all of its features behind a pretty facade. It’s also very expensive.
You can thank the hospitality industry for finally pushing locks into the digital age. Hotels learned long ago that keys are easily lost, expensive to replace, and simple to bypass, as thieves can pick locks or simply make copies of a key to allow for unfettered future access. On the flipside, hotel guests have readily accepted key cards (and in some cases, smartphone-based solutions) as the primary means of getting into their room. The electronic solution is just so much simpler. Lost hotel key card? Replacing it is no big deal.
But the biggest benefit of electronic entry systems is that they are highly configurable. Digital locks can be changed at a moment’s notice (which is why that old hotel key card in your wallet isn’t good for anything), and the property owner can generate a record of when each door was opened. In a more advanced setting, different keys can be generated for the same lock, so a homeowner can tell when each member of the family came in, or when the housekeeper arrived.
Consider these factors when shopping for a smart lock
How do you pick a smart lock? (No pun intended.) This is a young and wildly immature space, and many products on the market are still extremely rough around the edges. Even top products can balk when dealing with old or stiff deadbolts, doors that don’t shut well, or environments where non-standard fixtures are in use. The bottom line is that it’s tough to declare that any product is universally perfect for every home. That said, here are some key considerations to take into account to help you narrow down your shopping list.
How smart is it? An important caveat to consider first: Some “smart locks” don’t work with a smartphone app or any smart home networking hubs at all; they’re really just electronic locks that use a code instead of a key to open up. One step up from that, you’ll find Bluetooth-only locks. These work with a smartphone app, but can’t be monitored remotely or via a smart home system. That’s fine if you’re looking to get rid of the keys in your pocket, but less impressive if you want to make your entrance portals a true part of your home network.
Replace or retrofit? You’re forgiven if you don’t want to replace your antique doorknob on your vintage Victorian with a metallic device that looks like it would be more at home keeping people out of a strip mall bank branch. A sizeable number of smart lock products don’t require you to replace all your existing hardware. Instead, they are installed on the inside of the door only, replacing only the interior part of the deadbolt. You can continue to use a standard key from the outside or open the lock via a smartphone app.
Smart home hub integration If you have an existing hub like the Wink Hub 2, Samsung SmartThings, or an Apple TV, you’ll want to ensure your chosen smart lock is compatible from the start. Many smart locks support Bluetooth, so they work with your phone, but lack the technology needed to connect with your home network. Some Bluetooth locks, like the Yale Assure system and the August Smart Lock, offer a radio module as an add-on to connect to your home network. If you’re using a smart home hub like the Samsung SmartThings or Wink Hub, look for a lock that supports Z-Wave or ZigBee, instead.
Alternate entry means Forgot your phone at the office? How will you get in the house? Physical key? Numeric keypad? Wait for your spouse to arrive? Myriad different approaches are available.
Power backup What do you do if the batteries inside the lock die—and you’re stuck outside? Some locks allow for emergency power to be applied should this happen. Yale’s Real Living locks feature external posts to which you can connect a 9-volt battery, giving you enough juice to get the door open. Other models retain the traditional key cylinder for backup.
Geofencing Bad about manually locking the door when you leave? A geofencing system automatically locks the door when it detects your phone has left the vicinity, and can be set to automatically open up when it finds you’ve come home.
Guest access features Most smart locks let you set up temporary keys for houseguests, which you can delete when they’ve returned home. Smarter systems even let you set time restrictions around when each access code can be used.