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Here’s why a smart lock should be the first smart home device you own

Think about it: It’s something that you use on a daily basis (at least, before social distancing was a thing) and it serves as the barrier that keeps you, your family, and your belongings safe from the outside world. Maybe you’re not particularly paranoid about a thief in a ski mask stealing the antique vase that you don’t own, but you’ve almost certainly turned the car around to double check that you locked the door at least once in your life. And parents are all too familiar with the struggle of getting a kid to keep track of a physical key.

A smart lock is a solution to virtually any of these problems. Depending on the model, you can unlock or lock with a toggle in the smartphone app, enable auto-unlock to unlock the door when your phone gets within a certain number of feet, use a voice command, enter a passcode, scan your fingerprint, and set a schedule to auto-lock at certain times every day. Guests can also be sent a temporary code or timed temporary access.

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What can a smart lock do besides locking and unlocking?

Think of it as two-factor authentication for your door: Just as Gmail sends you a notification when it sees a login attempt from an unfamiliar device, a smart lock sends notifications if someone tries to unlock the door at a weird time (say, during work or school hours when no one should be home) or if someone is trying to guess the code or force entry. The real-time feed of who’s been in and out can help parents or Airbnb owners keep an eye on when kids and guests are coming in and out.

Every household has that one person who never shuts the door the whole way. It’s a fact of life. DoorSense is a quarter-sized sensor that mounts to a door or doorway and alerts you if the door is left ajar for more than a few minutes.

Smart locks and accessibility

Switching home security from the traditional lock and key to a smart lock can be freeing for folks aging in place (or others with limited mobility). Smart locks are lifesavers if a key is lost, and cross one thing off the “to do” list by locking doors every night at a certain time. Voice integration allows the lock to be controlled with a simple command rather than getting out of bed after one is all comfy. Caregivers or relatives having their own code is much more practical than handing out multiple spare keys.

USA Today(Opens in a new tab) spoke to a 68-year-old New York City resident whose apartment building made the switch to smart locks. Her main concern was, well, the complete reliance on technology. What about seniors who don’t carry a smartphone or folks who may have trouble remembering digits in a passcode? These barriers drain a smart lock’s accessibility quickly. In these cases, buying a smart lock that still works with a mechanical key if necessary is a must.

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Which smart lock should I choose?

Your schedule, kids’ schedules (if you have them), and other smart home devices (if you have them) will be major deciding factors as to which automation features will work best with your home.

  • Retrofit versus deadbolt replacement: Retrofit locks add connectivity to your current deadbolt, let you keep the keys you were already using, and operate through your phone, with auto-unlock, or with voice commands. Full deadbolt replacements are a bit more heavy-duty and open possibilities for keypads and fingerprint sensors, but they require some more handiwork and require you to use new keys — or will get rid of a mechanical keyhole all together.
  • Keyless locks: Though the whole point is to not carry keys on your person all the time, it’s still nice to have backup if the WiFi, power, or lock’s batteries crap out. Some smart locks can be jumpstarted with a nine-volt battery instead of a key, which might be nice if you’re worried about the lock being picked.
  • Smart home compatibility: Are you an Echo, Google, HomeKit, or SmartThings household? Some smart locks are particularly well integrated with certain smart home systems, and it’s always nice to have everything in the same loop.
  • WiFi adapter versus built-in WiFi: A WiFi connection is needed to be able to access your smart lock from your phone when you’re not home. Most purchases will come with a separate hub to connect the lock to your home’s network, and others have WiFi already built in. Without WiFi, you’ll only be able to use the app when you’re in Bluetooth range.

Aside from a few minutes with a screwdriver (that’s usually included with your kit), installing a smart lock is no more work than pairing your phone with new headphones. After syncing your lock with a serial number or QR code, the app walks you through WiFi, PIN or fingerprint setups, locking schedules, trial runs, and everything else — no hardwiring necessary.

Here are the best smart locks for 2020:

August WiFi smart lock(opens in a new tab)

Best For Rentals And Roommates
Credit: Mashable Photo Composite
  • Modes of entry: App, auto-unlock, voice command
  • Smart home compatibility: Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple HomeKit, Zigbee
  • Power: 2 CR123 batteries
  • Finishes: Silver, matte black
Buying Options
$249.99 from Best Buy(opens in a new tab)

There weren’t many ways August could improve on its best-in-class retrofit lock. However, the model just released in May 2020 saw some serious real estate management with its own built-in WiFi hardware enclosed in a design that’s nearly half the size of its predecessor.

The new design, though only distinctive from the older version by size and a different grip along the side, is the product of a collaboration with industrial designer Yves Béhar(Opens in a new tab). August’s minimalism reaches further by nixing the need to for a separate connecting hub. Instead, the app gives a list of nearby networks just like you’d connect to WiFi on a laptop.

Landlords probably won’t give the green light to ripping out the deadbolt on your apartment’s door. Retrofit locks are a much safer option for renters, and the August lock is the market’s most advanced retrofit lock that still provides options and smooth app functioning for roommates.

August keeps entry short and sweet by forgoing keypads and scanners and relying on the app, auto-unlock based on your phone’s presence, or voice commands. Through the app, you can also set up timed or recurring guest access and turn on phone or Apple Watch notifications for things like someone attempting to manually unlock the door, or kids coming home.