In the middle of the nineteenth century, archaeologists found the earliest known locking devices at the Palace of Khorsabad in what is now Iraq. The contraption, a wooden pin lock, dates back to around 4000 B.C.
The pins inside the locking mechanism prevented the wooden bolt securing the door from being moved. If the correct key was used, it would push the pins up allowing the bolt to be unlocked.
Sound familiar? That’s because locks have changed relatively little over the many years they’ve been in use. Of course, they’ve been upgraded and diversified and we don’t use wood anymore, but the basic idea is the same.
Until now that it is. Smart technology is being introduced into practically every device we use. In the home of the future, every device is connected to the Internet and to every other device in the home through a network known as the Internet of Things or IoT. From thermostats to refrigerators to light bulbs, that technology is already being integrated into our lives.
Locks are not exempted from this trend. They’re currently undergoing one of the few major changes in their history – going from purely mechanical to electronic and gaining the ability to connect to the Internet. Locks with this new technology can do a lot more than non-connected locks can and offer homeowners capabilities and conveniences that traditional locks never could. They also come with potential security risks that have some people worried.
Smart locks are still developing and are gradually becoming more common. They can include a variety of different features, but there are a few characteristics that apply across the board and help define them as smart locks.
Smart locks, while they come in many different forms, are electronic locking mechanisms that are often connected to the Internet in the style of IoT.
Different smart locks are opened in different ways. Some work with a smartphone and connect to Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or both. With a Bluetooth lock, you can walk up to your door with your smartphone, and it will recognize your device and let you in. With Wi-Fi connected devices, you can unlock your door remotely from your phone.
Other smart locks use radio frequency identification, also known as RFID. A RFID device requires you to carry a key fob. Your lock detects the key fob when you get close and automatically unlocks. Locks that use RFID may or may not be smart – as in connected to the Internet.
Other smart locks use biometrics to identify the homeowner and open the door for them. Biometrics is the identification of characteristics that are specific to a particular person. Fingerprint scanning is probably the most common form. Another type is voice recognition.
Keypads, which use a pin code, are a technology used in older electronic locks. Some smart locks, however, use it too – sometimes as a backup entry method for a situation in which power or Internet connection is lost. One advantage of using a keypad is that you can create codes for trusted family members, friends, and neighbors or entry codes that expire after one use.
Although most of the attention has been given to front door locks, smaller padlock versions exist as well. Manufacturers are also producing variations for apartment dwellers, bicycle riders and more. This article will focus mostly on front door security systems.
Different smart locks come with different features. Here’s a run-down of some of the common ones.
1. Mobile and Web Apps
Many smart locks come with their own dedicated app that you can use to lock and unlock the door, view information about who’s opened and closed it and find installation instructions. Others don’t come with a dedicated app and require hooking the lock up with a separate home automation system to use it remotely.
The auto-lock feature automatically engages the lock after the door is closed for a certain amount of time. The time varies by the lock, and some even allow you to choose how long it takes for your door to auto-lock.
With the geofencing feature, you won’t have to worry about whether you locked up after your left. To use geofencing, you set up a perimeter around your home. When your smartphone leaves that perimeter, your door will automatically lock. Some locks can also open when you enter the perimeter.
4. Security Alarms
Some smart locks feature security alarms that go off if someone attempts to tamper with the lock or if it detects an unusual amount of force being exerted on the door.
5. Text, Email, or Push Notifications
You can receive text, email or push notifications from some smart locks that alert you when someone locks or unlocks your door.
Many smart locks are designed to be integrated with home automation systems and devices such as Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa and Nest products. Some also work with If This Then That (IFTTT), a web-based service and app that allows users to create chains of conditional statements, enabling them to automate the use of various technologies. You can also purchase optional devices, such as security cameras, that your locks can connect with to add to their usefulness.
Best Smart Locks
Although the many different variations of smart locks can make it difficult to compare them, there are a few contenders that stand out from the crowd. Below is a list of some of the most popular and high-performing smart locks on the market.
1. Kwikset Kovo Smart Lock Second Gen
The Second Generation of the Kwikset Kevo Smart Lock is similar to its predecessor, one of the first smart locks on the market, but its all-metal interior makes it slightly more secure. All around, this lock provides both superior security and convenience.
You can use a variety of methods to unlock the Kwikset Kevo. You can either walk up with your Bluetooth enabled smartphone or a key fob and tap the lock or unlock through the Android or iOS app or with a physical key.
It’s also relatively easy to install, and the device’s companion app will walk you through the installation steps. You can also integrate it with various smart home systems. It comes in three attractive finishes – satin nickel, polished brass or Venetian bronze.
The Kwikset Kevo sells for $229.00. There’s also the option to purchase the Kevo Plus upgrade, a $100 in-app purchase that provides you with some extra capabilities.
2. August Smart Lock
The August Smart Lock is easy to install, allows you to track who comes in and out of your home and comes with plenty of high-tech features.
One of the major updates from the earlier version of this lock is increased integration capabilities.The August Smart Lock can be integrated with Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa, Nest and IFTTT.
The lock connects to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi and has a geofencing capability. It also has an auto-lock feature that engages after an amount of time determined by the user.
You can also control the lock using Siri voice commands, an exciting feature. It’s controllable remotely, but that requires an additional August device or an Apple TV.
The August Smart Lock sells for $229.99.
3. Lockitron Bolt
At $99.00, the Lockitron Bolt is one of the more affordable smart lock options. It connects to Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, so it unlocks when you get within Bluetooth range and you can provide others with guest access.
The lock is easy to install and the accompanying app is sleek and easy to use. It operates quietly, reliably records locking and unlocking activity and comes in either Modern Gold or Quicksilver.
Some of the features available on other devices, such as auto-lock, voice commands, and integration capabilities, are missing from this device but that’s to be expected for the price. If you want a simpler and more affordable smart lock, this may be the right choice for you.
4. Schlage Sense
The Schlage Sense provides a lot of convenience for Apple users, but may not be the best choice for Android fans. It connects to Bluetooth and can be opened via a smartphone app, the touchscreen on the lock or Siri voice commands. The keypad allows you to assign unique codes to people you want to give access to.
The app can be integrated with Apple HomeKit-enabled devices. You can also control it remotely but only if you have an Apple TV.
The lock is easy to install, and the simple app is convenient to use. MSRP is $229.00. For Apple users, this may be the ideal choice but if you don’t already use Apple devices, you may want to skip it.
5. Yale Real Living Z-Wave Touchscreen Deadbolt Lock
This smart lock, called the YRD 240 for short, is beautifully designed and allows you to ditch keys entirely. It is a little pricey, however, and may require some additional equipment to get full functionality.
The YRD 240 uses a touch screen keypad that allows you to set up multiple pin codes. Installation and setting up the codes is relatively easy thanks to voice-guided instructions.
There’s no dedicated app for this device, so you can’t unlock it remotely unless you pair it with a separate Z-Wave or ZigBee home automation controller. MSRP for the YRD 240 is $325.00, but you may be able to find it for cheaper. A home automation controller will cost you another $125 or so.
6. Schlage Century Touchscreen Deadbolt Lock
This lock gives you the option of using it with a touch-screen keypad or a physical key. There’s no dedicated app, but if you have a Z-Wave home automation network, you can control it remotely too.
The Century has a useful auto-lock feature and the ability to program up to 30 different codes. It also features quite a loud alarm system, but the lock itself is also fairly loud when it opens and closes.
The Schlage Century Touchscreen Deadbolt Lock will set you back about $199.00. It would cost considerably more, though, if you want to use it remotely and don’t already have a compatible home automation network.
7. Mul-T-Lock ENTR
If you like having a lot of options, this may be the lock for you. You can open the Mul-T-Lock ENTR with your smartphone, a key fob, a pin code or your fingerprint. There’s no option for using a physical key though.
The sleekly designed Mul-T-Lock ENTR also has an auto-lock feature and the ability to provide guests with access by using pins. The device can support up to 20 users. It also uses three-barrel multi-lock technology making it one of the sturdier smart locks.
At around $300, this choice is a bit on the expensive side but for some, opening your door with just your fingerprint may be worth it.
8. Kwikset Z-Wave SmartCode 916 Touchscreen Electronic Deadbolt
This lock works with a pin code and lets you use your old house keys as a backup. If you have a Z-Wave or ZigBee home automation network, you can also operate it with a mobile device.
The Kwikset Z-Wave SmartCode 916 Touchscreen Electronic Deadbolt is also relatively heavy-duty and has a built-in alarm. You can assign up to 30 access codes to the touchscreen keypad. It’s easy to install and looks nice with pretty much any home.
As a stand-alone keypad deadbolt, this device will cost you around $215.
9. Poly-Control Danalock V2 BT
The Poly-Control Danalock V2 BT is a small, round device that’s easy to install and can connect via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and Z-Wave or ZigBee technology. The manufacturer was plagued by some malfunctions on older models but seems to have corrected them with this update.
It comes with its own app, which is easy to use and tracks all the comings and goings through the door. It can be integrated with Nest devices, you can use geofencing to enable the automatic unlock and set up guest access. It is missing a few of the fancy conveniences, though, like voice command capabilities. For $129.99, it’s not a bad buy at all.
Haven is much more heavy-duty than most smart locks and front-door locks in general for that matter. This lock isn’t a deadbolt. Instead, it acts as a barrier across the bottom of the doorframe, making forced entry extremely difficult. It’s also made of aluminum, steel and Nylon 66.
The lock connects via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to mobile devices, which allows you to access it remotely and enable guest access. You can also opt to use a key fob.
Haven, which raised funds on Kickstarter, isn’t available in stores yet. It’s expected to be ready to ship in June 2017, but you can preorder it for $299.00. MSRP will be $349.00.
11. Nuki Smart Lock
Made in Austria and launched on Kickstarter, the Nuki smart lock is designed specifically for European homeowners. If you have a fairly standard European door with a europrofile-cylinder that has around a three millimeter overlap on the inside, you can install the device easily within five minutes.
Nuki locks work with smartphones via Bluetooth. Your door will automatically lock and unlock as you enter and exit your home. All you have to do is keep your smartphone in your pocket. The company also offers a key FOB for those who don’t have a smartphone.
Among the features of this lock are the ability to see if your door is locked or unlocked at any time and let people in and out from anywhere via the smartphone. It’s also secure as it encrypts the information it sends to the same level that banks do. For the basic lock, you’ll pay 229,00 € or about $240 US dollars. Package deals and extras like the key FOB will cost you a bit more, but you’ll gain more functionality.
Sure, smart locks are impressive gadgets, but some critics say they’re not necessary and regular locks work well enough. So, what might make purchasing a smart lock worth it?
If you have a smart lock that doesn’t require a key fob, you eliminate the possibility of losing your keys. With some smart locks, all you need is a pin code or even your fingerprint. Even if it requires a smartphone, there’s probably less of a chance you’ll lose your phone than your keys.
Not having to use keys is also convenient. When you walk up to the door, you don’t have to search for anything. You can just type in your pin or walk right in as your door automatically unlocks.
The ability to grant trusted people access to your home at certain times can also be quite useful. For example, you could let your neighbor in to feed your dog if you’re away for the day without having to hand out a key.
Smart locks can also offer additional conveniences such as the ability to integrate with other smart devices and home automation networks.
Besides the notion that they’re unnecessary, another common argument against smart locks is the potential they have to be hacked. Having a lock that’s connected to the Internet creates a new vulnerability in your security system that someone with the right skills could potentially take advantage of.
To mitigate this security risk, smart lock manufacturers encrypt the locks’ communications. Various smart lock companies use 128-bit AES encryption, the same kind that’s used by banks and for secret-level classified government information.
Of course, the most skilled hackers can still occasionally hack the networks of banks and the government, which means they could also hack into your home. That’s only hackers who are extremely skillful though. Someone with that level of ability would likely go for a bigger target and not spend their time and talents on individual homes. If someone really wanted to break into a home, it might be easier to just kick down the door or break a window.
Another common concern deals with what happens if your phone dies, you lose your Internet connection or the lock’s batteries die. With some locks, this could be an issue. Most of them, however, have a backup access method. This could be a keypad, backup power or a physical key.
If your backup method is a physical key, though, that cancels out the convenience of not having to carry around house keys. Also, if you need a physical key for your car or office, you’ll have to carry around a keychain anyway. Unless one day, every lock is Internet-connected, we might not be able to take full advantage of the convenience of smart locks.
Another concern of some homeowners may be installing and programming their smart lock. In most cases, however, this isn’t too complicated and the locks or their apps will come with instructions to guide you through the process.
For most smart locks, the installation takes around 10 minutes to half an hour. The process, of course, varies by the style of lock you get.
Some models come with their own deadbolt hardware and require removing the old lock completely, including the deadbolt mechanism and strike plate. Others fit right over the existing deadbolt.
Most smart locks are designed to work with the standard, pre-drilled holes used on most front doors. You shouldn’t have to buy anything extra to make your smart lock fit on your door.
The advent of smart locks presents some new challenges to locksmiths, but many are adapting and learning how to install and troubleshoot them. If you need help installing your smart lock, you might be able to call a professional. Although some of the more unusual models, like the Haven, might cause a locksmith more difficulty, someone with smart lock training should be able to help you if you get locked out or your device malfunctions.
We’ll also likely see increased variety in the connected locks that are available. More companies will attempt to break into the market and smart padlocks, bike locks and other kinds of connected security devices will become more typical. A German company, Nello, is even working on a connected lock solution for apartment dwellers that allows users to remotely trigger their intercom and use their smartphone to unlock their door. It even lets users set up time windows to automatically let in guests or service providers.
Security will continue to be a major challenge to the industry and one of the main barriers to smart lock deployment. Cyber security is constantly evolving as new threats and security capabilities arise, and smart lock companies will have to stay on top of those changes if they want to remain competitive.
Despite security concerns, smart locks are gaining popularity. As the industry grows, they’re also becoming more advanced, secure and acquiring more useful capabilities. As technology continues to evolve, smart locks will become an even more essential part of any smart home.