Smart lock buying guide | Digital Trends

Smart locks may not be the sexiest piece of consumer tech on everyone’s mind, but they are one of the best for sheer convenience. Head out for a jog without a jangling key ring, easily provide access to guests, or double check that you locked your door from anywhere on the planet.

What is a smart lock?

A smart lock is not all that different from a traditional lock. What makes it smart is typically a Wi-Fi connection that allows you to link the physical lock to a companion app. The app allows for activities like remote access, geo-location features (to have your door unlock automatically when you pull into the driveway, for example), and even creating digital passkeys for other family members, friends, contractors, or visitors.

open a smart lock with your phone.

Learn more about what smart lock are and how they work. And if you think you know everything about smart locks, think again. Can you guess these 7 things you didn’t know a smart lock could do?

What type of technology do smart locks use?

Wi-Fi

Smart locks use Wi-Fi to follow your instructions about when to open and close. They operate closely with their companion apps. Many smart locks today also connect to various smart home systems like Google and Alexa, as well as Apple HomeKit. Having your smart lock connected to a digital assistant is very convenient. It makes it easy to add it to in-home routines you’ve created — meaning that if you enable a ‘goodnight’ routine, not only will your digital assistant turn off all your lights, close your blinds, give you the weather forecast for the morning, but it will also lock all your doors as part of the routine.

While Wi-Fi is in almost every home and uber convenient, Wi-Fi enabled smart locks do tend to need their batteries replaced a little more often. Depending on how often you are remotely accessing your locks, you may need to replace the batteries every few months. It’s a good idea to read recent reviews of smart locks to get an idea of how long the batteries might last.

Z-Wave

Z-Wave is a low energy radio signal similar to Bluetooth. It tends to use strong encryption and offers a better, stronger signal. If you’d prefer to use a Z-Wave smart lock, you will also likely need some kind of hub which will create the connection to your home’s Wi-Fi network (yes, you will still need Wi-Fi). One of the reasons some people prefer Z-Wave is that it doesn’t tie up Wi-Fi bandwidth needlessly, and there tends to be less interference from other smart home devices.

How to choose a smart lock?

Most smart locks are direct replacements for your deadbolt, which means installing one is relatively simple. All models have built-in Wi-Fi and may be compatible with Amazon Alexa, Google Nest, Apple Home Kit, or all three. If you’re using Z-Wave, there are also locks that will be compatible with that smart home protocol, too.

When choosing a smart lock, you will first and foremost want to find one that is compatible with whatever smart home system you already have running. If you don’t have much in the way of smarts in your house, chances are you are going to need some thing like a hub, bridge, or other Wi-Fi connection device. Some locks will include a bridge device in the package, while others will rely on existing smart home interfaces. In some cases, this will be an Amazon Echo Show device, Google Nest hub, an Apple HomePod, or Apple TV. Read the specifications carefully to ensure you are bringing home a lock that will actually be able to talk to your smart home configuration.

How much do smart locks cost?

While it’s possible to pick up a basic deadbolt for just a few bucks, smart locks typically cost more. They often come with some type of battery pack that will power the automatic opening and closing of your lock and need to be connected to Wi-Fi and a companion app. Packing all that technology in and ensuring it runs smoothly costs money, naturally. Smart locks from reputable brands cost around $200-300 on average. You can certainly find extremely cheap smart locks, but you need to do your homework to ensure they cannot be hacked, picked, or simply broken.

Which are the best smart locks?

Many smart locks are made by trusted companies like Schlage, Yale, and Kwikset, so you can have confidence that your home will be secure. However, there are a variety of brands in the space, especially at lower price points, and made by companies you’ve likely never heard of. Since you’re essentially granting open access to your home to a technology and hardware company, it makes sense to use trusted brands and well reviewed products. We keep a list of the best smart locks so you don’t have to spend too much time hunting.

What smart lock is best for renters?

wyze smart home lock on a door.
Wyze

Typically renters are not allowed to make many modifications to their home, and in particular, changing the locks on your landlord is bound to put a strike on your record. One of the easiest options for renters is a lock that does not alter the deadbolt structure or physical keys that your landlord may have, but simply allows remote access over that same lock. Wyze Smart Lock and August Smart lock are the two most popular options for renters.

How do I install a smart lock?

There are two core types of smart locks. The first option is to completely replace your deadbolt lock set; that includes the bolt, exterior lock face and the interior lever. If you have a standard size deadbolt in your door, the process for this is relatively easy, and many smart lock’s companion apps will walk you through it step-by-step.

The second option is to replace the interior thumb lever and plate, leaving the existing deadbolt and exterior face intact. This method is ideal if you have all your locks keyed the same and don’t want to have to repeat that process. This type of lock is even easier to install because it’s only one aspect of the whole and usually only requires the use of a screwdriver.

If you’re still intimidated by installing a smart lock, a locksmith can help.

How do I unlock a smart lock?

yale smart lock in a gold finnish.

There are almost as many ways to unlock a smart lock as there are brands. Here are the main options:

Keypad or touchscreen

Some smart locks use a keypad or touchscreen and allow you to punch in a number code. While this can be convenient, some burglars have been known to study the keypad to look for fingerprint smudges on the keys and use it to infer the passcode to gain access. Some locks like Weiser Premis generate a random two-digit code up front that you have to tap before you enter your pin, in order to eliminate this possibility.

Biometrics

Biometrics is really just a fancy word for using an element of your biology to access the door. In this case, the most common home-use option is a fingerprint scanner imbedded in the door lock, but optical or eye-scanning locks also exist (mainly commercially).

Smartphone/remote control

A common way for unlocking a smart lock is to use a smartphone. With a companion app, you can simply tap a virtual button on screen to lock or unlock your door from anywhere. This method can be very convenient if you want to temporarily allow someone to place a package just inside your door, for example, then relock it once they leave and close the door.

Geofencing

Geofencing or geotagging uses the precise location of your phone to automatically lock or unlock your door whenever you enter or leave a small geographic area. This technology is usually set up inside the companion app and can be quite handy if you are forgetful about locking up.

Physical key or not?

Some smart locks have an emergency key, and some don’t have a keyhole at all, making them “unpickable.”

Tap to unlock

Some locks, like Schlage Encode, let you use your phone as a keyfob; simply bringing it close to the lock will generate a digital handshake and your lock will open. Of course, you’ll need to securely unlock your phone first.

Can you use a smart lock in any door?

For the most part, smart locks, like regular door knobs and deadbolts, are relatively standard in size. If you live in a newer home, or have a newer door, chances are your smart lock will fit easily. If you live in an older home, or have older doors, you may find it could be difficult to get a fit. While some lock brands like Weiser offer adaptor kits (often for free if you call to request one), if you have an oddly sized door, you’ll want to measure and ensure the company has a liberal return policy.

For doors where it will be a challenge to fully replace the deadbolt mechanism, you can consider a smart lock kit that slips over the back of your existing deadbolt latch. August Smart Lock is a good example and you can check out our full smart lock review.

Smart lock technology is improving, getting better looking and smarter all the time. In fact, a popular new element of smart home technology is an integrated smart lock and video doorbell concept.

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