January 21, 2020 7 min read

2020 Smart Lock Buying Guide

I'd like to know how many of you agree that nagging worry about whether or not you locked the door can ruin an otherwise relaxing trip? A smart door lock, actually, not only keeps your home safe—it gives you quick access and lets you rest easy. So, today we're talking about the first step entering our home, the entryway.This article is good for you if you're looking to upgrade to a connected lock. Here's what you should know before you take the plunge.

The deadbolt installed on your front door right now likely serves its purpose. It locks, it unlocks -- and it does what it can to keep out any unwanted guests. That's probably enough.

Smart locks won't necessarily make your home any safer, but they will allow for more control -- so that you can lock and unlock your door remotely (whether you're home or away) and even extend "digital keys" to friends, family, caregivers and anyone else you regularly admit into your home.

Sure, you can still use a regular ol' key to open a smart-lock-equipped door (or most of them, anyhow), but don't be too quick to discount the convenience of connectivity -- especially when your hands are full of grocery bags, a stroller or anything else that makes it tough to rummage around for your keys. And when you crawl into bed, wondering if you remembered to lock the door, you won't need to throw a bathrobe on and stumble out to the front door -- you can just check the lock status -- and lock it -- all via your phone while tucked safely under th covers.

That said, not all smart locks are the same. There are keyless options, Bluetooth options, locks that fit on your deadbolt and complete replacement locks. Here's a look at today's smart lock options, what you need to know before buying one, and how to choose the right lock for your home.

Should you keep or replace your existing deadbolt?

  • With some smart locks, you can hang on to the deadbolt that you already have.

With these retrofit setups, you get to keep the hardware already defending your door and add a layer of connectivity over top of it. This also means you get to keep your physical keys. Retrofit smart locks are the simplest way to add connectivity to your door without replacing your entire deadbolt system.


  • The other option is to replace your existing deadbolt altogether.

The majority of smart locks take this approach ZKTeco AL40B, locks like this will take a little more time and effort to install, but it's definitely doable for a novice DIYer. Since most locks are entire deadbolt replacements, you're going to have significantly more options if you go this route. Similar to the retrofit versions, you just need a screwdriver and about 20 minutes. A new deadbolt might also mean a new set of keys (unless you choose a keyless model), so everyone in your family who wants a physical key will need a copy of the new one.

Three tips:

  1. Make sure that your door is smart-lock compatible.
  2. Snap a picture of your existing setup before you begin, to ensure that you can reverse the install if you run into any unexpected issues with the new smart lock.
  3. Watch our install video and set it up step by step.

Picking a protocol: Bluetooth, Z-Wave or Wi-Fi

A smart lock needs to be able to communicate with the rest of your smart home setup and with your phone. Most will do that using one of three common communication protocols: Bluetooth, Z-Wave or Wi-Fi. There are pros and cons to each, so you'll want to be sure to understand the differences before making a purchase.

  • Bluetooth

Bluetooth is a common smart-lock protocol because it doesn't burn through battery life as quickly as Wi-Fi does. After all, it's not like you can plug your deadbolt in, and who wants to change the batteries on a door lock every month? With Bluetooth, your lock's batteries should last a year or longer.

The downside to Bluetooth is that your range is somewhat limited -- roughly 300 feet in a best-case scenario, and probably a lot less than that depending on how your home is laid out. It's enough to control your lock while you're at home, but wander too far afield and you'll lose the connection.

Something else to keep in mind is that Bluetooth locks will connect directly with your phone or tablet. You don't need any sort of hub device to act as translator, since your phone already speaks the language. That's convenient if your smart-home aspirations end at your lock, but hubs grant you the ability to control multiple connected devices from a single app, which can be more convenient than dividing home control among an assortment of device-specific apps.

There are still some neat integrations available with Bluetooth-only smart locks, though. For instance, the August lock has an opt-in auto-unlock feature that's tied to your phone's Bluetooth. Lock your front door, leave home, then return within Bluetooth range, and your front deadbolt will automatically unlock. If you want to control your lock remotely, adding passcodes or letting people in while you're away, you're going to need a Z-Wave hub or Wi-Fi-connected smart lock.

  • Z-Wave

Z-Wave is a wireless communications protocol used primarily for home automation. Unlike Bluetooth locks, Z-Wave locks don't connect directly with your phone. Instead, they'll need to connect to a Z-Wave-compatible hub. That hub will translate the lock's Z-Wave signal into something your router can understand -- once it does, you'll be able to connect with your lock from anywhere.

The range of a Z-Wave connection is about 120 feet, so the lock will need to be at least that close to the hub -- though additional Z-Wave devices can act as a range extenders by repeating the signal from the hub and sending it out further. The Z-Wave signal can bounce up to four different times, for a maximum range of about 600 feet (walls, doors and other obstructions will all take a toll on range).

Some Z-Wave locks don't offer their own app -- instead the interface for the lock will pop up in the app of whatever Z-Wave hub you use. This can either leave you feeling disappointed that you don't have detailed, dedicated settings for your lock, or happy to not be downloading yet another app with yet another log-in. Again, it's all about preference here.

Z-Wave's biggest setback is the requirement of an additional hub to talk to Wi-Fi. The plus side is that you can connect to more third-party devices than a standard Bluetooth lock -- if you have SmartThings or another multiprotocol hub. But, if you don't plan to use a bunch of other devices with your lock, Z-Wave may not be right for you.

  • Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi is available as an optional add-on with select models.This doesn't require a clunky router-connected hub, the Connect is yet another hunk of hardware that you wouldn't otherwise have to deal with or pay for. Still, it could add significant value to a once-Bluetooth-only product, depending on your need for remote lock access.

Connecting to third-party products

Related to all of this protocol-talk is the question of interoperability with products from other manufacturers.

With the Z-Wave locks that work over "universal" hubs like SmartThings and Wink, this functionality is built in. That means other smart gadgets that are compatible with your Z-Wave hub should have some level of integration with your smart lock. Want to set up a rule that turns on your ZigBee-powered Philips Hue LEDs whenever you unlock your Z-Wave lock? That's a reasonable option when you have a hub that speaks both ZigBee and Z-Wave. There are even more possibilities with locks that have IFTTT (If This Then That) services.

How do you want to interact with your lock?

There are clear variations among smart locks in terms of installation, wireless technology and integration with third-party products, but they all still do roughly the same thing -- give you advanced, remote control access to a space. But there are still some nuances in terms of how that advanced smart control happens.

Most smart locks all have touchpads. Just enter your secret code and voila! Your door will open without a key.

some ditch the keyway altogether. with smart locks like those, you can lose your keys for good -- and there's zero risk of someone breaking in by picking your lock.

smart locks offer scheduled key codes, allowing certain access codes to work only during specific days and times. Some locks also include activity history, letting you know when doors are locked and unlocked and by which access codes and allows you to limit access to specific days and times or create codes that expire after a set amount of time.

Another general concern is battery life, but this will vary significantly (for all smart locks) based on how much you lock or unlock your door, the quality of the batteries you're using, if your deadbolt occasionally sticks and requires extra effort from the built-in motor, and even the weather -- colder temperatures can hurt battery life. Battery power shouldn't deter you from buying a smart lock you love, though.

In fact, almost all keyless smart locks now include a pair of jumpstart nodes on the bottom of the lock. Grab a 9V battery and connect it to the nodes for just enough power to enter your keypad code and unlock the lock.

In conclusion

With smart locks, it's really all about trying to add a small convenience to your daily life. They can make getting into your house easier when your arms are full and your keys are out of reach. They can also save you a trip the hardware store to have a key made for a new roommate or having to dash home on your lunch break to let in a service professional. Smart locks can really save the day when you need to grant access to someone and you're not home.

In the end though, there's no right answer in terms of the model you should buy, but considering key details (see what I did there?) like whether you should keep or replace your current deadbolt, what protocol best lines up with your smart-home needs, what, if any, third-party devices you'd like your lock to work with, and if you prefer a touchpad or a more traditional lock design -- will help you narrow down your options so you can quickly find the right smart lock for you.


Excerpt from CNET.com

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