Smart locks, along with intelligent lights, are the standard bearers for today's home automation movement with some of the biggest names in security—looking at you Schlage and Kwikset — offering internet-connected locks. But a San Francisco-based upstart may have just beaten these industry titans at their own game.
[Update 2/13/15: While one Gizmodo writer loved this lock, another had issues. Your mileage may vary, but make sure to read this review as well.]
Normally, installing a smart lock on your door demands serious dedication. These locks are usually designed to be permanent replacements; in that you've got to fully disassemble the existing lock, potentially bore out a larger hole in the door to accommodate the new lock's additional girth, then install and wire up the new electronic system. This requires a degree of time and skill that the neophyte DIY'er (or renter) might not possess, which means that they must then find, hire, and pay a handyman to do it for them and generally negate whatever perceived day-to-day convenience the smart lock provides.
In short, smart locks can be more trouble than they're worth.
But the August Smart Lock is a little bit different. Instead of using a proprietary deadbolt and front plate (the bit that sits on the outside of the door where you stick the key), which increase both the cost of the product and the amount of skill needed to install them, the August lock simply hooks into your existing lock assembly. Instead of demanding a handyman armed with a 2 3/8" bore bit, the August lock requires about 10 minutes out of your day and a single Phillips head screwdriver to install.
Plus, it's dead simple. You unscrew two screws holding the thumb-turn (the bit that sits on the inside of your door where you flip the lever back and forth to engage the deadbolt), pull off the thumbplate, slap on one of three included adapter plates in its stead, slide an adapter ring around the deadbolt spindle, and securely clip the smart lock unit onto the adapter plate. That's it. All of the internal locking mechanisms remain unchanged. You can still use your key. You're simply adding what is essentially a powered, Bluetooth-connected thumb-turn. It's fantastic.
Once you have the lock installed, it's simply a matter of installing the August app on your smartphone (it's available for both iOS and as a slightly borked version for Android), setting up an account, and pairing the lock to your phone via Bluetooth connection. Bluetooth is especially helpful for a number of reasons. It can automatically unlock your door based on how close your phone is to the lock (if only it turned the handle for you too), or automatically engages the deadbolt when it see's that you've left the house and are out of Bluetooth range once again. It also eliminates the possibility of the lock being remotely hacked over the internet, and frees up a port on your router since it doesn't require a Wi-Fi bridge. And you never have to take your phone out of your pocket.
Sharing keys is also a breeze. Usually, other smart locks require handing over a physical fob or programming a touchpad or some other pain in the ass—you might as well just give out your spare key and just be done with it. But with the August it's as easy as sending a text message. You simply launch the app, tap Add Guest, look up the person in your contact list, and give them permission. You can give them one-time access, or let the cleaning lady come in at particular times of day, or give your significant other full access. The program sends them a text with a link to install the app, if not already done, and adds the key to their virtual keyring, so to speak. You can even send someone permission when you're away from home — if, say, you have an unexpected but welcome house guest.
The very best part is that if you ever move, you simply unlatch the unit, remove the adapter plate and ring, install the old thumb-plate again, and boom, your smart lock moves with you. No fuss, no muss.
The lock is about 4 inches across, comes in 5 or 6 different colors, and weighs a couple of pounds. The faceplate twists off to reveal slots for four AA batteries, which the manufacturer says should last a full year. Be very careful when pulling out these batteries: I managed to snap off one of the negative terminal springs with minimal force when yanking one out, and it's currently held in place by the battery and some prayers. But what's really cool is that even if I did irrevocably break that terminal and lose the lock's smart capabilities, the lock itself would still function. The original key still works on the existing exterior faceplate and the interior unit's outer ring operates exactly like the thumb-turn it replaced.
In fact, the August's outer ring is actually a bit easier to operate than your average thumb-turn—especially for folks with painful joints who would otherwise struggle to grasp a narrow latch. And though it's a ring, you can still tell when the bolt is fully engaged because the little LEDs will flash red. The motor's fairly quiet in operation, and you can increase or decrease how much force it uses to turn the deadbolt for sticky or free-sliding bolts. The August feels just how it looks: smartly designed and secure.
It's not a perfect system, of course: torquing the adapter plate down to the correct tightness took a bit of trial and error (too tight and the unit wouldn't latch, too loose and the entire lock assembly is shifting around in the door) but the biggest problem currently facing the system is its app. For example, I ran into repeated error messages when adding and removing guests. Also, you can't share root access with another user, so only you — not your spouse — can add additional guests. While there is value in minimizing the number of cooks in the kitchen, so to speak, it also precludes everybody from taking full advantage of the system's offerings.
Also note that the iOS app is lagging the Android version: the device won't automatically lock and unlock when you approach or leave the house if you have an iPhone. August says the iOS app should be updated shortly after today's product launch, and it's not a huge problem anyhow because you can still press a button in the app. Aside from that, this auto lock is fantastic.
The August Smart Lock retails for $250. I think it's worth every penny.