What is a smart lock?
One of the more popular smart home products is the smart lock. It certainly is tempting to be able to open, close, lock, and unlock your door without having to carry around a notched piece of metal with you at all times.
Keys have been around for hundreds of years.
Smart locks for the home are a recent thing. They come in several different designs, but share a few common components:
Residential smart locks usually consist of the following:
Battery operated motor to open and close the actual locking bolt of your door.
Microprocessor (computer) control to make everything work.
Wireless radio for controlling the lock from a distance.
When buying a smart lock, most people focus on the last item. What kind of network, wireless interface, what range or distance does it have, and which system is it compatible with?
Advanced features of a smart lock
Pull out your smartphone, open or close the lock. That’s the basics. Most smart locks now offer a bit more. Some typical advanced features include:
In bed and wondering if the door is locked?
Remote operation via the Internet: Did you leave the door unlocked? With remote connection you can check on the status of the door and even lock or unlock it.
For security reasons, you smart lock should not allow remote unlocking.
One-time or scheduled use guest access automatically limits who can enter.
You can give someone else a code that only works once, or expires automatically after a given time or day.
This is perfect for guests arriving or departing on their own or for rental properties.
Amazon’s delivery service allows them to place a package inside your door or garage to eliminate “porch pirate” package thieves.
Computerized locks might be all you need
Locks with built-in microprocessors, but no wireless links, have been around even longer.
These locks will often have a keypad and allow entry using a passcode.
They don’t work with your smartphone or remotely and typically don’t have fancy one-time use codes or time-based schedules.
Don’t overlook this earlier tech. It’s proven, very reliable, and might just be all that you need.
With security it is often said “less is more”.
Should it have a key?
The main controversy surrounding the newest smart locks is whether they allow the use of a physical key.
Some products keep the traditional key while adding keypads, wireless, and newer tech while a few products purposely eliminate the physical key.
Without a physical key slot, you lock can only be opened using a smartphone or remote interface.
The argument for having a physical key is simple – there is always a foolproof backup if the batteries, wireless, or software fails or malfunctions.
The argument for omitting the key is simpler design, smaller size, and better security by preventing lock picking or stolen keys from opening the door.
A few things to consider
In their defense, keyless smart locks usually have small pins or connectors where you can temporarily connect another battery (when you are standing outside) for emergency use if the batteries are totally dead.
Workable, unless that summer cabin on the lake is an hour away from the nearest hardware store when the batteries are dead and you don’t have a spare with you!
If you have more than one door, and still have a traditional key on a side door, garage door, or back door then go ahead and use a smart lock without a key for your front door or primary entrance.
Seriously, with enough choices of smart locks that still have the traditional key, for me, it is not worth the trouble.
More importantly, not everyone in the household, or every guest, may be comfortable with using a smart lock.
Forcing everyone to have the app loaded on their smartphone and know how to use it can be inconvenient, confusing, and frustrating.
A keypad may not be much better. Can you remember a six or eight digit random code? So why not keep the option of carrying a traditional key if they still want to do that?