A resource for consumers, locksmiths, and security professionals.
Posted On by Ralph Goodman
When you are researching anything regarding smart locks, the marketplace can seem a little crowded. However, when you are looking to buy a smart lock, you may find that there are very few options. Most smart locks are still in the pre-order stage, but there are a couple of locks you can pick up in your local hardware store. I am talking about the most readily available for purchase smart locks currently on the market: the August and the Kevo. In this article, we will do a comparison of sorts. You will be able to see a comprehensive representation of the products based on the views of the company, users, and industry professionals. This will give you a better sense of how these locks work than any chart where you can see prices and features. What are the claims? And who is making them? Find out all the facts here.
There are two different smart locks packages that August offers. The first is simply the August Smart Lock, which is the cheapest option at $199. Using the August app you will be able to control the lock from your smartphone. The app enables you to give guests access to the lock, and you may also monitor the use of the lock with the 24/7 activity log.
The second package is the August Smart Lock HomeKit Enabled (spelled as HomeKit, Home Kit, and HOMEKIT on the site). For an extra $30, you get all of the features of the original August Smart Lock with the added bonus of voice controlled functionality. The look of the device has also been given a “modified industrial design” and now has a magnetic faceplate. There are small divots speckled around the outer ring of the knob for grip, and an indicator to show the top of the lock. This version is still designed by premier industrial designer, and August co-founder, Yves Behar.
With further accessories, you can increase the functionality of your August Smart Lock. The company sells a Smart Keypad, which will enable users without smartphones or physical keys to still open the lock. This product is an additional $79 and offers an alternative means of opening the smart lock. With the use of the August Connect, a user can unlock and lock the device from anywhere in the world, even while they are off traveling. Furthermore, the lock will send alerts directly to your smartphone every time the door is used. Guests will also be able to check the lock’s status, and it all costs an additional $79.
The consensus on the keypads are that they work very well, but that is not giving you the promised ease of smartphone access. Most people are using their Apple TV instead of the August Connect in order to enable the Wi-Fi control, and this is said to not be as effective as using the Connect (from users who have used both methods). The August must replace a deadbolt that uses a thumb turn on the interior of the home, and will not work on double-sided cylinder deadbolts. All in all, there are happy customers dealing with less than perfect products, which have some reportedly frequent glitches in terms of their functionality. There is also high praise centered around the helpfulness and effectiveness of August’s customer support staff.
The biggest critique of these locks is the fact that they are not really locks. When you ask the security experts about the August, the most common response is that it is not a security device. In the eyes of most professionals, they are strictly seen as a luxury item. This is due to the fact that they are an add-on to a non-security aspect of the lock (the thumb turn). The device that is being locked or unlocked is not uniform, as the actual lock hardware is not replaced when you install the August Smart Lock. If you have a Kwikset lock, your door will be just as insecure as it had been, but you will have paid two hundred dollars so that you do not always have to use a key. If you want to increase your security with the August smart lock, you will most likely have enlist the help of a locksmith to install new locks before you being using the August smart lock.
If you are looking to upgrade your actual lock, then the investment of a high-security cylinder will be compounded with the price of the August. In truth, this “lock” does give you quite a bit of flexibility in terms of the potential for your security, but there is nothing inherent about the product that directly benefits the user’s security. In fact, it does damage security, as hacking attacks have proven effective in opening the August Smart Lock. This is purely meant to add convenience for the user, by allowing a smartphone to open a lock that can also use a key to be opened. The lack of dependability in terms of its convenience features seems as though you are going to have to manually use this lock a lot. If we are looking at it purely from the position of its intended use, the convenience factor does not seem to be there.
Further issues with the security of these devices include not fully retracting the bolt or not having it completely extending. This will leave the door locked, in instances where you have used the app to open it, and vice versa. Newer versions of the firmware have increased the amount of torque that the lock’s motor will apply when attempting to retract or extend the bolt. This feature will drain the batteries faster. When the batteries are dead, the lock will have to be opened with a key. In order to solve the issues with sticking doors, you will need to perform some level of maintenance on the door. Failure to maintain your door will result in the lock malfunctioning and/or dying frequently, and this will likely lead to homeowners spending money on hiring a locksmith to repair door locks.
The Kwikset Kevo is a replacement deadbolt that costs $199, but it can be purchased for as little as $152.99. It works similarly to a push-button start car. With your smartphone in your pocket, a user will be able to simply touch the outside of the deadbolt and have the lock open. The lock itself uses a Kwikset SmartKey cylinder, one of the many locks with a widely publicized bypass, so that the device can always be opened with a traditional key. By using the app, homeowners can stay informed on when the door is being opened. The Kevo commercial even says that you can quote “know who they are”, in reference to other users who are opening the door. This is done by sending electronic keys to visitors or professionals who need access to your home.
The Kevo will also sync up to your Nest Learning Thermostat, as well as other home automation devices, and use the information about your coming and going to decide on a pattern for the home’s climate control. The Nest can activate once you have opened the door, and shut off exactly when you leave. Anyone with an eKey can also set their personal temperature settings with the Nest so that there is increased user specific functionality. When there is no smartphone present and no physical key, a fob can still be used so that the door will be opened by touching the deadbolt. One key fob comes standard with the purchase of the Kevo.
One of the most important parts of the lock, which the company is really pushing, is the access control offered by the app. We have already established that eKeys can be given to allow for guest access, and of course, these keys can also be deleted or disabled. There are also different types of keys that can be given out to the people in your life. There is the guest key that is deleted after a 24 hour period automatically. The owner of the lock can give unlimited guest keys, free of charge. The scheduled key type is meant to be given to individuals who require recurring access to the home at scheduled times. Then there are anytime keys, which will enable users full access to the lock. Both scheduled and anytime keys can be reassigned to different users, and never expire.
The lock comes with 2 eKeys. These keys can either be designated as anytime or scheduled, and their status can be changed without getting a new key. If a user requires more than 2 keys, they must pay an additional $1.99 per key. The purchased keys, act exactly like the 2 original eKeys. That means they will never expire and can be taken from one user and given to another. Again, the 24-hour guest keys are free and unlimited, but they cannot be set to specific schedules. If you give out a guest key, then that guest will have unrestricted access to your lock for 24 hours.
Whatever phone was used to set up the lock will be designated the owner. There is only one phone that can technically own the lock, but admin designations can be assigned by the owner. The owner’s only difference from an admin is the ability to delete the lock. Other than that, both the owner and the admin(s) will be able to manage admin and other users, view the lock’s history, and receive notifications. And with the new Kevo Plus feature, the lock can run on Wi-Fi and be accessed from anywhere in the world. This is a $99 upgrade, and that will afford you the Bluetooth Gateway (a physical product).
Looking at the customer reviews on Amazon, there is a pretty split decision on the Kevo. At the time of writing, the one-star reviews have edged out the five-star reviews by 1% (30% and 29% respectively). One of the biggest issues that users had was that they wanted more keys. As you can read from the company responses to the reviews, anyone who purchased the lock before December 1st, 2013 will get 5 additional eKeys. The transferable nature of the keys seems to be a direct result of this having been such a problem for people.
The fact that most reviewers are giving their input after a good amount of time spent using the lock suggest greater insight into the everyday nature of the product. Most reviews are quite lengthy, but the negatives seem pretty unanimous that the lock is very sensitive to your phone’s location. It requires a bit of finesse and movement in order to get the lock to respond. The door will also unlock accidentally if you touch the deadbolt in almost any way. Almost everyone, in both positive and negative reviews, mentions just how easy it is to bump the lock and have it open or close contrary to what you wanted. There are some issues with battery usage, which will leave the lock’s smart features null and void. Having to have the Kevo app constantly running in the background of your phone is also said to kill the battery of your phone.
Most of the people that were unhappy with the product admit to having high expectations and being let down. On the side of the positive reviews, most mention the fact that they had read a lot of the negative reviews before purchasing, only to be pleasantly surprised. This could be construed as low expectations helping to leave customers pleasantly surprised. Most people were bummed out about the additional cost of keys and upgrades that would allow them to open the lock from anywhere in the world. Mainly, detractors of the product seemed to feel misled and cheated. Positive reviews express that they had issues, but the customer service team was very helpful in rectifying those problems. Still, even 5-star reviews admit to having issues, which the user has just come to terms with being an early adopter.
The smart key cylinder has the highest UL (Underwriters Laboratories) ranking, and is a Grade 2 rated deadbolt according to BHMA (Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association) and the ANSI (American National Standards Institute). In the case of the last two third party lock testing institutions, a grade 2 is one rank below the best possible (grade 1). Marc Weber Tobias has famously talked about the issues with these ranking systems. He even showed Wired Magazine just how easy it was to open these locks with minimal time, specific lock knowledge, or skill. Well, the actual quote is, “[Smart Cylinders] can be opened in 15 seconds with a screwdriver and a paper clip”. CNET tested this claim with three individuals ranging from complete novice to expert locksmith. The only one not successful was the complete novice.
Frankly, almost all security experts hate this lock. The Kevo’s cylinder has plastic components that allow the lock to fail and fall apart even more easily than other SmartKey cylinders. The reason that you want a high concentration of metal in your lock is to prevent torque based attacks. The plastic addition has made the lock fall apart easily so that forced entry will leave obvious signs of tampering (something which comes in handy for a forensic locksmith), but this is not an effective crime deterrent. When plastic is used in a lock, security is greatly reduced. If you would like to replace the cylinder on the deadbolt, you cannot, because Kwikset has made it almost impossible. This makes professionals very wary. Not only can they not place this lock on a home in good conscience, but they also cannot perform any security upgrades. Locksmiths are just very frustrated at this point that the company is not listening to them in regards to the huge oversights that exist with the security of these locks.
In terms of the positive praise that experts have given this product, it is hard to find. CNET had to adjust their earlier praise of the product once they were shouted down for failing to see the obvious physical vulnerabilities. Leading them to state, “…if you’re looking for the strongest, safest lock on the market, I think you’ll want to look elsewhere”. But after that statement, they do say, “…if you want a lock that’s loaded with convenient functionality and an undeniable cool factor, then look no further”. Other than that, known championship lockpicker and self-proclaimed (and industry supported) security anthropologist, Schuyler Towne has applauded the business sense and company partnerships. He says, “…their locks work well and come in at a competitive price point. They also continue to improve Kevo with software updates and have plans to offer integration with home networks…”. When he says that the locks “work well” I can only imagine he is talking about everyday use and not the security they provide. The praise is sparse, but the Kevo does have some things going for it.
This seems to be a war of attrition. It is not about who will get better faster, it is about which one will be the first to alienate their client base and lose funding for improvements and R&D. Don’t get me wrong, the conclusion to this war may be long off, but that will be the true end of this tale. At this point in the Smart Lock War between the Kevo and August, there is no clear winner. Both have some very alarming issues. It will come down to personal feelings towards the risks that users are willing to overlook. Right now everyone using these products are paying the price for being early adopters. These companies are still working out the kinks, and it comes at the expense of security and practicality. You can choose not to accept our conclusion, the claims of the companies, the words of users, or the perspectives of professionals. Take a look at the facts and make up your own mind. We would love to hear about your decisions and experience when it comes to smart locks. Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.