We’ll be talking about smart door locks but this applies to doors installed with a digital lock too. Both can be fully keyless but there are a few differences. Smart locks connect to your mobile device through wireless, Bluetooth or similar technology to enable remote access control. Digital locks require physical interaction like your fingerprint or your proximity to the lock to function. That said, there are smart digital locks that have the combined features.
Doors with smart locks allow you to have more control and convenience. You can lock and unlock your door with your voice or from anywhere with your phone if you forget. A smart door will make your life easier when your hands are full of groceries, baby, toddler or anything else that makes it hard to search for your keys. You can also check the door lock status remotely from your phone, no more hassle to rush to the door. Furthermore, you’ll be able to give app-enabled access to your friends, family, house guests, maintenance staff or caregivers.
If you’re thinking of buying a smart lock, there are things you need to consider first before getting one.
- Compatibility With Your Existing Door Frame and Lock
- Alternate Entry Options
- Smart Home Compatibility & Connectivity
- Remote Access
- Hands-Free Auto Lock & Unlock
- Voice Control
- Battery Life
- Access Control
Compatibility With Your Existing Door Frame and Lock
If you’re completely replacing your existing lock, smart lock compatibility with your existing door frame and lock is an important factor to consider.
In general, to determine if your door is compatible, we’ll have to check:
- Door thickness
- The gap between your door and metal security screen
- Smart lock clearance from the door edge
- The door surface area for the smart lock should be flat, without grooves or patterns
- Door closer installed
- Bolt assembly type
- Existing lock mechanisms type like mortise lock, deadbolt lock, roller mortise lock, integrated lock & handle, rim cylinder lock
When installing your new smart lock, the deadbolt must align well with the strike plate. If there’s a lot of friction when you try to engage the deadbolt, the smart lock motor will struggle to lock or unlock the bolt and eventually, the smart lock will jam.
Alternate Entry Options
What if you misplace your phone or left your phone at the office? So, when looking for smart locks, look for those with more alternative ways to lock and unlock your door if you don’t have your phone with you. As well as wireless locking and unlocking, more smart locks now offer physical or electronic entry options, including:
- Numeric keypad with PIN codes or password
- RF card
- Physical key
- Fingerprint and biometrics
- Wireless key fob
Smart Home Compatibility & Connectivity
Many smart locks support Bluetooth so that they will work with your mobile device. But very few are compatible to connect with all smart home technology.
If you want to control and monitor your lock remotely, it must be able to connect to your smart home hub. This can be done in several ways. Zigbee, Z-Wave, and Bluetooth are the most popular radio technology built into smart locks because they require very little power. There are Bluetooth locks that also offer an add-on radio module with Zigbee or Z-Wave support to connect to your home network. If your existing hub is like the Alexa, Apple TV, Samsung SmartThings, or Wink Hub, you’ll want to ensure your lock supports ZigBee or Z-Wave. However, depending on the hub model, you’ll want to check again whether the lock is compatible.
Lately, more smart locks have Wi-Fi built-in, which makes connecting to your home network easier, but this means that you may have to change the lock batteries more often.
You can have remote access with your smart locks using Bluetooth connectivity with your phone, but you will need to be in BlueTooth range, which is about 10 meters.
If you want to remotely monitor and control your smart lock from any location, you’ll need a lock that supports wireless connection to your compatible smart home hub such as Wi-Fi, Zigbee or Z-Wave. Then the hub is connected to the Internet, allowing you to remotely access your smart lock from anywhere with your mobile app. After that, with the app, you can then remotely:
- unlock or lock the door
- control guest access
- receive a notification when someone enters or leaves your home
Hands-Free Auto Lock & Unlock
When you’re carrying your smartphone, some Bluetooth locks may let you auto-unlock the door when you are at a set distance away and auto-lock behind you after some time. The set distance is normally 10 meters or less, which is the Bluetooth connectivity distance, and only functions when you are outside your home. The geofencing system and timer can be programmed on your mobile app.
Smart locks with keypads rarely include proximity auto-unlock because of security concerns, like to prevent an intruder or thief from entering a property using a lost or stolen phone.
Increasingly, more smart locks with hubs such as Amazon and HomeKit provide Alexa and Siri voice control. However, this is usually limited to locking and unlocking the door when you’re inside your home. This speak to lock and unlock feature may require the user to provide a spoken PIN code after the spoken command.
The electronic smart lock is powered by batteries, either the AA, AAA or 9V alkaline batteries, or a rechargeable lithium-ion cell.
If you want to know about the battery life and how often you have to change them, this depends on the lock model and operation. Bluetooth connection uses less energy than WiFi. Therefore Bluetooth locks battery life will last a bit longer than WiFi locks for the same functionality and operating conditions. Under normal conditions, your Bluetooth lock should last for one year or more, and 1 or 2 months longer than a WiFi lock.
There are smart locks with features that show you how much battery life is left and/or when the battery power gets low will:
- send you a notification on your app
- flash red light or blinking light
- make a beep sound
The alerts will provide you with enough time to replace or recharge the battery.
If the battery runs out, some models come with a physical key cylinder or emergency power backup, such as connecting a 9V battery to the lock’s external terminals, giving you enough juice to open your door.
There are solar-powered smart locks that solve the battery problem but may not integrate with your smart home hub.
Most smart locks let you grant access to people who you need to let into your home while you’re not there. You can customise entries for permanent and temporary users with specific days and times. This means you can give your family members or friends one code, and maintenance staff or delivery people a different code. While you’re away on vacation, you can assign custom entry codes to your neighbours to help water the plants, feed the cat or take in the mail. If you are a landlord with a rental or Airbnb property, you can simply issue new entry keys with time-sensitive passcodes to your next visitor or renter, and also delete previous access.
The most common method for smart locks to grant entry is with keypad pin codes or virtual keys. With keypads, you can create and manage dozens or hundreds of pin codes. With virtual keys, you can send the keys in a text message and email through the smart lock app to give your visitors wireless entry. Most smart locks with a home hub can send you a real-time alert notification through the app, text message or email to update you when the locks are locked or unlocked and with which keycode. The lock historical activity can be stored for viewing later.
Some smart locks will give off a loud alarm if they are tampered with or when the door is left open.
Buying the Right Smart Door Locks
Smart locks provide a host of benefits that will make your life easier and more convenient. They will also add another layer of security to your home while complementing your smart home. So buying a smart lock doesn’t have to be difficult, but you need to take some time to make an educated decision before deciding on the best smart lock for your needs and budget.