august-smartlock-01With so much connectivity in our homes and mobile devices, I wanted to try using a smart lock to increase the convenience of not having to deal with physical keys, keys handover etc. I looked around, and went to purchase an August Smartlock, which seems to get the job done, without having to sacrifice things that I found to be critical: 1/ I want to be able to fall back to using a physical key (dead battery, malfunction) 2/ I prefer to use the existing lock for convenience since I know that it is already working and that the fit to the door frame is OK. So, how did that turn out?

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Overall idea and features

First, let’s go over the overall features of the August smart lock:

  1. you don’t need a key, provided that the deadbolt is the only thing that will keep the door secured. In terms of pure security it’s probably not the best setup out there, but most people rely on a single bolt to secure their door.
  2. It is possible to create virtual keys and give access to anyone you want for however long you want: one hour, a day, or permanently. Your nanny, neighbor, family members or even a whole group for a one-evening party can get keys to your place, and they will all auto-expire properly, so you don’t have to worry about unauthorized access.
  3. You can see who has been opening and closing the door using the app, thanks to a log system. You will not be notified of physical key uses.
  4. Added “security”: I want to make sure that you understand what “security” means here. A smart lock will not make your door any stronger. However, if you compare it to a digipad entry, or even a key entry, I expect a smartlock to be a little more secure simply because the passcode is much longer. Since you don’t have to type or remember it, the passcode length doesn’t affect usability. In this case, we still have a key, so I expect it to remain the weak point, and the easiest way to get in, without breaking stuff and making a lot of noise.

No added physical security

Let’s be clear about something: a smart lock like this should be thought out as a way to add convenience, not “security”. The lock in itself won’t make your deadbolt any less hard to pick, or to break than before. My metric for success for this device is whether or not it is more convenient than physical keys, and if it is easy to give people limited access, and finally, if it can be remotely controlled — in that order.

Installation (easy, with a compatible lock)

august-smartlock-05I highly recommend to look at the list of compatible deadbolts on the August website. This is the simplest way to avoid wasting your time.  Alternatively, you can also eyeball the photos to have an educated guess as whether or not things will match your own setup.

august-smartlock-04My deadbolt was listed, and it took me less than 10mns to install the August smartlock on my door. It was just a matter of unscrewing the inside section of the deadbolt, and replace it with a compatible piece coming from the August kit. After that, I simply had to mount the smart lock itself and make sure that the batteries were properly in place.

august-smartlock-07From there, I downloaded the August Smart Lock app on the Android Market (also available for iOS), create an account, add a house, then a lock. It is then very easy to invite more people to give them access to the lock via their own smartphones.

Because you are using an existing bolt, the previous keys still work, and people who don’t have a smartphone can still be given a key to access the premises. If there is a failure/bug/outage you can fall back on the original physical key.

Control

Door locked!

Door locked!

Door locked too! Oh, wait...

Door locked too! Oh, wait…

The August Smartlock works only with Bluetooth. This means that battery life is expected to be long (“months”, supposedly). However, this also means that it won’t connect directly to the Internet and that some changes have to be done while you are in proximity of the lock. Fortunately, it is possible to create keys over the Internet, but it is not possible to open/close the door remotely for example.

Invite others: since the smart lock uses a system of virtual keys, it is possible to give access to as many people as you want, without having to create duplicate physical keys. It is up to you to determine how long they have access for, and it is possible to create precise and regular window of access for recurring visits, for the nanny or the cleaning person for example. You won’t have to ask for the keys back later, or worry that one of them will lose the key.

You don’t have to be at home to add someone. It is possible to do it from your app from anywhere you have an internet connection. Your contact will also need to be connected to the Internet to receive and accept the invitation. It takes about 1mn between the invitation was sent, and your friend being able to open the lock. No instant, but not bad.

The app can also let you know if people have open/closed the door, even when you are away. I assume that this only works if your friends have an active internet connection so that the app can relay this information back to the August server. This also means that August may know who comes and goes in your home — if you care about privacy, you may want to read the fine prints. I have not had the time to read or, or ask about this in details.

auto-close: if you want to, it is possible to setup the August smartlock so that it closes the lock by itself. The idea is that you could go away from your home and the lock would lock itself up. It’s nice, but there are serious caveats with this feature:

  1. The lock doesn’t know if the door is currently open or closed, so it can try locking at the wrong time: I was holding the door open to discuss with someone, and the lock activated, leaving the bolt out, thus making it impossible to close the door now. I had to manually put it back to the “open” position and close the door.
  2. Be mindful of this if you go out to check on your mailbox, or garden. you could get locked out if you don’t have your phone with you. An outdoor keypad would be the solution to this.
  3. The door alignment has to be perfect, or the door won’t close. I mentioned this earlier, but many doors aren’t completely aligned and if you need to push/pull your door at all when operating the bolt, chances are that the August lock will fail every once in a while.

auto-open: normally, you have to pull out your phone, launch the app and wait for a connection before tapping on the “open” icon to open the door. This can take 10 seconds to a minute, depending on your Bluetooth, but it turns out to be slower than simply using your keys.

In practice

Overall, things work OK “most of the time” (you really want 100%, don’t you?), but there are a number of caveats that you need to know about before making a rather expensive purchase.

Pros

  • It is very easy to install, and you can get started in 5-10 minutes after installing it. If your deadbolt was well aligned to start with, the lock should close reliably.
  • It is a little big, but the August Smartlock is one of the better looking one, in a market that offers quite a few choices.
  • Opting for Bluetooth-only should prolong the battery life, but at the expense of remote functionalities. Also, I haven’t used it long enough to actually vouch for the battery life.
  • You can generate keys from anywhere and let someone open your door in 1 minute.

Cons

A slightly misaligned door, and the thing won't close.

A slightly misaligned door, and the thing won’t close.

  • How well the deadbolt is aligned to your door plate may cause problems. It is quite common to find small misalignment of one millimeter. This could be due to an flawed initial installation of the deadbolt, or to the addition of door insulation after that. If you have a key, you can easily realize that something is wrong and push/pull the door slightly to make things work.
  • On the contrary, the smart lock relies on an impeccable alignment, and even one millimeter (or less!) may prevent the door from properly locking. When this happens, it is possible that the lock will try over and over, thus depleting the battery faster, and more importantly leaving the door open. I wish that there was a sound alarm for that, but there isn’t — again, in the name of a longer battery life.
  • Lack of Internet connectivity: that would behave been  *really* nice, because you could remotely check if the door is open or closed for example (the log system provides a limited ability to cross-reference that). It could also let you know if it has been opened with a key, or manually.
  • Not faster than physical keys: yes, you heard that right. Because the Bluetooth connection has to be turned on and off to save battery life, it does take some time to start and unlock a door. The auto-unlock system may solve this (opens as you approach the door), but I found it to not work reliably, and by the time I get to the door, it may, or may not be open. We are used to 100% reliable keys, so it’s a bit disturbing that smart locks aren’t 100% reliable.
  • No notification if someone opens the door with a key.

Finally, I noticed that it works better/faster on my iPhone 6+ than my XPERIA Z3, so maybe iOS is getting a more polished experience here. It may be phone-specific, but I haven’t had time to try it on more Android handsets at the moment.

Conclusion (mixed results)

The August smartlock scores some points for ease of use and design, but it also has some caveats, according to at my own success metrics: Is it faster than physical keys? Not really, and certainly not every time. Is it as reliable as physical keys? Definitely not.

Does it make it easier to give access to friends? Absolutely. This is the one promises of smart locks that is always true because of the absence of physical keys. Can it be operated remotely? Not really: it’s not possible to lock/unlock from a remote location, but you can create a key for someone else to operate the door.

I have to add that this smartlock could also be a nice tool to use for an indoor room, like a home office, Airbnb rental room. However, after installing and using it, I am not as excited to use it as the lock for the main entrance, partly because it is slow, partly because I can’t remote-control it or verify that the door is really closed.

I hope that this review has given you with a good overview of how it is to use an August Smart lock, and shown the pro and cons in a clear and practical way. If you have additional questions, please leave a comment below.

FAQs (feel free to ask more questions)

If someone steals my phone, they now have my virtual key: First, you can use a friend’s smartphone to log into the August app and delete your key. Also, you can (should) use a passcode to lock your phone. If you did not, you can still try to remote-wipe your phone using the Android or Apple web utilities. In short, this is actually better than losing a physical key.

My phone battery is dead! am I locked out? It happens… just use your key to get in. I recommend to always take your keys with you, or have one somewhere handy (friends, family, etc…).

The August Smartlock battery is dead! What do I do? Same as above.

Will the auto-unlock open as soon as I get near the door? It should not, and it never happened to me. As long as you are inside, the lock will know it, and it will not open.

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