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Hands-On with the New August Smart Lock

Rafe Needleman
·Editorial Director, Yahoo Tech
August Smart Lock assembly
August Smart Lock assembly

(August)

You have to have a lot of faith in technology before you replace the lock on your home’s front door with an Internet-connected gadget. I had come close before but until recently was unable to make the leap: I had a Lockitron on order through the Kickstarter campaign in 2013, but when a rash of Internet security incidents (unrelated to Lockitron) hit the news, I canceled my order. You really don’t want to mess around with your house.

But I do like the concept. I like the idea of being able to unlock my house automatically as I approach the door, or with only my locked-down, password-protected phone. I especially like the idea of being able to give guests time-limited access to my house, via a smartphone app.

That’s what the latest smart lock does. The August Smart Lock, available now, is a gorgeous $250 piece of hardware that you can install yourself. It lets you lock and unlock your door through a smartphone app, either on demand or automatically, and it lets you send passes to other people who have the app.

I love the idea, but unfortunately the August is not without problems.

The hardware
I am not the handiest of homeowners. I’m a nerd and can handle electrical and computing repairs just fine, but plumbing, carpentry, and locksmithing are not in my wheelhouse. Still, I took on the job of installing the August. To my surprise, it was a breeze. The instructions are clear, and how the August device mates to your existing deadbolt and your door is ingenious and delightful. With just a Phillips screwdriver, I had the lock installed in about 20 minutes.

August Smart Lock
August Smart Lock

The August Smart Lock, installed. (Rafe Needleman/Yahoo Tech)

See also: Use KeyMe to Make Your House Keys Digital

August also has precertified a network of locksmiths, but honestly I’ve never seen a home improvement process as simple as this one. I found the August much easier to install than my Nest thermostat, for comparison’s sake.

(Note that the August Smart Lock unlocks only standard deadbolts, which are how most American front doors are secured. The August won’t work on custom or unique locks, or in New York apartments with doors full of extra locks, or anything other than a single deadbolt lock.)

From the outside of the house, nothing looks different at all. On the inside of the house, you see the beautiful August hardware. The August replaces the turn latch (I’m sure there’s a technical term for that) with a hefty, milled aluminum knob that you can still manually lock and unlock your door with. I got mine in gold to match my door hardware, and it’s also available in silver, black, or red. (If I had to do this again, I’d get the red.) It looks better than any other electronic lock. August was co-founded by designer Yves Béhar, and his hand is evident in everything from how the product looks and feels to the packaging.

August Smart Lock
August Smart Lock

Remove the latch, screw in this mounting plate, install a plastic adapter, and the August mechanism snaps down over it. (Rafe Needleman/Yahoo Tech)

However, if you have an old house, as I do, with a door latch that sometimes takes a persuasive nudge from your shoulder to operate, even the super-strong August motor may have a problem doing its job every time. After days of messing about with my lock, an August rep came to check it out and signed me up for a locksmith visit, in the hopes that realigning my door would make the lock more reliable.

Also, as beautiful as it is, the front cover plate of the lock mechanism occasionally came off in my hand as I turned the latch. It’s just held on by a magnet.

The app
You control your August lock with a smartphone app. Its design is clear, and it’s easy to use. You can lock or unlock the door of your house with it, providing that you’re in Bluetooth range of your lock (a few feet).

August Smart Lock app
August Smart Lock app


A happy August Smart Lock. The green circle indicates that the lock is open.

Unfortunately, on current iPhone 6 models, there’s an issue with the Bluetooth software that can make the phone extremely slow to connect to the lock. It means that locking or unlocking your door requires a long pause while you wait for the app to connect. Sometimes it just doesn’t. You have to use your old-fashioned key instead. I tried the app on an iPad and an iPhone 5 and did not have that problem, but my daily phone is an iPhone 6. Until Apple updates its Bluetooth software, the August is unusable for me.

August Smart Lock loading screen
August Smart Lock loading screen


I spent too much time looking at this.

There’s also an Android app. It works with Android 4.4 (KitKat) and requires Bluetooth Smart Ready. See August’s compatibility page. I did not test the Android app.

It’s quite easy to send passes to other people (family, house cleaners, delivery people) so they can unlock your door. You can limit their access to certain times, too. However, these guests have to download, install, and set up their own August accounts to use these passes, and the secure sign-up process is tedious (it requires setting a password and getting confirmation codes from your phone and your email). Your nerdy friends and family might be game for this, but I cannot imagine a service provider going through this process if what he’s accustomed to is using an old-fashioned key.

Security
You can set your August lock to enable your door to automatically unlock. The app arms as you approach your house (using “geofencing” in your phone), and then unlocks the lock as you walk up to your door and get into Bluetooth range. Once unlocked, the auto-unlock won’t work again until you leave the house (and leave your geofence) and then come home again. This prevents the door from auto-unlocking when you walk around inside your house.

August Smart Lock settings screen
August Smart Lock settings screen


You can give people passes to unlock your house.

The look can also automatically lock itself after it’s been unlocked for 30 seconds. This is a handy feature and I experimented with it, but as I found the August to be unreliable with my iPhone 6, I disabled it quickly. I didn’t want my house locking behind me when I stepped outside for a moment without my keys.

Only Bluetooth-equipped phones can unlock an August lock. The lock itself does not have a WiFi radio, so neither you nor a hacker can tap into the lock from far away and unlock your house. This is good for security. The downside is that the lock cannot report its status to you over the Internet unless someone is using an app to lock or unlock it. If someone jimmies your lock, or unlocks your door from inside the house, the lock can’t alert you.

Worth it?
The August Smart Lock is brilliantly simple to install. It’s a gorgeous piece of hardware that doesn’t make your front door look like a science project. And the functions of the software are mostly what you want and need. The architecture of the platform is, I believe, at least as secure as a standard key.

However, hardware incompatibilities (in my case, my ancient, out-of-alignment door and my new, shiny iPhone 6) may slow down early adopters. I do believe this is one of the best smart locks out there, but my experience with it was not nearly as smooth as I would have liked.

Other smart locks:
Goji
Kevo
• Lockitron
• Schlage

Rafe Needleman can be reached at rafeneedleman@yahoo.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @rafe​.