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Whether for Your Home or Rental Property, One of These Smart Locks Will Serve You Well

·17 min read
Photo credit: Trevor Raab
Photo credit: Trevor Raab


“Hearst Magazines and Verizon Media may earn commission or revenue on some items through the links below.”

Smart locks—or smart deadbolts, more accurately—can automatically lock and unlock doors for you, allow you to check whether they’re bolted and operate them remotely, and provide access to people who may be visiting or performing work while you’re not home. In most cases you can also get notifications or check the history to see who has accessed your door, as well as manage or restrict access. If you’ve ever considered getting a smart lock but didn’t know where to start, were worried about changing out your deadbolt or lockset, or were unsure about compatibility with your home security system, read on. We’ve tested a range of smart locks available now and covered the basics to help sort out which is the best option for you.

Read quick info below on five of the best smart locks from our testing, then scroll down for buying advice and in-depth reviews of these and other top-performing models.

Installation

Smart locks generally come in two configurations. The first is a full deadbolt lockset—including the bolt, the exterior keyed lock and/or keypad, and the interior thumb lever and plate. These will completely replace your existing deadbolt or can be added above a doorknob or handle. The second configuration only replaces the interior thumb lever and plate, utilizing the existing deadbolt and exterior keyed lock. If you have a matching doorknob and deadbolt, or have all your locks keyed alike, then this option will let you keep your current setup. There are also full mortise handle-sets that include the handle and associated latchbolt, as well as the “smart” deadbolt, all-in-one unit. For this test, however, we focused on just the deadbolt options.

Say you’re replacing an existing deadbolt, or installing one in a new door that’s pre-drilled. The job is fairly easy and can be be done with just one screwdriver in about fifteen minutes. But if you’re installing a deadbolt in a door that hasn’t already had one, it’ll take a bit more time and a door hardware installation jig to get it right. The kit will help get the holes positioned accurately and make the job go quicker.

What Makes Them “Smart”?

Smart locks employ Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or Z-Wave radio signals to communicate with apps on smart phones, Wi-Fi bridges, or smart home hubs like the Google Nest Hub and the Echo Show. Almost all smart locks have Bluetooth, and generally this is how they can be set up with an app on a smart phone. Often, these models can unlock automatically when you (and your phone) enter Bluetooth range or manually lock/unlock via the app. Some have remote access capability, connecting and operating—with a separate Wi-Fi bridge—to a local network.

Smart locks with Wi-Fi built-in, and connected to your home network, work with an app on a smart phone for remote operation and monitoring. They may also connect to or be integrated with security systems, smart home devices like Google Nest Hub and the Echo Show, or Apple’s HomeKit. Note that locks with built in Wi-Fi will drain batteries faster than low-energy radio waves, like Bluetooth or Z-Wave.

Smart locks with Z-Wave have to connect with a Z-Wave hub, which in turn connects to your Wi-Fi network. You can then control these locks with an app from a smart phone or home hub. Z-Wave is a low-energy radio signal, like Bluetooth but with a stronger signal and more robust encryption. If you already have a Z-Wave hub and are planning to add more devices or a full security system, you might consider going this route. Using Z-Wave avoids competition for bandwidth and interference on your Wi-Fi network, which is important because there may be dozens of smart devices in a fully automated smart home.

Photo credit: Trevor Raab
Photo credit: Trevor Raab

How We Tested These Smart Locks

The locks on this list have been thoroughly vetted and evaluated by our test editors. We research the market, survey user reviews, speak with product managers and engineers, and use our own experience with these smart locks to determine the best options. For testing, we installed each of them in a metal exterior door to assess fit and ease of installation. We then paired them with our smart phones, ran through the setup processes, and tested Bluetooth functionality. To connect the smart locks to a consumer-grade wireless network, we installed them all in a single test stand, took them off-site, and set up a live stream video camera to monitor functionality. We then locked and unlocked them remotely using our smartphone, while reviewing the video stream, and confirmed lock status via the manufacturers’ apps. We took care to test all of the smart locks’ features and factored in aesthetics. If you’ve been thinking about getting a smart lock, we’ve included all the information you’ll need to help pick the best model.

—BEST OVERALL—

Schlage Encode Smart Wi-Fi Deadbolt

Type: Complete deadbolt | Mechanical key: Yes | Bluetooth: Yes, but only used for set up | Wi-Fi: Yes, 2.4GHz | Z-Wave: No | Power: 4 AA alkaline batteries | Battery life: 6 months, depending on usage

Schlage’s Encode Smart Deadbolt offers similar features to many other locks on the market and in this review. Where it differs, however, is in its Grade 1 rating from the American National Standards Institute, the organization’s highest for locks. Grade 1 is a mechanical quality rating, requiring a deadbolt to withstand 250,000 cycles and 10 door strikes with a hammer. Examining the deadbolt, it’s not hard to understand how it earned the rating—robust, heavy metal housings enclose both the interior and exterior mechanisms. Likewise, the deadbolt is shrouded by a metal extension on the mechanical lock cylinder. In the simplest of terms, it’s beefy, which we found confidence-inspiring as we installed it. Speaking of installation, it’s very straightforward, requiring only one screwdriver (though an impact driver would have helped us speed things along). Expect to spend 10 to 15 minutes setting it up, roughly how long it takes to either replace an existing deadbolt or install the Encode in a new, pre-hung door, already drilled for a deadbolt.

The Schlage Home app required to set up the lock is clean and intuitive, making start up, management, and administration of the “smart” functionality a breeze. The Encode uses Bluetooth initially, but once it’s up and running, it connects to a home Wi-Fi network without any hubs or bridges. From this point, it’s possible manage all functionality from the app, anywhere.

Schlage Home app functionality:

  • Manage multiple Schlage smart locks in one or more homes

  • Check lock status (locked/unlocked)

  • Lock or unlock doors

  • Set alerts

  • Create access codes or virtual keys to provide access

  • Set access: always, recurring, temporary

  • View activity logs

  • Edit settings like auto lock

  • Link to Key by Amazon, Alexa, and Google Assistant

The Encode is also compatible with Ring security systems, via the Key by Amazon app, as well as Google Assistant. Schlage’s Encode is ideal for people looking for robust physical security, coupled with the convenience of advanced smart lock features.

—MOST VERSATILE—

August Home Smart Lock Pro + Connect

Type: Uses existing deadbolt | Mechanical key: Yes, uses existing key | Bluetooth: Yes | Wi-Fi: Yes, with included Wi-Fi (2.4GHz) bridge | Z-Wave: Yes | Power: 2 AA alkaline batteries | Battery life: 3 months, depending on usage

August’s Smart Lock Pro requires minimal fussing and modification. Will you be able to keep the expensive deadbolt that matches the fancy lockset on your entry door? Yes, you can. Are your locks all keyed the same? You can keep your existing keys. Will it work with the Google Assistant or Alexa you have set up in your home? Yup. How about Apple HomeKit or Z-Wave smart home hub/network? Yup again.

The Smart Lock Pro is practically a one-size-fits-all solution, both mechanically and digitally. However, there are some deadbolts it isn’t compatible with—double check before you buy. Compatibility is based on three couplings August supplies with the smart lock. These join the tail of your deadbolt lock cylinder to the smart lock. These tail pieces are shaped differently from one brand and model to another. Ours wasn’t compatible, but we made a shim that fit over the tail and into the coupling (we don’t recommend you do this in your home, though it worked for the purposes of our test). Overall, installation was quick and easy, requiring only a screwdriver to complete the job.

To be able to use the Smart Lock Pro, you’ll need to pair it with your phone using August’s free app. The process is quick, painless, and intuitive. The model we tested also came with a Door Sense sensor and a Connect Wi-Fi bridge. Connect is required to access lock functions remotely, and the sensor allows you to see, via the app, whether the door is open or closed—this is a nice feature and worked reliably in testing. Without the Wi-Fi bridge, the lock will only function via Bluetooth—which is still handy, since it can be set to automatically unlock when it recognizes when you get home. Note that if you have multiple August smart locks, you will need a Connect Wi-Fi bridge for each one you want to manage them remotely.

August app functionality:

  • Manage multiple August smart locks in one home

  • Check lock status (locked/unlocked) and door status (open/closed)

  • Lock or unlock doors

  • Set alerts

  • Invite guests and provide access

  • Set access: always, recurring, temporary

  • View activity logs

  • Edit lock settings like auto lock/unlock

  • Link to smart home management platforms

In short, the Smart Lock Pro with Connect should fit the needs of just about any homeowner or apartment dweller. It has a broad mechanical and digital range of compatibility and an easy-to-use app.

—LEAST OBTRUSIVE—

Level Bolt

Type: Deadbolt and internal actuator | Mechanical key: Yes, from existing lock | Bluetooth: Yes | Wi-Fi: No | Z-Wave: No | Power: 1 CR2 lithium battery | Battery life: 6-12 months, depending on usage

Level’s Bolt smart lock lets you keep all the external components of your existing deadbolt, only replacing the internal deadbolt and actuator. It’s able to do this because Level hid the battery inside the deadbolt, instead of inside a housing mounted on the door. With no keypad or touchpad, all interaction with the Bolt takes place through Level’s smart phone app.

The Level Bolt is perhaps the easiest smart lock we’ve installed, with just two main components—the deadbolt and actuator—plus two screws and one tailpiece adapter. With the tools ready, at hand, it took about 10 minutes to install. The clever design is clean and simple, and it’s impossible to tell you’ve got a smart lock hooked up once it’s installed. We were able to set up the lock through Level’s app without issue and found all the standard smart lock features you expect, including auto lock/unlock, lock status, activity history, and user management. The app features all worked well, though we could only use them when we were within Bluetooth range. For remote use, you’ll have to connect the Level Bolt to a smart home hub—it’s compatible with Apple HomeKit, Alexa, and Ring.

Alfred app functionality:

  • Check lock status

  • Lock or unlock doors

  • Set user access: always, recurring, or temporary

  • View activity log

  • Set auto lock/unlock

  • Check battery status

Level’s Bolt is a great option for people that want to keep all the visible components of their existing deadbolt but still desire smart lock features. From an aesthetic perspective, the front door will look exactly the same.

—BEST TRADITIONAL KEY TECHNOLOGY—

Kwikset Halo Touch Smart Lock

Type: Complete deadbolt | Mechanical key: Yes | Bluetooth: Yes | Wi-Fi: Yes, | Z-Wave: No | Power: 4 AA alkaline batteries | Battery life: 6-12 months, depending on usage

The Halo Touch is a sturdy, complete deadbolt from Kwikset, the company that revolutionized residential locks with its tubular lock design over 70 years ago. It features proprietary Smart Key technology, which allows you to re-key your locks with new physical keys in seconds. To do that, you need the existing key for the lock, the key you want to switch to, and the Smart Key tool. From there it’s a four-step process to configure the lock to use the new key. When we tried it, we were able to quickly re-key it to match other Kwikset locks—handy if you want one key for every exterior door in your house. If you ever lose a key or have concerns it could get into the wrong hands, it’s a quick fix, instead of replacing the lock or calling a locksmith.

Now, in addition to the Halo Touch’s physical security, it has the biometric security of a fingerprint scanner. Once we installed it, we configured the lock with Kwikset’s app on a smartphone using Bluetooth. With the Halo Touch connected to a Wi-Fi network, it was simple for us to check the lock status and activity logs and create access codes from anywhere (although new fingerprints can only be added when at the lock). With the app, it’s easy to manage multiple locks in multiple homes. The Halo also responds to voice commands using Amazon’s Alexa and Google assistant.

Kwikset app functionality:

  • Manage multiple locks in multiple homes

  • Check lock status (locked/unlocked)

  • Lock or unlock doors

  • Create and add/remove fingerprints—up to 100 fingerprints for 50 users

  • Set access: always, recurring, temporary, one-time

  • View activity logs

  • Edit settings like auto lock

The Kwikset Halo Touch is a great option for homes with existing Kwikset locks and people looking for a traditional-looking deadbolt or concerned about physical key security.

—BEST VALUE—

August Home Smart Lock

Type: Uses existing deadbolt | Mechanical key: Yes, uses existing key | Bluetooth: Yes | Wi-Fi: No, requires Wi-Fi (2.4GHz) bridge | Z-Wave: No | Power: 2 AA alkaline batteries | Battery life: 6 months, depending on usage

Much like August’s Smart Lock Pro, the Smart Lock is versatile. Although there are significant visual differences, the features are nearly identical, with just a couple of exceptions. While the whole Smart Lock Pro housing turns to manually lock and unlock, the Smart Lock has a traditional thumb lever. Additionally, the Smart Lock lacks Z-Wave compatibility, so it’s a little less of a one-size-fits-all solution. Just like the Pro, there are some deadbolts it isn’t compatible with—check before you buy to avoid problems. All we needed to complete the quick and easy installation was a screwdriver.

The Smart Lock pairs with a smart phone using August’s free app in the same way as the Pro and is easy to configure. The model we tested came with a Door Sense sensor, enabling the app to show you if the door is open or closed. A Connect Wi-Fi bridge, available bundled or separately, is required to access lock functions remotely. Without it, the lock will only function via Bluetooth—which is still handy, since it can be set to automatically unlock when it receives the phone’s signal that you’re home. Note that multiple August smart locks cannot connect to a single bridge. You’ll need a Connect Wi-Fi bridge for each lock you want to manage remotely.

August app functionality:

  • Manage multiple August smart locks in one home

  • Check lock status (locked/unlocked) and door status (open/closed)

  • Lock or unlock doors

  • Set alerts

  • Invite guests and provide access

  • Set access: always, recurring, temporary

  • View activity logs

  • Edit settings like auto lock/unlock

  • Link to smart home management platforms

In short, the Smart Lock with Connect should fit the needs of most homeowners or apartment dwellers. August’s app is easy to use and the Smart Lock is compatible with Google Assistant, Alexa, and dozens of other apps.

—BEST SMART HOME INTEGRATION—

Nest x Yale Smart Lock

Type: Complete deadbolt | Mechanical key: No | Bluetooth: Yes | Wi-Fi: Yes, with included Wi-Fi (2.4GHz) bridge | Z-Wave: No | Power: 4 AA alkaline batteries | Battery life: 1 year, depending on usage

Yale built its reputation by making some of the strongest locks available for 175 years. Teaming up with Nest, a leader in connected home automation, brings it to the forefront of modern smart lock technology. The solid heft of this smart lock indicates that it’s in line with the strength and quality we expect from Yale. As the company claims, the lock is pick-proof, at least in the traditional sense, since it has no key—you can only unlock it from the keypad or with the Nest app. While you can set it to automatically lock when you’re away, it doesn’t unlock automatically as you approach by using you smart phone’s location services like some models.

Like most other smart locks, installation was relatively simple with just one screwdriver. The trickiest thing we came across was the plug that connects the two halves of the lock; It’s important to make sure the cable is tucked into the space provided. The job should takes less than 20 minutes when replacing an old deadbolt.

While the lock is physically well built, the Nest app and Nest Connect provide the means to set it up, control, and monitor. Nest Connect is a Wi-Fi bridge that will keep the lock connected and accessible to the app. There are dozens of other Nest devices that connect with the app, and you can set routines involving multiple devices. For example, unlocking the door could disarm the Nest Secure Alarm, turn on the lights, and set the thermostat. That’s the beauty of the Nest-Yale partnership, the ability to seamlessly integrate a high-quality deadbolt with a developed home-automation platform, conveniently managing everything from one app—each company providing the components it’s best known for.

Nest app functionality:

  • Manage multiple Nest x Yale smart locks

  • Check lock status (locked/unlocked)

  • Lock or unlock doors

  • Set alerts

  • Invite guests and provide access

  • Set access: always, recurring, temporary

  • View activity logs

  • Edit settings like auto lock/unlock

  • Manage other Nest devices

  • Set up routines

The Nest X Yale Smart Lock integrates with the Nest Hello doorbell, and you can control it via voice using Google Assistant. This smart lock is a good choice for people already invested in the Nest ecosystem or interested in building an integrated, connected home.

—BEST FOR AIR BnB HOSTS—

Alfred DB2-B

Type: Complete deadbolt | Mechanical key: Yes | Bluetooth: Yes | Wi-Fi: Optional | Z-Wave: Optional | Power: 4 AA alkaline batteries | Battery life: 6-12 months, depending on usage

This complete deadbolt lockset from Alfred is a sleek, contemporary smart lock, with a large, easy-to-read, illuminated touchpad. It operates primarily using Bluetooth, so lock and unlock features in the app will only function when you’re in close proximity to the lock. Remote functionality requires an optional Wi-Fi bridge (or a Z-wave module to connect to Z-wave home hubs).

Installation of the DB2-B was straightforward and took about 15 minutes, with setup via Alfred’s app taking another 10-15. We found the app easy to use and quickly created access codes for the occupants of our test home. PINs are numeric and can be anywhere from four to 10 digits. We appreciated the flexibility instead of being locked into a specific length. We allowed the app access to location services on our phone, which meant that once we were close enough to the lock, we could simply touch it to unlock the door—alternatively, we could open the app to unlock or lock the door.

Alfred app functionality:

  • Check lock status (when lock is connected with a Wi-Fi bridge)

  • Lock or unlock doors, locally

  • Create up to 20 pin codes with 4 to 10 digits

  • Set access: always, recurring, or temporary

  • View activity log

  • Set auto lock/unlock

Using the optional Wi-Fi bridge opens up remote management of the DB2-B’s features, as well as integration Google Home Assistant or Alexa. The optional Z-wave module allows connection to other smart home hubs.

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