Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Yale Assure SL review, or: How I learned to stop worrying and embrace the Smart Lock

This house is accessed by keypad (or iPhone) now.

The moment we were headed down the freeway toward the Golden Gate Bridge and began to wonder if we’d remembered to lock our front door, I resolved to buy a Smart Lock. I’d been skeptical about replacing our front-door deadbolt with an Internet-connected gadget since I’d first heard of the Smart Lock category a few years ago, but in that moment I saw the perfect use case. By the time we got home, I’d ordered one.

My front door has a deadbolt and a separate door latch—one that doesn’t lock, which means every time we’ve come and gone since we got the door six years ago, we’ve had to manually lock the deadbolt. (Our previous door had a deadbolt and a knob that you could set to lock when closed. That backstop saved us from a lot of second-guessing.)

The lock I bought is the $300 Yale Assure SL YRD256, which works with HomeKit and other smart-home tech via the bundled Connected by August module and gateway. (It’s also the current Wirecutter pick.) It was an easy swap-out replacement for my existing deadbolt. I did the replacement in less than half an hour, using nothing more than a screwdriver.

The smart lock has more lock hardware, but it’s not ridiculously large.

Gone was the old traditional key lock above my door latch on the outside; instead, there’s now a black glass keypad. On the inside of the door, there’s now a small box attached to the door with a manual deadbolt control (i.e., you turn it and the lock slides open or closed) at the bottom. It’s bigger than what was there before, but isn’t overwhelming.

Out of the box, the lock works using Bluetooth LE. To attach it to a local network for HomeKit and Alexa integration, you need to add an extra piece—the August Connect adapter, which plugs into an electrical outlet and needs to be positioned within Bluetooth range of the lock as well as in range of your home Wi-Fi network. I spent an extra 30 minutes trying to find the ideal place for the adapter, as my closest outlet to the door didn’t seem to be picking up its Bluetooth signal. In the end I rebooted the lock (rebooting my front door lock is apparently something I can do now) and everything started working fine.

On its own, you can unlock your door by entering a number on the touchscreen, whether you have a phone or not. I was able to configure the lock via the August app on my iPhone, generating a guest code to give to my mother when she visited us.

But entering in a multi-digit code to get in your front door is hardly the 21st-century convenience I’m looking for. So the Yale lock cleverly takes advantage of Bluetooth LE to automatically unlock the door when I return home. In order to avoid unlocking my front door every time I walk past it, the auto-unlock system uses your iPhone’s location services to pay attention to when you leave the immediate area around your house. Once you leave the vicinity and then return, the lock looks for the presence of your iPhone via Bluetooth, and the moment it sees it, it unlocks the door.

In theory this is a magical process that makes your front door unlock for you as you walk up to it. That happens to me probably a majority of the time, but other times I’ll stand at the door for a couple of seconds before it opens. It’s still better than getting out my keys and unlocking the door—especially if you drive a car with a keyless ignition, because you won’t have your keys in your hands.

One quirk I’ve noticed is that when my wife and I both return home together, we’ll often enter the house and lock the door behind us, only to have the door unlock a moment later. It seems like the lock recognizes one of us first, unlocks the door, and a few moments later (after we’ve come inside) detects the second person’s phone and thinks they’re separately returning home. The software really should be smarter than that.

Then again, even if the door unlocks a second time, it’s not that big a deal. The lock will automatically lock itself after a configurable delay that I’ve set to two minutes. (This solves the issue of not remembering if you locked the door before leaving the house. You can also put a few fingers on the glass pad when you’re leaving and the door will lock itself immediately.)

The activity log on the August app.

What’s more, the August app can show you, from anywhere in the world, the current status of your door—whether it’s open or closed (via a small sensor you screw into the doorframe near the lock) and whether it’s locked or unlocked. (There’s also an activity log, so you can see every time someone comes in or out of your house—and who it is, if they’ve used a personalized keycode or device. One morning I expressed to my daughter how impressed I was by the fact that she got home at precisely her curfew time—as revealed by a peek at the front-door activity log.)

Because this is a HomeKit device, I can lock or unlock the door manually via the Home app or Home button in Control Center, or even via Siri. (I’ve disabled the ability to unlock the door via Alexa or my HomePod because theoretically that would allow someone to stand outside and shout “Hey Assistant, unlock the front door!”, which is not a good idea.) I haven’t yet tied locking or unlocking events to other HomeKit functions, but the option is there—if you want to set a light to turn on or off when the door is locked or unlocked, for example.

Beyond no longer worrying about if our door is locked or unlocked, the biggest change in my family’s life since the new lock was installed is the removal of our front door keys from our keychains. I used to bring a key with me when I went for a run or took the dog for a walk, but it’s not necessary anymore. If we’ve got our iPhones, the lock will sense our presence and open, and if we don’t, we can still punch in our keycodes and enter that way.

The lock is powered by AA batteries which apparently take a very long time to run down, and if you end up locked out of a house with a dead battery, there’s a little spot at the bottom you can use to jump-start the whole thing with a nine-volt battery. (We have a back and side door that we can use in emergencies, which feels like a better fallback than stashing a nine-volt battery in your Hide-A-Key.)

Is a Smart Lock necessary? Certainly not. But after resisting the entire category for a long time, one moment of clarity pushed me over the edge from a Smart Lock skeptic into a Smart Lock owner. I have to admit I still chuckle every time I walk up to my front door and hear it unlocking itself before I get there. But the peace of mind in knowing that our front door is locked—whether we remembered to lock it or not—made it worth it for my family in the end.

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