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Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

I got a new Smart Lock

Open up.

When I bought a Smart Lock I didn’t expect it would last less than four years. But I have to be honest: As much as I enjoyed the changes to my life that having a smart lock on my front door enabled, the Yale Assure SL was not stable enough for my family and me to rely on.

The biggest issue turned out to be a lack of reliability. As the Assure SL’s batteries drained, it would become occasionally incoherent. It would stop auto-locking, fail to auto-unlock when a family member returned home, and sporadically lose connection to the home network. Sometimes I could solve this by rebooting the lock by pulling out a battery and then putting the battery back in. Still, over time I realized the only real solution was to put in four fresh AA’s and wait for the lock to become unreliable again.

In the intervening time, the smart lock category has also improved. Earlier this year, Schlage released the Encode Plus, which uses Apple’s Home Key feature to let you use an iPhone or Apple Watch to unlock the door by tapping.

However, global supply-chain issues meant that the Encode Plus sold out quickly and wasn’t available in stores until recently. (They are now slowly popping up at various locations if you keep an eye out.) I was fortunate to get one from Six Colors reader Eric, who had an extra, and I installed it last week.

Unlocking my front door by tapping my watch to it is pretty awesome. I was even able to set it up by tapping my iPhone on it. The lock works directly with HomeKit, and doesn’t require an extra plugged-in bridge as the Yale lock did. (It also apparently supports the Thread home-device radio standard, which should give it better battery life in the long run.)

As the Yale lock taught me, it’s going to take a while for me to be confident about how good this lock is. So far, mostly so good. The hardware especially feels much more sturdy. The motor that slides the deadbolt seems powerful and reliable in a way the Yale model never did. There’s even a physical key to unlock the door in case of emergencies!

A simple home automation shortcut.

However, there are a couple of areas where the Schlage lock doesn’t match up to the Yale model. Yale’s lock came with a door-close sensor, so the lock would know whether the door was closed or not. Schlage doesn’t, meaning that I can’t tell remotely if the door was left open entirely. (I’m looking into the Eve Door & Window to replace this functionality.)

More importantly, the Home app doesn’t offer an “automatically lock” feature that locks the door after a timeout period. (You can set this in the Schlage app, but I paired the lock directly with HomeKit and the Home app and was reluctant to install the Schlage app for fear that it might adversely interact with the HomeKit setup. However, I eventually did install the app and it seems to have worked just fine.)

HomeKit does offer an Automation that automatically locks the door when there’s nobody left in the house, but just because my son’s playing video games in the back of our house doesn’t mean I want my front door left unlocked.

Fortunately, being a HomeKit lock has its advantages. I was able to create a simple home automation that triggers when the lock is unlocked. The shortcut then waits 120 seconds and… locks the door.

Yes, I’m also using HomeKit’s “if everyone leaves” automation as well as another automation that supposedly unlocks the door when it detects that any of the residents of the house have returned. I’m not entirely confident about how reliable that one will be, but I’ll be monitoring it.

Still… it’s a brave new smart lock world. And Home Key, which works on phones from the iPhone XS generation and newer and Apple Watch Series 4 and newer, works like a dream. The old lock had gotten so unreliable that I was keying in our door code every time I came home. Those days are over.

Now for the final test: To see if this lock behaves well when its batteries run down, and if it warns me to change them before anything bad happens.

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