Earlier this week, Level introduced a new, less-expensive smart lock. It’s smaller and, at $249, cheaper than the current $329 Level Lock Touch Edition. Level removed the touch and keycard functionality to reduce the cost and price on this new model. I haven’t reviewed it as was just announced and I’m sure it works as advertised. But should you even consider buying a smart lock right now or in the new future?
I’d say most people shouldn’t. At least not if they want some advanced features that we know are coming to the HomeKit ecosystem, many of which will surely follow for Android users. And even though the new Matter standard has us excited, it still doesn’t support locks.
For these reasons, which also include an industry move to support the Thread standard, the smart lock market is in a bit of limbo. Well, at least from where I stand.
To check my thoughts, I reached out via email to Lee Odess, who has previously worked at Allegion, Lutron, and UniKey Technologies, to name a few companies. Odess is currently the CEO and founder of Group337.
When I bounced my opinion that consumers should wait on purchasing a smart lock, he agreed, but with a caveat:
“Overall I 100% agree with you that now is not a good time to buy one. But realistically, it depends on the use case of what you, the end-user, care about, new construction vs. retro, etc. I agree the “wait and see” is heightened here, but it also depends if you want a smart lock or a connected lock or want one with a keypad (like I selected for my new home). I decided to go with the Baldwin lock and just wanted a keypad. It connects via Zwave to Ring, but I rarely use it. I chose not to play the game and just went with what I know that works.”
That “game” Odess references are the changing standards I mentioned above, along with the very likely possibility that old and currently available locks may need to be replaced as the standards are adopted.
The $329 Level Lock Touch Edition is actually in a good place here because the company chose to use radios that work with Bluetooth and Zigbee. That’s according to an interview Stacey recently conducted with Rob Goto, Level’s CTO.
The radios inside the Level Lock Touch Edition can be updated to support Thread. And the Touch Edition also has an NFC chip inside it which could be used in a “tap to unlock” scenario with an NFC-enabled phone or wearable. Indeed, Apple’s recently announced HomeKit solution does support NFC.
In this case, however, the Level Lock is an outlier. Very few other locks are ready for Matter, Thread, or NFC unlocking. And according to Odess, that may not change soon:
“After working in the smart lock industry for a long time, IMHO, the value creation is relatively low (right now) for consumer smart locks and not compelling enough to wait or spend extra for it. A dumb keypad does 99% of what someone needs in a single-family home. We as an industry have a long way to go still on innovation. I think it will get there, and Matter is a good start. The more standards and “we don’t have to worry about it” smart lock companies can work with will allow them to focus on the parts to add value. Right now, the R&D dollars are spread too thin over low return tasks.”
In other words, while the smart lock companies would love to sell you new or replacement locks, the return on investment to make that happen isn’t there to make this a priority.
Instead, all of the big smart home players are more focused on the new Matter and Thread standards.
Odess confirmed that thought, saying, “Matter is a priority because Apple, Amazon, Google, and Samsung made it a priority. That is a large train running in a collaborated direction and any lock company that doesn’t get on will have to answer to their investor base quarters in the future.”
Clearly, there will be future smart locks with advanced features such as NFC support or working on a Thread mesh network, for example. That’s going to take time and will likely follow behind updated smart home hardware that’s used more often.
Think of lighting, sensors, and smart speakers, for example. Those types of devices are likely utilized many more times a day than the occasional “I want to remotely unlock my front door for someone” types of scenarios.
As I transition to HomeKit, I do plan to replace my Nest x Yale smart lock. But since I saw evolving standards arrive earlier this year through the Connectivity Standards Alliance (formerly known as Project CHIP), I didn’t rush to buy a smart lock.
After all, the current one works just fine; it’s simply not capable of features I’d like to have that are coming down the pike. As Odess alluded if you want a smart lock today and your use-case doesn’t include those future features, go for it.
I think most people would be better served on waiting until 2022, however. Give the market time to shake out if you can. If you don’t, you run the risk of needing to invest in yet another smart lock to replace the one you’re buying today for additional features and compatibility.
JD Roberts says
It might also be worth noting that some smart locks, including some models from both Yale and Schlage, have interchangeable radio modules so that you can change the lock from being zwave to zigbee just by changing out the radio module. Sure, there’s an extra cost in doing so, but it’s much less than the cost of replacing the lock completely. So when the time comes that you need a module with Matter, it seems likely, if not guaranteed, that there will be one.
In addition, it seems likely that any lock which already has a Wi-Fi integration will probably be pretty easy to change to matter in the future.
And if you are already using HomeKit, Apple’s announcement that HomeKit and matter can work in the same app means there’s no real reason to wait if you’re getting a Homekit lock. If it’s good now, it should be good in the future. And if for some reason you feel you want to have an all thread deployment in the future, getting a lock with one of those interchangeable radio modules would probably solve that.
On the other hand, if what you think you’re going to want are the NFC capabilities, then that might be worth waiting for.
So I would say it all comes down to what specific features you are waiting for. Many people who want a smart lock have a very specific use case in mind. For example, a smart lock was the very first home automation use case I went for because I am tetraplegic. I have a number of different health aides who come to the house and they don’t all have a smart phone. I need to be able to let them in without having to get out of bed. But I also want to make sure that they don’t have a key code that works when it’s not their shift.
Dog walkers are another popular use case, again, you only want their key code to be good at certain times of day, and you may need to change it remotely.
Finally once we get past lockdowns, Airbnb and similar services are a huge market for smart locks for all the obvious reasons. Including being able to let repair people in remotely.
So… definitely someone who’s not quite sure why they would need a smart lock will probably be better off waiting until we know what options will be available once Matter is widely deployed.
And some people who have very specific reasons for wanting a smart lock that includes NFC codes should wait, because that’s a new standard that is coming soon.
But other people who know exactly why they want a smart lock now do have some options that help preserve their current investment at least partially, while still letting them take advantage of new features that come on the market in the next year.
Or maybe the option for people who have a specific use case they want to solve immediately is to buy the least expensive smart lock they can get for right now, even if it doesn’t integrate with everything else, with the idea that they probably will want to replace it in a year or so. Right now you can get a wyze lock with a free keypad for $108. It won’t integrate with anything else except Alexa or Google Assistant, but you do get remote control from an app. Not everyone needs that, but some people could get a lot of value out of it, and maybe at that price it’s worth it even knowing you might want to replace it in a year or so. Choice is good. 😎
Adam Morris says
It depends on your use case for NFC. The people over at DangerousThings are already using NFC for several things and Vivokey looks to be a game changer, Soon ™.
What is currently missing from the market is an NFC lock add on (for renters), or replacement (for owners).
Adam Morris says
Funnily enough I have two smart locks. One has no physical alternative to the electronic locking mechanism, and just uses a keypad. It was however pretty cheap and the deadbolt is sufficiently strong. It was made by hugolog.
The other was more expensive (but still cheaper than the level lock touch) and comes in two versions, a wifi version and a Bluetooth version. I don’t use the app as it doesn’t provide much extra functionality. It has a keypad, a physical cylinder and an NFC card reader. This is the Townsteel E-Smart 5000 deadbolt
A friend purchased a level lock touch and had reliability issues with it not locking or unlocking properly, he sent it on to me and I was appalled by the security of the provided cylinder, I raked it open in a couple of minutes. The fact that they put the battery inside the bolt means that it is a lot easier to cut through the bolt itself than normal.
All in all the leve
Siobhan Ellis says
Mostly, in the HomeKit world, locks have been Bluetooth, even August who has a WiFi lock uses BT when in a HomeKit scenario. So, potentially they may have a good answer… except WiFi sucks battery power.
The problem with BT in a lock has constantly been the closeness to a HomeKit hub. Now that the HomePod mini is out, that is less of an issue as, with its price point, they tend to be all over the house.
Still, I concur. I think it would make much more sense for locks to use Zigbee/Thread radio as that means it should be possible to use either standard. Obviously for HomeKit, that would be Thread.
Considering Thread is well established, now, in HK, I’m rather surprised that Level did not enable that from the beginning.
Level also works on Homekit and Sidewalk
Soon a woman will get her purse stolen and the theif will tap her phone to pay for things and get in her house without the need for a credit card or keys.
JD Roberts says
For 30 years people have been stealing cars and then using the garage door openers to get into the house.
As long as you’re aware of the risk and have decided what you want to do about it, it’s a personal decision. A person who has their phone stolen can reset it almost instantly from anybody else’s phone, so if you know your phone is gone it’s less of a risk.
But if the risk worries you, you can skip those devices. Choice is good.
Absent from this discussion are the physical security of these locks. Yale is a respectable company but the bolt on their electronic locks is not impressive. Neither is the strike plate.
When it comes down to kicking in your door the wireless protocol used isn’t important. How secure is the bolt and strike plate? Give me schlage any day over random Taiwanese imports.
Adam Morris says
The TownSteel locks are Taiwanese and I am much more impressed with the security of those than the level lock.
A Manzo says
Hope readers take the good advice of the commenters here who have actually used smart locks, really good points made. As for the article about waiting, consider this…the Yale z-wave lock I purchased in 2014 (7 years ago) still works today. It was first connected to the web via a hub called Staples Connect. That hub was obsolete after a few years, and I replaced it with the first Gen SmaetThings hub. Within 5 years, Samsung stopped supporting their original hub and tried to force me to spend almost $300 on their next Gen hub, without even offering a discount for the purchase. No thanks. Dumped Samsung for 2nd Gen Ring security system base and guess what, that 7 year old Yale lock migrated to the base just fine. I own a myriad of smart home products and have learned to be loyal to the brands whose products actually work better today than when I first purchased them, thanks to being able to upgrade over the net – for free. My Yale lock and dLink cameras are good examples. My worst investment – Phillips Hue lights. Yes they still work but there are alternatives out there for much less money. Look for products that don’t need a hub and/or can be controlled through the Alexa app. I may not be a techhie but hope this practical experience is of use to someone.
CJ Caufield says
August all. Day. Long.
Changed the deadbolt game forever. Ingenious.
Mace Moneta says
The problem I have with smartlocks is not just the security, but also the physical bolt. A door with weather stripping might need a little push to seat the bolt at temperature extremes. If it’s a manual lock, that’s not an issue. If it’s a smartlock, the bolt needs to be chamfered to allow it to self-seat into the frame. All that I’ve seen have a 90-degree edge, so they can’t operate in that environment.
JD Roberts says
We have smart locks and weatherstripping, it’s never been an issue for us.
Deadbolts are supposed to be able to slide in and out without you having to press on the door. (The regular latch may be a different issue.) You can get an adjustable strike to help solve the problem. But I’ve known a lot of people who had smart locks over the years, including in Minnesota and Canada, and it’s not a topic that’s come up often.
Bjorn Madsen says
Incorrect, chamfered edge is only necessary if the strike is not installed in the correct spot. If you need the chamfered bolt you are wearing batteries, the bolt will work smoother if it doesn’t touch the strike plate. Move the upper or lower strike plate or file the strike plate.
John Fox says
I’ve had a touchpad/wifi lock for years that works with Google. I expect it will continue to work with Google. It’s a lock and had as key, I can email limited use codes to housesitters, I can dedicate keypad codes to family. I can have Google automatically lock the front door every night as part of a routine. I can ask Google to lock and unlock it and what the status is. My phone has a few more options.
In other words, it works. If someone wants a lock, get one. Make sure it works the way it’s needed to, but just get one. Familiarize oneself about the various features and capabilities, and get one.
If five years from now it won’t work with the latest shiney toy I think I have to have, I’ll decide if it’s worth it to get another one.
The constant need to have the latest or best or coolest just wastes time and energy. We rarely use the front door, but the security of knowing the door is locked when we go to bed and being able to unlock it if I don’t have a key is worth it to me. Everything else is just an added benefit.
If someone feels they absolutely need Matter or NFC or whatever shiny toy is out there, I’ll not suggest they don’t wait if that’s important to them. But people reading this article need to balance the current needs with whatever vaporware might someday exist and decide if it’s worth waiting.
To me, it was $300 well spent and I’d do it again if I needed to. I appreciate the information the author is providing, but a more apt, non-clickbait title might be ‘Why someone might want to wait before getting an electronic lock’.
I have a Yale Nest. Never had a problem. I love it!
Andre D Gaidzinski says
Does anyone have any information if the Nest x Yale lock is being discontinued or if a new version of it is coming soon? I am finding it very hard to find across major home centers, Best Buy, Office Depot. Not sure if this is a semiconductor/supply chain issue or a preparation for a new rollout soon.
Great discussions above.