Ever since Apple announced Home Key last year, I’ve been anxiously waiting to try a smart lock that supports it. Home Key uses the same NFC technology as ApplePay on iOS devices. With Home Key, an iPhone or Apple Watch acts as a digital key for your smart home. For the past week, I’ve been testing the Schlage Encode Plus Smart Wi-Fi deadbolt with Apple Home Key support. It’s a little pricey at $299.99, but well worth it if your smart home runs on the Apple HomeKit platform.
I say that because my wife and daughter, who usually don’t get excited by new smart home gear, already love this lock. Like me, they always wear an Apple Watch and carry an iPhone with them. The ability to use those devices as a key is very appealing.
Of course, like the older Schlage Encode Smart Wi-Fi deadbolt, this newer model offers a numeric keypad. So although Home Key may be the star of the show in my eyes, this smart lock doesn’t require HomeKit. The Encode Plus integrates with Amazon’s and Google’s smart home platforms as well.
In fact, the new Schlage Encode Plus model looks just like Schlage’s “non-Plus” lock. Clearly there’s the addition of an NFC chip inside. Other than that though? I don’t see a difference.
What’s the installation and setup process like?
Up until last week, I had a Nest x Yale smart lock installed on my front door. It uses Wi-Fi as well, but that radio isn’t integrated into the lock itself. Instead, there’s a Bluetooth radio that communicates to a small Next Lock bridge. That bridge moves lock data and information from Bluetooth to Wi-Fi. The Schlage model has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios inside the lock housing, so there’s no additional bridge or gateway needed.
In under 10 minutes, I removed my old lock and installed the new Schlage hardware. To say the installation is easy would be an understatement. Then again, I think most smart locks are simple installs. I did encounter a hiccup when setting up the Schlage lock, although I think the issue was mine. Usually, you can set up a HomeKit device without a manufacturer app. But my iPhone couldn’t find the lock.
So I installed the Schlage app which told me a Schlage account was required so I spent a few minutes failing to get my phone to see the new lock. Once I set up an account in the Schlage mobile app, I proceeded to use the Apple HomeKit setup process to find the lock. You typically scan a device’s HomeKit code with your phone’s camera to do this.
Thanks to the NFC chip inside the lock, however, I was able to tap my phone to the lock for a faster setup. I ran through the typical options of naming the lock and choosing a room for it in my smart home. Connecting the Wi-Fi network worked perfectly the first time even though the Schlage Encode Plus uses a 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi radio. I then set up a numeric pin for us to unlock the door and was then asked if I wanted to use the Home Key functionality. Yes, please!
There are two options to use Home Key. I chose the Express option which doesn’t require me to authenticate with Apple’s FaceID on my iPhone to use it as a key. You can opt to require FaceID or a Passcode if you want that extra security. Once I turned on Home Key Express Mode, a digital key pass appeared in the Apple Wallet of my iPhone and my Apple Watch. Even better, my wife and daughter automatically got the key on their devices. Since they’re in my Apple Home family, I didn’t have to manually send them a key.
So how does Home Key work? In a word: Fantastic!
The Home Key experience is no different than using a phone or watch to pay for something at a retailer. The only difference is, here you tap your Home Key device to the lock and it unlocks. Apple’s notifications even tell you who unlocked the door, based on which device was used.
Response time from any voice or mobile app commands is very quick, thanks to that Wi-Fi radio. And although the deadbolt mechanism isn’t silent, it’s noticeably quieter than my current Nest x Yale lock. That’s another reason the family likes this. Plus they still have access to the numeric touchpad which is backlit, easy to read, and works as you’d expect. You also get a physical key, of course.
I did have some automations with my old lock and was easily able to replicate those. I like to have the door automatically lock after five minutes for example. But I also used one of Apple’s suggested recommendations: Unlock the door when someone comes home. Initially, I thought the door would simply unlock whenever we returned from being away. That’s not quite the case, but I think that’s a good thing.
During my testing, I went down the street to get my mail for example. Upon returning to within about 100 feet of the house, I got a notification asking me if I wanted to run the auto-unlock automation. I tapped yes on my Apple Watch and the door was unlocked as I was walking up my driveway.
This might seem like an annoying implementation. I actually prefer it to have the door just unlock when getting close to my home though. Maybe I’m walking past the house to go talk to a neighbor, for example. Why have the door unlocked in that kind of scenario?
Should you buy the Schlage Encode Plus Smart Wi-Fi deadbolt?
Right off the bat, I’ll say that if you don’t use Apple to run your home, I don’t see any pressing need to buy this lock. Yes, it works with both Amazon’s and Google’s platforms, but so does the older Schlage Encode Smart Wi-Fi deadbolt that retails for $259.99. Aside from the HomeKey support in this new model, I don’t see any other differences.
However, if you’re like me and have been waiting for a Home Key lock, this is a great device for your smart home. You might already have a good smart lock and if that’s the case, you’ll have to decide if $299.99 is worth the Home Key addition.
Although the cost is higher than I’d like, I’m definitely spending the money and upgrading. My Nest lock has served me well for several years, but my family likes the Schlage option even more. And a happy family makes for a happy smart home.