Review: August Smart Lock HomeKit enabled + Smart Keypad
The brain child of industrial designer Yves Béhar and tech entrepreneur Jason Johnson, the original August Smart Lock was a revolutionary entry into the home automation market when it made its debut over two years ago — a smart door lock that brought iPhone integration to just about any deadbolt in an elegant design, and it seemed only natural that when Apple unveiled HomeKit, support for the August Smart Lock wouldn't be far behind. Announced last fall and released today, the August Smart Lock HomeKit Enabled ($229) is a second-generation version of the popular lock that sports the same classic design while adding ties into Apple's home automation ecosystem. Alongside the new lock, August has also released a new Smart Keypad accessory ($79) that provides the ability to unlock the August Smart Lock using a numeric code.
The August Smart Lock takes a somewhat different approach from the other smart locks we’ve looked at, such as Schlage’s Sense and Kwikset’s Kevo; instead of including a full lockset with the actual deadbolt and key cylinder, August relies on your existing components for the locking hardware, and focuses simply on the electronics and mechanics of turning the locking mechanism. Basically, the August Smart Lock replaces the thumb latch used to lock and unlock your deadbolt, leaving everything else intact. This approach has the advantage of allowing for a simpler installation process while also leaving users free to either use whatever door hardware is already in place or use anything else that fits their style and taste. It’s a sensible approach, considering August’s position as a relative newcomer to the lock business — for purely physical security, users are more likely to trust a name like Schlage or Kwikset, so August’s approach means the company doesn’t even need to pretend to make any security claims in this area.
Although replacing a deadbolt isn’t all that difficult in most cases, with the August Smart Lock it’s even easier as you don’t need to actually remove anything other than the inside plate of the lock. The August Smart Lock package includes the main locking unit itself, a single universal mounting plate, and three adapters to fit the majority of different deadbolt tailpiece styles. An adhesive strip is also thoughtfully included to help you hold the front deadbolt keyhole piece in place while working on the back of the lock. The universal mounting plate is also a nice switch from the first-generation August Smart Lock which included three different plates to accommodate different deadbolt designs. The installation process is straightforward and well documented, and for most designs will simply require undoing two screws to switch the thumb knob for the August mounting bracket, selecting the adapter that matches the tailpiece, and sliding the August Smart Lock on and locking it into place. It took us about two minutes to install.
Like the other locks we’ve looked at, the August Smart Lock communicates using Bluetooth, and runs on four AA batteries. These come pre-installed and can be found, along with the HomeKit code, under the magnetically attached coverplate on the front, with a plastic strip that needs to be removed to activate the Smart Lock. Once the lock is installed and activated, firing up the August Home app on your iPhone will then take you through the process of setting up an August account and pairing it for HomeKit use. The August Home app lets you do this in either order, but you’ll ultimately be required to setup and activate an August account either way, which also involves entering and verifying your SMS phone number and email address. The whole process took a few more steps than we expected, but it was by no means unreasonably long.
Once configured, the August Smart Lock can be used with standard Siri commands for locking, unlocking, and checking status of the door, and there aren’t really any surprises on this side. Like the Schlage Sense or any other HomeKit lock, you’ll need to issue these commands with an additional layer of authentication for obvious security reasons — either an iPhone that’s already unlocked, a Siri request that’s authenticated with Touch ID, or an Apple Watch that you’re wearing with Wrist Detection enabled. As with any other HomeKit device, the August Smart Lock can also be managed using third-party HomeKit apps, and included in scenes (e.g. locking your door when you say “Good night” to Siri), and in scheduled, event, and location-based triggers. As with any Bluetooth HomeKit device, at this point you won’t be able to use the August Smart Lock to initiate an event, but the locked or unlocked status can be used as a condition in an event triggered by location or some other HomeKit event.
Beyond HomeKit, however, August has a few more unique tricks up its sleeve. Additional iPhone and Android users can be invited to have full or limited access to your home by sending them “virtual keys” that they can use by installing the August Home app on their own devices, and a full activity log provides the ability to track when the lock has been locked or unlocked and by whom. Virtual keys can be designated as “Owner” or “Guest” keys, with the latter limited access to only locking and unlocking the door. Guest keys can also be designed as “recurring” which will limit them to a set weekly or daily schedule, or “temporary” to only be active witin a specific time frame, after which they expire. While the virtual key concept is similar to the approach Kwikset has taken with the Kevo, it’s worth noting that August provides an unlimited number of virtual keys at no extra charge.
The August Smart Lock also uniquely has the ability to automatically lock and unlock when leaving and arriving at home. While some of this can be leveraged through HomeKit scenes, we found August’s approach to be preferable since it uses a combination of geofencing and Bluetooth proximity detection. Where a HomeKit scene could risk unlocking your door when you’re still a few blocks away from home, the August Home app will use geofencing to start the process when you’re close to home, but not actually unlock the door until you’re physically within a few feet of it. The feature worked quite well in our testing — so well in fact that the first couple of times it happened we were pleasantly surprised by it. The August Home app will also provide a standard iOS notification when autolock or auto-unlock occur, which we found provided some nice peace-of-mind that the feature was working as it was supposed to. By contrast, the HomeKit framework doesn’t yet provide any notifications for Bluetooth-based door locks.
It can’t be understated how much of a quality-of-life improvement this seemingly small feature adds — it completely eliminates the need to fumble for keys, have a free hand to type in a keypad code, or even raise your Apple Watch up to issue a “Hey Siri” command to unlock your door. Kevo’s touch-sensitive approach is the closest we previously saw to this kind of “just works” operation, but you still found yourself waiting a few seconds for the door to unlock; August’s auto-unlock will have the door unlocked by the time you reach it — if it weren’t for the notification, we’d have been left wondering if we’d forgotten to lock the door in the first place.
An Apple Watch app is also included in the August Home iPhone app that provides the ability to lock and unlock your door from your wrist, as well as access to the activity log, both in a glance view and within the August Home watchOS app itself. It’s worth noting that you’ll need to be in Bluetooth range of the August Smart Lock to perform most tasks. With an Apple TV in place, you’ll be able to lock and unlock remotely, but other functions such as inviting new users or changing settings require either a direct Bluetooth connection or an Internet connection via the optional August Connect or August Doorbell Cam, both of which act as Wi-Fi-to-Bluetooth bridge devices.
One limitation of the August Smart Lock by itself is that you need to use either the August Home app or HomeKit to lock and unlock your door. While this is generally fine if all of your friends and family members have iPhones, it’s another matter if you want to give access to other people such as contractors, care providers, or young children. To address this, August has recently expanded the Smart Lock’s capabilities with a new optional $79 Smart Keypad accessory which allows you to setup PIN-based unlocking as well. The Smart Keypad communicates with the Smart Lock wirelessly, so it can be installed anywhere within reasonable proximity to your lock — a nice option for those who may still prefer a more discrete look that doesn’t advertise the presence of a smart lock to the world. A backlit numeric keypad on the front provides for entry of four-to-six digit codes or one-button locking with the August logo button at the bottom, and the package includes two AAA batteries to power the keypad, and all of the necessary mounting hardware. The backlight on the keypad is normally activated by motion, however a power-saver mode can be enabled that disables the backlight to save on batteries.
The keypad is paired and setup through the August Home app, and once setup all current users are automatically assigned a five-digit access code. New users can be configured for keypad-only access, and new and existing codes can be entered manually or assigned randomly. While entry codes can be changed or revoked at any time, at this point there doesn’t appear to be a way to limit them to only working on a schedule or set them to expire in the way that you can for virtual keys. As mentioned earlier, you’ll also need a direct connection to the August Smart Lock — either via Bluetooth or an August Connect or August Doorbell Cam — in order to add, modify, or revoke codes; unlike the Schlage Sense, the August Smart Lock doesn’t provide remote access to change entry codes via HomeKit at this point. In consideration of this, however, Schlage does automatically provide an “Emergency Code” that can be given out in those situations where you need to grant somebody immediate access and aren’t in a position to generate a new code. The emergency code otherwise appears to function like any other code, however, and will need to be reset manually once you’ve given it out, if so desired.
August’s new Homekit-enabled Smart Lock is another very good addition to the HomeKit family, and provides a great option for users who want the benefits of a smart lock but aren’t eager to replace their existing lock hardware or conform to the style offered by other products. Although looked at purely from a hardware perspective the price doesn’t seem competitive — the Schlage Sense provides an entire lock and a keypad for the same price — most users looking to adopt a smart lock would probably be replacing an existing deadbolt, and for its price the August offers you more flexibility in choosing the front lockset that best meets your needs. Further, when looking at home automation solutions you have to look at not only the hardware but also the software and features that power it, and in this area, August definitely has the edge in innovation, with capabilities such as automatic proximity-based unlocking and unlimited virtual keys, and its own growing ecosystem of related devices such as the August Smart Doorbell and Smart Keypad.