What are Smart Locks

Last Updated on July 25, 2023

Key Points:

  • Smart locks use electronic mechanisms to unlock a door, rather than mechanical, such as a key.
  • They can be controlled remotely using a smartphone
  • Smart locks often include additional features such as prox card/FOB entry, fingerprint (biometric) identification, and audit trail (who gained access and when).
  • Benefits of smart locks: live notification of access, danger sent directly to your cell phones so you can respond to the risk in real time.
  • Smart locks are safe. There are no inherent security weaknesses above that of tradition locks.
  • Smart lock installation cost much less than older wired door lock systems. Installation is much quicker, often without needing to run wires or modify doors.
  • The two best smart locks for residential use are the Yale Connect followed by August the Schlage Encode.
  • Our favorite smart lock for sliding glass doors is the Lockly Guard

Jump to:

How Smart Locks Came About

Benefits of Smart Locks

What Happens if a smart lock battery dies?

How to Use a Smart Lock

Smart Lock Features to Consider

Are Smart Locks Safe?

Smart Lock Installation

Smart Lock Not Working? Troubleshooting Tips

Where is technology Heading?

Which is the Best Smart Lock for Your Home

Do I need WiFi to use a Smart Lock?

Keyless Entry: The Evolution to Smart Locks

Progression of Lock Technology towards Smart Locks

Smart locks are an extension of keyless lock technology.

Keyless locks don’t require a key to be opened. Mechanical, one code, keyless entry locks have been around for decades. You simply entered a PIN number instead of using a key.

Electronic locks came next, mainly in commercial applications. Some were stand alone locks meant for 1-2 doors and some were wired lock systems installed in large commercial buildings. Electronic locks allowed multiple users to enter via pin codes or prox cards, and locks could be connected directly to a computer.

The computer could control the locks and monitoring who accessed the lock. Those that could be controlled and monitored this way, via software, started to be referred to as access control systems, while those that could not are more commonly referred to as just keyless entry. For more information on electronic keyless entry see our article, “Overview of Access Control Systems.

Smart locks added the ability to control and monitor the lock remotely, either using a smartphone or of-site computer. New technologies also gave them additional features not previously available to electronic locks.

The Advantages of Smart Locks

Audit Trail in App
Audit Trail in Yale App

Door Lock Monitoring

Smart locks improve your security by allowing you to remotely monitor the door lock in real time.

But you don’t have to sit and watch it on a screen. Depending on the smart lock, your smart phone can notify you (based on its setup) when :

  • The lock is locked or unlocked by an enrolled user.
  • The lock is still unlocked after a set time
  • The lock is still unlocked after a set time period
  • Several attempts of a wrong code have been entered at the lock
  • The lock has been hit with force
  • The best smart locks can also tell you if the door has been left open. Not just left unlocked, but if the door is ajar.

These notification allow you to react as needed in real time.

Most smart locks will also record an audit trail of the history of the lock. An audit trail is a record of everything that has happened to the lock, with a time stamp for reference.

Remote Control of the Lock

Manage Users – Schlage App

Smart locks also allow you to lock and unlock your doors remotely, which means:

  • You can let someone in even if you’re not at the home or business
  • You can lock up if you forget to
  • You can add users from your phone without needing to be at the lock
  • You can add single use access codes, or add access codes that are valid only in specific time windows. Great to provide to people who you don’t want to have permanent access. For example, your cleaners can open the door only on Mondays between 4 and 7pm.
  • And most importantly, you can delete a user in an instant so they can no longer open your door.

What Happens if the Smart Lock Battery Dies?

Smart locks rely on batteries, and battery powered smart locks eventually run out of juice.

It is important to choose a smart lock with a long battery life, and on in which the batteries are easy to replace, but smart locks have thought about what happens if the battery dies.

When a smart lock battery dies, smart locks will have a backup method to open them. In some case, the backup is a key, but manufacturers are now adding a secondary means of power for the lock to get enough juice to enter a code. The secondary source is often a 9v battery applied to two prongs under the lock, or through a USB port built into the lock.

Most smart lock apps will provide a low battery alerts and will let you see the current battery charge?

How to Unlock a Smart Lock

For redundancy and personal preference most smart locks allow several ways to lock and unlock them.

The most common ways to unlock a smart lock are: by entering an assigned pin code, presenting a physical credential (such as a Prox card or FOB), by using a fingerprint, and by using the smart locks app on your phone.

Opening a smart lock with a PIN code.

Pin codes are the most common way to unlock a smart lock. Users are given a pin code and that code can unlock the door. User pin codes can be removed either at the lock itself or from the app.

Most commonly,

The lock is woke up, either by pressing a button or the touch screen.

The code is entered.

And a final button is pressed to end the code sequence. That final button varies by manufacturer. In most cases it’s a button with a check mark or a a star on it.

Unlock Remotely – Yale App

Opening /Locking the Smart Lock Using Your Phone’s App

Remote access has been discussed above, but your phone can also act as the key.

Many smart locks have a feature called geo fencing. Geofencing allows a smart lock to automatically lock or unlock when your, or a user’s phone, is within a virtual “fence” around the lock.

For example, your smart lock will automatically lock when you leave your house and unlock when you return home. This feature can be very convenient, especially if you’re the type of person who forgets to lock the door.

Unlocking by Fingerprint (Biometric Scanning)

Additionally, smart locks can also use biometric identification such as your fingerprint.

I’ve never been a strong advocate of biometric scanning.

Biometric Smart Lock
Kwikset Touch App – Add User
  • First. To enroll the finger print of a user, the user has to be at the lock. This sort of defeats the main benefit of being able to add user remotely.
  • Second. False positive or false negative scan results.

A false negative is when the smart lock doesn’t recognize you even though you are a registered user. Say you get a scratch on your finger or you’ve been working in the yard and your print is now covered in dirt, the lock may no longer recognize that print.

But these issues have largely been address by the technology.

For false negatives, most smart locks now allow you to register several fingers for each user and it’s highly recommended you take advantage of this smart lock feature.

False positives, addressed in more detail below in the security section, remain a rare possibility, but as technology improves they continue to get less and less likely.

Opening / Locking By Key

Most smart locks have a key override. The key override comes with all the weaknesses of a traditional lock cylinder. More on that below, but should the electronics fail, this is the best way to ensure you can unlock the door. This is critical if it is the only door into the building.

If you have other doors into the building, you may want to opt for a smart lock that does not have a key override for the additional security benefit.

Choosing the Best Smart Lock For You: Features to Consider

Wireless Connection Technology

When looking at smart locks, first consider the connection technology.

  • Bluetooth locks: A Bluetooth smart lock uses a Bluetooth connection to communicate with a smartphone via a phone app. These are great for when you just want hands off ability to change codes and are not concerned with off-site, real time updates. You must be within 20 ft (or so) of the lock to connect to it. Some locks use only Bluetooth, while some use Bluetooth with another technology, so that if you’re internet goes down, you can still connect to the lock.
  • Wi-Fi locks: These locks use a Wi-Fi connection to communicate with a router, allowing for remote access and control. As stated above, many will also have Bluetooth as a backup connection method. Our favorite smart lock for homes uses both.
  • Zigbee/Z-Wave locks: These locks use a Zigbee or Z-Wave wireless protocol to communicate with a smart home hub, allowing for integration with other smart home devices and systems. Unless you were an early adopter of home automation and already have Zigbee or Z-wave in the home, I would not recommend these locks. They requires additional hardware that is no longer needed with the Wi-Fi smart locks.

Smart Lock Features to Look At

Some Smart Locks Tell if the Door is Closed
Door is Closed and Locked

Code Features

  • How many codes are available? Smart locks designed form residential use come with more than enough for home use, but not enough to plug into a commercial applications.
  • Dual credential. Can user have two types of ways to get in, say pin code and RFID card? Or pin code and biometric? A second method gives a backup in case the primary way used to open the lock fails (for example the biometric reader stops working).
  • Types of codes. My favorite codes are single-use codes (great to give to someone that just needs to get in once) and scheduled codes (those that only work on set times on set days). A lot of smart locks have neither of these. If they’re important to you, make sure the lock you buy has it.
  • Wrong code used. I rank this as very important as well, and it’s a feature missing from many smart locks. I’d like an alert if someone enters a wrong code several times. Most locks will only stop working after several attempts for a short time period. Some will put the wrong attempt into the audit trail. And, almost none will push this alert to the users phone.

Security features:

  • Encryption: Most smart locks use encryption that is beyond anything a normal person can break, so there’s no concern here.
  • Tamper Alerts: Some smart locks also have a tamper feature. This feature comes in two forms. 1) detects if the lock has been impacted and sends an alert, the other 2) detects if multiple bad codes have been entered and sends alert.
  • Our favorite home smart lock by Yale (see our Review on YouTube) tells you if the door is open or closed. Not just that the door is locked, but also if it is shut.
Lock Grades Explained

Lock Rating

  • Look for locks that have been tested and rated by industry standards such as ANSI or BHMA.
  • ANSI is the preferred rating of Locksmiths, but most manufacturers are switching to BHMA because it’s less strict.

Integration with Virtual Assistants

Alexa, Google Assistant, Google Home, Samsung and other virtual assistants are part of most smart lock features. Currently they are limited to checking status, unlocking and locking the lock.

Are Smart Locks Safe?

Smart locks are just as safe as any other lock you may be using. There are no inherent security risks that present more danger to access your home than that of any other standard lock. While there has been some evidence of hacking, if the goal is to get past the lock, hacking is the most complicated way to do so. A more substantial threat of hacking is to gain access to your wifi, not get past the lock.

Encryption / Communication

Once you’ve chosen a lock that uses encryption, some brands are known to have security flaws that will allow someone to access your internet (not open the lock, but access you wifi).

However, to execute this, the level of knowledge is substantial and if someone has this level of knowledge a random home’s wifi signal is the least likely thing they’re going after.

The Keyhole

If you choose a smart lock with a physical key override, which we recommend you doing, that key hole with have all the same security weaknesses as a traditional lock.

ACME Locksmith likes the keyhole so you can still get in if the electronics fail, but we would recommend getting a high end smart lock that uses anti bump and anti pick pins. Even better, replace the cylinder that comes with the lock with a high security cylinder to stops bumping and picking, such as the Yale connect we sell on our website.

Biometric False Positives Unlocking the Lock

False positives can be caused by a number of factors, including poor quality of the biometric samples, system errors, or environmental factors such as lighting or temperature.

To minimize the chances of a false positive, smart lock manufacturers use advanced algorithms and technologies to ensure high accuracy and reliability.

High quality smart locks go as far as to detect blood flow when scanning, so… say… a cut off finger can’t be used to open the lock.

It’s important to note that false positives are relatively rare, and the chances of them occurring can be further reduced by using high-quality biometric sensors.

If you are purchasing a non-name brand, smart lock with a biometric scanner for dirt cheap online, you may be at risk. Stick with high quality products, and if you are concerned, skip the biometric fingerprint scanning smart locks entirely.

Door Unlocks Without a Code Being Used

When a Schlage smart lock is installed wrong, anyone can unlock the home by pressing the Schlage button.

Since most people don’t test this after installation, we’ve had customer with their lock installed for months that had no idea that anyone could just open their door!

Details on this issue and how to fix it are in our YouTube video: The Schlage Button Unlocks Our Door!

How to Install and Set Up Your Smart Lock

Aside from the app, most smart locks are simply a drop in replacement for you existing deadbolt or door lever/knob. Here are several articles and videos that ACME Locksmith has done on our YouTube Locksmith Recommended channel.

Article: How to Replace a Door Lock

Video: Schlage Encode Smart Lock Review

Video: Kwikset Halo Smart Lock Review

Video: How to Install SECURAM Smart Lock

Smart Lock Not Working Right After Install? Troubleshooting Tips

There are two main issues often found after install a smart lock.

The Smart Lock Gives an Error When Locking

This is the most common problem when installing a smart lock: an error sound when the smart lock tries to lock.

Because the bolt on a smart lock is electronically activate and thrown, you need to be certain that your door is prepped correctly. Otherwise the lock bolt will bind and the lock we error every time you try to lock it.

The 1 Thing You Must Check When Installing a Smart Lock

When installed wrong the smart lock may make a clicking noise or beep. Why?

Schlage Button Locks the Door Instead of Unlocking It

This is the most common error on Schlage locks and most people may not even know it, because they don’t test for this after installing the lock!

For Schlage locks when you leave the property you press the Schlage button to lock the door. But if it is installed incorrectly, the door will unlock when you press this button.

That means, anyone standing outside of your home can press that button and the door will open up!

Details on this issue and how to fix it are in our YouTube video

How to Fix Schlage Button Unlocking Door

If the Schlage button unlocks your door, your smart deadbolt was installed wrong.

Where is Smart Lock Technology Heading?

The future of smart lock technology continues to advance. We are starting to see the following technology incorporated into smart locks.

  • Increased use of biometric identification: Like your smart phone, advanced biometric technologies such as facial recognition and voice recognition are starting to be used in smart locks.
  • Cameras: Camera systems for motion detection are now being included in some smart locks. This will allow you to see who’s at the door both from your phone and from any virtual assistant you may be connect to.
  • Though no major lock manufacture has announced it, we hope that smart locks become weatherproof on both sides of the lock. this would allow them to be used in outdoor applications such as gates. See our article: Can Smart Locks be Used on Gates?

Which are the Best Smart Locks for Your Home?

We’ve reviewed several Yale, Schlage, Kwikset and SECURAM locks on our YouTube Channel Locksmith Recommended.

Our current favorite is the Yale Connect by August Lock which you can buy here on Amazon. This lock uses the August wi-fi smart lock technology acquired by Yale when they purchase the August Smart Lock company. The Yale lock stands out because of its door ajar sensor (the first to have one) and its ability to install a high security lock cylinder in it. This is the lock on my home.

Our second favorite is the Schlage Encode, which you can buy here on Amazon. It lacks the door ajar feature, but it is the only Grade 1 smart lock currently on the market.

Yale Connect by August
Schlage Encode

Articles: Detailed Comparison of Smart Locks, Which is Best?

Video: Schlage Encode Smart Lock Review

Video: Kwikset Halo Smart Lock Review

Video: Kwikset Halo Touch Review

Video: SECURAM Smart Lock Review

Which are the Best Smart Locks

ACME Locksmith’s Best Smart Locks

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