It’s a dream reminiscent of The Jetsons. A stranger walks up to your locked home, and they are denied entry. But when you approach, the lock slides open, and you’re permitted to pass. George and company lived in a sci-fi cartoon (set in the year 2062), but in reality (and 2015), we’re just getting started with this once-imaginary technology.
I installed an August Smart Lock and used it for a week to determine if the future has come home, yet.
The August Smart Lock essentially replaces the latch on the inside of your door, a clever approach because snoops and burglars outside wouldn’t know there’s anything app-connected on the other side. That also helped to make installation easy, but I still encountered problems.
Initially, I tried installing August on my side door, the same entry on which I previously reviewed the Kwikset Kevo. As I noted then, this door has a nine-panel window, a common fixture for a side entrance. Because of this, there’s a smaller strip of doorway where the deadbolt hardware goes. Kevo’s hardware was so large that I actually had to shave down my window molding to install the Kwikset smart lock. August isn’t as big as Kevo, but its installation involves winged latches that spread out wider than the device itself. This made it impossible to install on a door with a window. In my opinion, it’s a huge design flaw if your product can’t fit on one of the most popular front doors that Home Depot sells.
But I gave August a second chance, putting it on my front door instead. Other than having to tighten up the strike plate on my door jam, installation was a breeze. I slipped off the conventional thumb turn and put the August (and a mounting bracket) in its place. Next I removed the gadget’s battery isolation tabs, which fired up the lock’s Bluetooth connectivity. Then I opened the August app, followed the prompts, and everything has worked smoothly since.
The install instructions mention calibrating the lock, which I imagine helps the device know when you’re inside the door and when you’re outside. But to my best recollection, the app never prompted me to do that. Instead, the app sent several updates to the lock hardware, and it’s possible the calibration was done at that time. Regardless, I’ve never had an incident where the smart lock opened randomly while I was home.
I also installed an August Connect device, which is a wall wart that connects the Bluetooth door lock to your Wi-Fi network, allowing you to operate your lock from anywhere — handy in case a friend drops by or you’re worried that you left your home unsecured. This device also set up without a hitch, which was refreshing. As simple as August Connect sounds, similar smart home devices seem like they’re allergic to connecting to Wi-Fi networks.
Open and shut
To put August to the test, I enabled its automated features, Everlock and Auto-Unlock. Everlock re-locks the deadbolt soon after you unlock it (manually, automatically, or by using the app), and Auto-Unlock does exactly what its name suggests.
I was concerned about using Auto-Unlock, because when you turn the feature on, it shows a Google Map of your neighborhood, with your home pinned. You can adjust the pin’s location in case it’s somehow incorrect, but it also has a proximity circle of nearly 200 meters around the pin. During installation, it was unclear if the door would unlock once I got inside that circle, and since I live in a densely-packed neighborhood, I didn’t know what to expect.
But ever the daredevil, I took to the streets to find out, while my wife stayed at home, listening for the door lock. (We’re simple people who are easily entertained.) I went for a run, and was relieved to discover that the lock only opened when I was walking up our front path.
But the next day, I realized something about Auto-Unlock that validated my worries: The smart lock opened when I pulled up in my curb-side parking spot. While that might be great for someone with a long driveway and a big yard, it was a security breach in my urban postage stamp of a property. I can only imagine what it would be like for someone who lives in a condo or apartment building. As much as I looked, I could not find a way to fine-tune the lock to make it open when I was closer, or as I approached the door.
And that’s a shame, because it seems like it would be an easy thing to do. Bluetooth is such a versatile communications standard, and paired with all the other sensors in a smartphone—like accelerometers that say “I’m moving” and GPS which is accurate to 10 meters—it would seems that we have the technology to turn our Wonder Years-era homes into a Jetsons-like space pad. But we’re not there, yet. At least not with this device.
Home and away
That relatively large knock isn’t to suggest there’s no reason to buy an August Smart Lock. Anyone with a vacation home or who rents out properties like an Airbnb would be smart to hop on this technology. August gives its owner the ability to give virtual keys out to anybody—and take them away easily—dramatically cutting down much of the hassle of maintaining a remote property. In addition, the lock logs the comings-and-goings of users who access the door electronically, which could even make it a smart buy for homes with latchkey kids.
Hopping on the Apple Watch bandwagon, August has also released a wrist-based app. Though I have an Apple Watch, I never used this app—mostly because it didn’t work. The app itself only showed a blank screen (it’s supposed to have a touchscreen lock/unlock interface), though the glance screen would display a log of people who accessed the lock.
It would be great if the Apple Watch could be paired with the August Lock so I could use it to unlock the door simply by reaching for the knob, but that concept is also sci-fi—at least until the next version of Watch OS is released. Perhaps when Apple gives developers more access to Apple Watch innards, August can make this feature a reality. In the meantime, incremental upgrades like this give us home automation hope, served up with a bit of frustration. One day though, the future will arrive, and I’ll welcome it with a digital key. Hopefully the door won’t unlock when it’s parking at the curb.