IRL: August's renovation-free smart lock is convenient, if unnecessary

I rent a one-bedroom apartment in New York City, which means if I want to make my home "smart," my options are pretty limited. A Nest Thermostat is out of the question. Truth is I don't even have a dumb thermostat in my apartment; there's a middleman standing between me and my heat. A smart lock would also normally be a no go, since that would mean replacing the whole lock and getting new keys. (Plus, I'm sure my landlord wouldn't want to foot the bill.) But August, as co-founder Jason Johnson is fond of saying, isn't really a smart lock. It's more like a robot that attaches to your existing lock. And since it only replaces the thumb latch on the inside of your deadbolt, it actually allowed me to give my roughly 90-year-old (and showing it) apartment a 21st century update.

Let's start at the beginning: Installation was relatively painless. If you want to know why August was delayed for so long, it's because the company had to make sure it would work with as many makes and models of deadbolts as possible. Inside the box are some illustrated instructions, three different base plates for various brands of locks and even a piece of blue painters tape to secure your lock from the outside while you attach August. If you've ever installed a doorknob before, this shouldn't take you too long. It took less than 15 minutes from the moment I first touched the door with my screwdriver to completion.

I was really excited to ditch the keys and start unlocking my door with my phone. But there is a relatively tough adjustment period. For one, simply breaking the habit of reaching for your keys as you approach the door is hard. I had to force myself to put them away and pull out my phone over the first several days. And honestly, I wanted to go back to analog entry pretty quickly. See, while keys are certainly an imperfect security solution, they're definitely faster than the Bluetooth LE August relies on. That means you have to be within 30 feet of the lock before the iOS or Android app even starts to pair with it. And despite all of the company's hard work, the connection time is wildly inconsistent. It takes anywhere from one second to over 10 for the app to recognize the lock and get to a place where you can open it. And, if you're on the opposite side of a heavy wooden door covered in what I assume is 80-plus years' worth of lead paint, things are only going to get worse. Future updates could improve the connection time, but there are limits imposed by relying on Bluetooth.

Perhaps the biggest stumbling block, however, was retraining myself to forget about locking the doorknob. Almost every home in America has two locks on the front door: a knob and a deadbolt. And almost every American locks both of those when they leave the house. Trouble is, August can only unlock your deadbolt. So, if you lock the knob, you'll still need your keys. It was about two weeks before I fully broke myself of that habit (and more than once I had to take a trip to my parent's house to borrow their spare key). While all gadgets and new technologies have a learning curve, breaking the addiction to your house keys turns out to be particularly difficult.

Once I got past that initial adjustment phase, though, things started to get better. I got in the habit of firing up the app as I walked up to my house, rather than fumbling for my phone after I was already standing at the door. In all honestly, it wasn't much different from fishing my keys out of the bottom of my bag or jacket. Then I discovered Everlock, which is basically just a timer that automatically locks your door. It sounds stupidly simple, but it's one less thing to worry about when you're rushing about in the morning. You just pull the door closed behind you, and 30 seconds later it's securely locked without you having to fight with an app or a crowded keychain. And once the kinks are worked out of auto-unlock, the app will be something I rarely have to worry about. It will sense when I'm approaching my home and automatically unlock my door without any action from me. That'll be especially useful when I'm lugging 20 bags of groceries up my steps in a single shot.

One of the biggest selling points of the August is the ability to control who goes in and out of your home and when. Now, I don't have cleaning service come to my home or a dog walker, so those recurring scheduled "keys" aren't of much use to me. In fact, the app made me realize how few people other than myself and my wife need access to my apartment. But, it did come in handy when I was going to be out of town for two days. A friend had to come by to feed my pets and walk my dog, but we couldn't get our schedules synced up and I never got to drop off a key. But I was able to issue her a temporary electronic pass to my apartment while I was away.

Of course, no discussion of the August smart lock would be complete without talking about the hardware. It's like no other lock you've ever seen before. The particular model I have is a bright metallic red with a diamond pattern etched into the outer ring. Manually turning the lock requires far less force than any deadbolt I've ever used before and the action is as smooth as Kenny G's "jazz." It is a little bit bulky, but after the first few times you use it, you barely notice its significant size.

Is August for everybody? At $250, probably not. But it's an incredibly simple way to add some 21st century smarts to your home without doing any permanent renovations.