The best smart locks

You have a few good options, including one for keeping your existing deadbolt.

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February 16, 2020 1:00 PM
Jon Chase/Wirecutter
Jon Chase/Wirecutter

By Jon Chase

This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter's independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and Engadget may earn affiliate commission. Read the full guide to smart locks.

Your front door lock is an unsung hero, quietly keeping thieves and rogues at bay. Smart locks are the superheroes of the species, with special powers that make life more convenient (and a little more fun). The Yale Assure Lock SL (YRD256) Connected by August is our top pick as it comes closest to hitting the sweet spot of convenience, security, reliability, and good looks. It's fast, quiet, and completely keyless, and unlike with other models, its sleek, slim, glass-and-metal housing is stylish.

The Yale Assure Lock SL (YRD256) combines the hardware-security chops of Yale with the smart-home finesse of August. It connects to your Wi-Fi network (via the Connect bridge), allowing you to control the lock and manage access codes remotely. This ability to manage or even create new codes on the fly makes the lock especially suited to owners of vacation homes and short-term rental properties. The included August module makes the lock widely compatible with Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri, HomeKit, and other smart gear. Unlocking it is simple, and its mechanism is far quieter than that of nearly every other lock we've tested. We also like the DoorSense accessory, which tells the lock if the door is open so that the deadbolt doesn't engage before it's shut. Although we greatly prefer the feel of the keypads found on Schlage locks, the Yale Assure Lock SL's other features, reliability, and overall aesthetics make it a far better buy for most people.

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If your door is a single-hole model—that is, with a doorknob or lever and no deadbolt—the Yale Assure Lever (YRL256) is the one to get. It offers features identical to those of the deadbolt version, with a couple of minor differences; for instance, you can wake the lock or have it lock when you're leaving simply by pressing the Yale logo. We tested it on an internal door for several months, and we love how quiet it is.

One extremely important note: The Yale Assure Lock SL has no keyway—should its electronics ever fail or its mechanism jam, you would be locked out of your home and would have to destroy the lock to get in. (Yale also sells a version with a built-in keyway, which we do not recommend—see How we tested for more details.) As such, we recommend this lock only if you have ready access to another entrance, such as a back door or a garage. If you prefer to have traditional key access to fall back on, we strongly recommend going with another pick.

The Ultraloq U-Bolt Pro matches or exceeds the Yale Assure Lock SL in some ways, and it missed the top spot due to only a few minor performance flaws as well as its narrower compatibility with other smart-home devices and the fact that the company is a relative startup. Still, by any standard it is a wonderful device, with the cleanest, most precise hardware we've ever tested and a pleasing low-profile design. You can unlock it six different ways, including with a numerical code, in an app, through a physical keyway, and—the pièce de résistance—via fingerprint. (We highly recommend buying the $50 add-on Ultraloq Bridge, which allows for remote programming and control.) The companion app you use to set up and control the U-Bolt Pro is less polished and reliable than the August app, and we found that it sometimes required a restart to get back in sync. Although we believe the feel and function of the U-Bolt Pro's rubber number buttons to be superior to pecking numbers on the glass screen of the Yale Assure Lock SL, the fingerprint unlock was our preferred way to unlock this model. Unfortunately, it balked on around 20 percent of our attempts to unlock it using this method, and that required us to make multiple finger presses or to resort to using a key code. We hope this is something that the company can improve, since the fingerprint feature provides the best balance of security and convenience. The U-Bolt Pro is compatible with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, but unlike the Assure Lock SL it doesn't work with Apple HomeKit or Samsung SmartThings—if that doesn't matter to you, the U-Bolt Pro may be the better pick.

The Schlage Encode Smart WiFi Deadbolt is a trimmed and toned update to similar previous picks, the Schlage Connect and Schlage Sense, but with the clever ability to connect directly to your Wi-Fi without the need of a plug-in adapter. (Most smart locks, in contrast, use battery-friendly Bluetooth and then connect wirelessly to a plug-in adapter that allows them to connect to your Wi-Fi and accept remote control.)

That capability is appealing, and along with the nicely designed hardware—which also includes a built-in impact alarm—it makes the Encode one of the easiest models to install and one of the simplest smart locks to use of those we've tested. In gaining its smaller internal housing, the Encode unfortunately shed compatibility with Apple HomeKit, though it can still integrate with Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. We tend to prefer the feel of capacitive keypads like the Encode's over that of a glass touchscreen, and we think that feature makes this lock less fussy to use, so it's an especially good choice for rental properties.

If you are a renter who isn't allowed to change locks (or a homeowner who doesn't want to), the third-generation August Smart Lock is a wallet-friendly addition to an existing deadbolt. Unlike our other picks, which require replacing all the elements of your door lock, this August model lets you keep your deadbolt and keyway and swap only the thumb-turn mechanism on the inside of the door. When you have the Smart Lock on its own, you can set it to unlock when you approach the door and to relock after you close the door (thanks to the included DoorSense magnetic sensor), but you can also control it with August's smartphone app or the August Apple Watch app via Bluetooth. An optional adapter (the $70 August Connect) is required if you'd like to control the lock when you're not home, and it enables voice control through Alexa and Google Assistant (unlike other models, this August lock is not HomeKit or Siri compatible). The August is surprisingly noisy in operation, and in our testing of the automatic unlock feature, we experienced occasional delays or outright failures to trigger, sometimes requiring use of the app to unlock the door. We think this issue is highly dependent on the specifics of the install environment and therefore can be lessened with troubleshooting and recalibration.

Why you should trust us

I've been testing smart locks, as well as a wide range of smart-home hubs and accessories, since 2015. As a reporter and editor, I've been covering technology and trends—and testing and reviewing a wide range of consumer electronics—for two decades at a number of respected national publications. At this writing I have four smart locks installed in my home, as well as three smart thermostats, five smart bulbs, five smart switches, two smart outlets, two smart smoke detectors, two smart water valves, a smart security system, a smart doorbell, two smart cameras, a smart noise detector, six smart speakers, and a smattering of sensors. None of them work perfectly all of the time.

Who should get this

Smart locks are both the most useful and the most potentially risky smart devices you can install in your home. In the plus column, they make entering and leaving your home far more convenient by freeing you from having to carry keys (and in some cases a smartphone, too). Most make it possible to securely grant access to your home not only to family and friends but also to tradespeople or even your mail carrier or package delivery people. And when paired with a smart-home system such as Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant, or Samsung SmartThings, they can tell other smart devices to turn on or off, or even spark a series of automated actions among a few devices—for instance, having your lights turn off and the heat or AC kick on when you arrive home and unlock the door.

That convenience comes with a price, though, as smart locks cost considerably more than their non-smart counterparts. More important, connecting your front door lock to the Internet adds at least a theoretical new way for thieves to infiltrate your home. Such security concerns are a particular source of contention for smart-home skeptics, who worry that allowing your door lock to be accessible over the Internet makes it fundamentally vulnerable.

Our view is that, although there is no question that it is technically possible for any smart lock to be infiltrated electronically (and also mechanically), the real-world odds of a potential burglar using a sophisticated hack to enter your home versus simply relying on the most popular manner of breaking into a door—by force, using something like an old-fashioned crowbar—are vanishingly slim. (We'd also point out that everyone now lives in a ubiquitously connected world, and everything from your utilities to the entire global financial system is fully Internet-connected.) In short: It's important to consider security, we do our best to recommend only products from companies that are responsible and competent, and the smart locks we recommend are as safe as or safer than their mechanical counterparts (which, for instance, can't alert you when your front door is unlocked or opened).

Here are a few ways a smart lock might be a useful addition to your home:

  • You don't need to carry your keys anymore, whether you're popping out for a quick run or you're off to work for the day.
  • You can create and share a custom code (or virtual e-key) for a houseguest, or even a last-minute visitor—no need to make physical copies of keys. This feature is especially attractive for owners of rental properties.
  • Parents with latchkey kids can keep track of when they get home from school (or a late-night party).
  • You can give a babysitter, nanny, or house cleaner ongoing or last-minute access.
  • You can receive notifications whenever the door opens and closes, and keep tabs on who's coming and going and when.
  • If you're out and about when a trusted contractor or plumber comes by, you can unlock (and then relock) the door remotely or give that person a time-restricted e-key.

Smart locks, especially keypad models, are perfectly suited for rental-property and vacation-home owners, such as Airbnb hosts, who tend to have to deal with frequent key exchanges (in fact, with some locks, Airbnb now offers to automate code creation for guests). Similarly, smart locks can be a useful tool for small-business owners who want to keep tabs on who might be coming and going through their doors when they aren't around.

One especially important buying tip: If your door has a mortise lock, with the latch and bolt in an integrated unit, or a door handle and latch that are a single unit, none of the smart locks we reviewed will fit (we hope to test some soon). In most of these cases, to accommodate a new smart lock, you need to replace that integrated unit with a standalone doorknob or lever and possibly a deadbolt—and all that extra work and hardware may end up being cost-prohibitive.

How we picked

For homes, there are two main categories of smart locks. The first type is an add-on device that replaces the interior thumbturn of your door's existing deadbolt but not the deadbolt mechanism itself. The second type is a full deadbolt replacement, which requires removing your existing deadbolt assembly and installing all-new hardware. You can set up and manage almost all models in both categories by using a companion smartphone app, and some can integrate with smart-home platforms and controllers such as Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant, or Samsung SmartThings; they might also allow you to control them through a third-party app that consolidates multiple smart devices into a single interface. Most smart locks can now trigger other smart devices as well as automated actions—such as turning lights on or off or changing the mode of a thermostat. And while some smart locks work only when you are in close proximity (usually by relying on a Bluetooth signal from your smartphone), others let you control and monitor them remotely through an Internet connection, which for most of the locks we tested requires using a device called a hub; this is changing, however, as many new and soon-to-arrive locks can connect directly to your home Wi-Fi and so are directly accessible over the Internet.

Our goal was to find a lock that offered the best balance of convenience, security, and useful smarts while requiring as little technical complexity, ongoing management, or troubleshooting as possible. That last point deserves special emphasis, as models we've dealt with in the past have suffered from some reliability issues. We chose test models with a trigger or lock/unlock method that was quick and reliable—and one that didn't require directly using a smartphone app to lock or unlock the door, because we've found that, functionally, using a phone is no faster or barely more convenient than using a physical key. We also restricted our selections to models that you can monitor and control remotely via smartphone, regardless of whether that involves pairing them with a separate hub or gateway device (which typically is a separate purchase).

All of the smart locks we tested can integrate with other smart devices. For example, if you have a HomeKit-compatible smart thermostat or, say, light switches, you can have them adjust whenever you unlock your Yale Assure Lock SL. If you value such an ability, be sure to check a model's compatibility with your existing (or intended) smart devices before buying.

To aid in our selection process, we consulted professional reviews from sites such as CNET, PCMag,, and Tom's Guide, as well as owner feedback on and other retailer sites. It's noteworthy that while a handful of models consistently made reviewers' short lists, no lock seemed to be a consensus winner. Based on our research, we added a few existing models to our current lineup of picks, as well as a couple of brand-new models. We then ran intensive real-world tests on this final group of nine models and cross-checked our findings with both the professional and customer reviews.

How we tested

Smart lock

A sampling of some of the smart locks we have tested. Photo: Jon Chase

In the many thousands of hours of use spread over about two dozen smart locks since 2015, we've had just one lock suffer a mechanical malfunction (specifically, the spring in the deadbolt dislodged after a freak gust of wind slammed our door shut). So while mechanical quality and proper installation of a lock are absolutely key factors, our focus in testing continues to be on the experience of using these devices, most especially their consistency, reliability, and ease of use.

For this round, we installed each test unit in one of a few modern, factory-made doors and tested it for at least a week, in most cases for several weeks or even months. During that time we used the locks during everyday activity, but we also methodically triggered the locks up close using our smartphone via Bluetooth, as well as over our home Wi-Fi network, and then again remotely by connecting via cellular signal. Our regimen included countless entrances and the experiences of a family of users (including two kids). We also installed several of the locks on a rig for longer-term testing.

In each companion app, we tested the various settings and preferences available—such as turning audio signals or LED lights on and off and enabling auto-lock and auto-unlock functions when applicable—and we took note of the speed, reliability, and usefulness of the notifications and the ease of adding and managing codes. Our tests included the use of companion apps on both iOS and Android smartphones.

In assessing the physical hardware, we took a close look at the ease of installation and the feel and quality of the various components. We also considered the physical robustness of each lock and, where applicable, the keyway. More informally, we also attempted to pick the locks using readily available lockpicking tools. To our surprise we found that the Yale Assure Lock Touchscreen Deadbolt (YRD226), an alternative to our top pick, was easily lockpicked in under a minute, a feat we managed to repeat several times. We weren't able to broach any of the other devices that we ended up naming as picks, though we did successfully unlock two other locks that had been previous test subjects.

Locks are graded on their ability to withstand brute-force entry attempts based on criteria devised by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). For deadbolts, Grade 1 is the top ranking, reserved for a commercial-use lock with a 1-inch-thick latch bolt that's able to take 10 strikes of 75 pounds and a million open/close cycles. A Grade 2 lock is considered consumer level, with a bolt that is ⅝ inch thick and able to withstand five strikes of 75 pounds and 800,000 cycles. With the exception of the Ultraloq U-Bolt Pro, which is not ANSI-graded, all of the locks we tested were at least Grade 2, and a few—the Schlage models—were Grade 1.

A major security consideration with smart locks is whether to enable auto-lock and auto-unlock. These features trigger the lock based your location (also known as geofencing), via some combination of Bluetooth, cellular signal, GPS, and Wi-Fi. Having your door automatically trigger as you walk up to it is the essence of convenience, but it necessarily puts you at risk of an accidental trigger that leaves your front door open to anyone. Some models include a little magnet, which you install near the lock, to determine when the door is closed or open; that ensures you don't lock the deadbolt when the door is left ajar, which is helpful. Another option for some locks is to use HomeKit geofencing as a trigger, which requires that you confirm the unlock signal on your phone before it can activate, which is a far more secure but also less convenient approach.

In our testing over the past few years, we've had multiple instances when devices auto-unlocked when they shouldn't have—both when we were home and away (the worst case was late at night when we were at home and in bed). More recent testing has shown greatly improved accuracy, but overall we believe carte blanche geofence triggering is essentially risky, most especially for city dwellers who are more susceptible to an opportunistic thief. If you live in a suburban or rural location, we think the risks are more of a personal judgment call.

Our pick: Yale Assure Lock SL Connected by August

The Yale Assure Lock SL (YRD256) Connected by August narrowly edged out our runner-up pick, the Ultraloq U-Bolt Pro, because it comes closest to hitting all the right notes in terms of convenience, reliability, and just plain good looks. It's a keypad model that is completely keyless, and you can trigger the lock using a code or an app. Once you set it up, you can use it without ever bothering with your smartphone, as long as you can remember a four- to six-digit entry code—useful if you have kids who lose keys (or haven't earned smartphone privileges yet). Its tidy glass touchscreen keypad, the handsomest we've seen, wakes with a finger press, is second nature to operate for virtually anyone, and unlocks a door quickly and quietly. Sharing access with other people is as simple as telling them a code of your choosing, which you can restrict or delete as necessary using the August app—no need to force guests to download an app or register for anything.

An extremely similar model, the Yale Assure Lever (YRL256) Connected by August, works almost identically and fits single-hole doors that lack a deadbolt. It is significantly larger because it contains a complete door-lever mechanism, but otherwise it worked wonderfully and was also noticeably quieter than typical smart locks we have tested in the past—just a brief whir. (Yale also makes a version of this model with a keyway, which we do not recommend—see How we tested for more details.)

The package includes a small Bluetooth radio module that you physically insert in the Assure Lock SL during setup; the module allows the lock to integrate with Apple HomeKit, which includes voice control via Siri (HomeKit works only with Apple devices). If you have a recent Apple TV or an iPad, or an Apple HomePod smart speaker, you can set it up as a hub, which enables remote access to the lock and the ability to run automated actions. Also included is a plug-in Connect Wi-Fi bridge, which becomes the middleman between the lock and your home's Internet network. Installing the included Connect Wi-Fi adapter is another way to enable remote access as well as compatibility with Alexa and Google Assistant voice control. One extremely important note: Because the Assure Lock SL (YRD256) does not have a keyway, if the lock malfunctions for any reason, you will be locked out of your house. As a result, you should install it only if you have ready access to another entrance to your home. (If not, consider another lock with a keyway as a fail-safe.)

Installation of the Yale Assure Lock SL is an easy, DIY task for most anyone who can hoist a screwdriver. We strongly recommend following the guided instructional video in the companion August app because doing a step out of order or incorrectly can hose your installation, and then you have to start from scratch. (Yes, I learned this from experience—don't bust my chops.) Another important note: Use the August app as instructed, not the Yale app, which a few readers have found to be problematic or even nonfunctional.

The included Connect adapter plugs into an electrical outlet and wirelessly pairs with the lock. During installation it measures and confirms that you are within adequate range of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, an especially nice touch. Within the August app you can swipe through your August devices and see and control the lock status—a big red circle means locked, and green means unlocked. In our tests, we could trigger the lock astonishingly fast—in a few seconds—over a cell signal, and in just five to 10 when on Wi-Fi.

Smart lock

Because the Yale Assure Lock SL is HomeKit-enabled, you can use the August app (left), the iOS Home app (right), or both, depending on your preferences.

A number of useful settings within the August app let you turn sound on and off, change the volume level, enable one-touch locking, and so on. Also available are useful security settings, such as timed lockouts based on too many incorrect attempted entries, a feature designed to thwart suspicious guessers. In addition, you have the convenience of creating individual codes for guests or family members and customizing when they are active, from always-on to recurring times or a set window—a great option if you have a housekeeper, a pool maintenance person, a babysitter, and so on. Through the app you can track who locks and unlocks the door and when, based on which codes they use for entry.

When you're accessing the lock from outside, the glass touchscreen is dark by default. You wake it with the press of three fingers or your palm, and then the keypad numbers appear. Once you input your code correctly, pressing the checkmark causes the screen to flash, and with a gentle whir the lock activates. The whole process takes about four seconds. To exit, either enter your code or, as we did, enable one-touch locking and then press and hold the screen for a second until it locks (this method, however, prevents you from knowing who specifically has locked the door).

The August Connect allows the lock to work wirelessly with other smart devices and platforms, though not as many as the August Smart Lock Pro. For our tests we were able to control the lock by voice using Alexa and an Echo device, as well as Siri via an iPhone, but we had issues getting Google Assistant to cooperate. With the lock acting as a HomeKit device used with a free third-party iDevices app, we were able to create an automation that would turn on a Lutron light switch and adjust an Ecobee thermostat when the Yale Assure Lock SL was unlocked, which worked fine.

Of all the locks we tested, including our other picks, none offer the same convenient, easy, and—most important—reliable access, with the same set of features, as the Yale Assure Lock SL (YRD256) Connected by August. We love not having to force guests to download an app to use the lock. Creating new codes, whether at home or away, for arriving guests is wonderfully useful. Though remote access isn't as crucial as with other locks—anyone with the numerical code can open it—the ability to receive notifications is handy. With different codes for different people, you can know who's coming and going in your house. More than anything, not dealing with an app or periodic Bluetooth failures just to get in through the front door is a welcome relief.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

To our taste, the glass touchscreen of the Yale Assure Lock SL (YRD256) Connected by August offers an inferior experience compared with the keypad of Schlage's line of keypad locks. The white numbers are small, and with the sound off it's hard to tell if your key press has registered. And we much prefer simply being able to press in our code rather than waking the lock, inputting a code, and then having to hit the checkmark, which seems like a needless step. We initially would forget that step and wait for the lock to open, only to have it time out. However, once you get used to the process, you hardly think about it.

We wish the Yale Assure Lock SL had some form of audible alarm (as the Schlage Encode does) to scare away attempts at brute-force entry—the only way to get past this keyway-less lock.

Runner-up: Ultraloq U-Bolt Pro (with Bridge)

Smart lock

Photo: Michael Hession

If you've ever felt a burning shame for wantonly lusting over an inanimate object, you might understand our relationship with the Ultraloq U-Bolt Pro. This is the closest we've come to finding The One: It offers multiple ways of quickly getting into your home—including a mostly great fingerprint system—all of the hardware is precision-made and hardy, it's just the right size and good looking (or at the very worst inoffensive), and it's the quietest lock we've ever tested. It's not our top pick because it isn't as widely compatible with leading smart-home platforms as the Yale Assure Lock SL (in particular, it's not HomeKit compatible) and because its companion app is generally good but occasionally flaky, as is its signature feature, a fingerprint reader. None of those problems are major, though—we think the U-Bolt Pro is a great option for anyone who doesn't mind its modest shortcomings.

The face of the U-Bolt Pro has durable but soft rubber number buttons that encircle a fingerprint reader in the center; the front face pulls down to reveal a hidden keyway, a nifty design move. The internal housing is thinner than that of any of the other models we tested and has a thumb turn. Setup of the lock is on a par with the process for all the other locks we've tested, and involves fully removing your existing deadbolt to replace it with the U-Bolt Pro. The companion app, which is very similar to the August one in terms of organization, walks you through the necessary steps and lets you manage users and codes in a straightforward way, without fuss or confusion. (On occasion, when we opened the app, it would take us to a login screen rather than logging us in automatically; we'd then restart the app to have it load correctly.) In our tests, we found using the app to control the lock and create codes—both while we were standing in front of it and when we were away from home—to be quick and easily understandable to anyone who has used a smartphone app.

Technically the U-Bolt Pro provides six methods of triggering the lock (including shaking your phone when you're in front of it); however, the most useful and, we think, the most likely to be used are the fingerprint and door code methods. The process for scanning a fingerprint will be familiar to anyone who has done it with a smartphone: You repeatedly place, adjust, and then reposition your finger over the scanner, and you can store two fingerprints per user. Then, when you arrive home, you push your finger onto the reader, and in half a second or so a ring around the scanner lights up green and the lock opens with a gentle whir (or it turns red and you have to rescan). We found that sometimes we needed to push harder, and if the scanner was dusty or our skin was especially dry, it wouldn't always register and we'd eventually resort to using a numeric code. To use a code, you push the button with the Ultraloq logo, enter your PIN, and push the logo again. One clever security feature lets you choose to press a string of random numbers before and after you enter your real code, so that someone observing you won't be able to see the code and memorize it (unless the observer can memorize long strings of numbers—in which case, use the fingerprint reader).

In order to access the U-Bolt Pro remotely, and to receive notifications when it locks and unlocks, you need to purchase and install the plug-in Ultraloq Bridge, which we highly recommend as we think those features are a large part of why smart locks have value. The Bridge also gives you the ability to use Alexa or Google Assistant with the lock, which in our tests worked well—we could ask Alexa if the door was locked or unlocked, and also have Alexa unlock it (to do so, you have to state aloud a custom PIN).

One final not-small note of concern about the Ultraloq U-Bolt Pro is that the company that makes it, U-tec, is just a few years old, so unlike established brands such as Yale, Schlage, and Kwikset, it may not have the same ability to handle customer support, security testing, and software updates, among other things. In the company's favor, it has a growing line of products, and in our experience it replied quickly to a customer service request and responded to questions about its security practices and policies with detailed information. Note too that all startups begin in the same position and many go on to become established brands—August, founded in 2012, to name just one.

We think that if you aren't interested in using a smart lock to trigger or automate other smart devices (or if you're content with the Alexa or Google Assistant ecosystem), the U-Bolt Pro is the lock to get. It's the one I plan to keep on my front door for long-term testing.

Also great: Schlage Encode Smart WiFi Deadbolt

Smart lock

Photo: Michael Hession

If you're looking for a low-profile, no-fuss lock with a foolproof keypad and the ability to connect to Wi-Fi without requiring a plugin adapter, we like the Schlage Encode Smart WiFi Deadbolt. The capacitive keypad is nearly identical to those on previous picks from Schlage, the Sense and Connect, and we think it's the most intuitive version to use, as the numbers have a textured surface and give ever so slightly as you press them. It's also the only lock in our test group with a built-in alarm, a soul-shattering shriek powerful enough to rouse the deceased—you can arm it to trigger if someone attempts to bust the lock or if the door is rammed. The Encode is smaller than its Schlage forebears (though not as small as the U-Bolt Pro), and it installs quickly. Unlike most smart locks, it has Wi-Fi built-in, so it connects directly to your home network (whereas most locks use Bluetooth to connect to a plug-in adapter that then connects to your Wi-Fi network). Amazingly, the Wi-Fi doesn't seem to especially tax the batteries, which in our tests lasted several months without fail. The Encode doesn't have the smart-home chops of the Yale Assure and is compatible only with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, so if you hope to have a smart lock as part of a comprehensive smart-home array, our top picks are better options.

Even without using third-party smart platforms, the Schlage Home app sends notifications when the Encode locks or unlocks, and you can use the app to add or alter existing lock codes. With those basic skills, we think the Encode is the best pick as a simple but smart gatekeeper for a vacation or rental property, especially as it's the one lock we've tested that needs no explanation for anyone to figure out: Just enter your code, and it opens. Simply press the padlock button to lock it when you leave.

Keep your existing deadbolt: August Smart Lock (3rd Gen)

Smart lock

Photo: Jon Chase

The August Smart Lock (3rd Gen) is an affordable choice if you want to use your existing deadbolt (which means you also get to keep your existing key). As with all August devices, the instructions and setup process are almost delightfully friendly and thoughtful, with straightforward video instructions. The all-metal housing offers reassuring bulk and heft, and the traditional thumb turn has precise movement. You control this August lock solely through Bluetooth and a smartphone—unlike its widely compatible big sibling, the August Smart Lock Pro—which explains the steep price cut. With the purchase of an August Connect Wi-Fi bridge (buy them together and save some money), you can control this August lock using Alexa or Google Assistant and access it remotely when you're not at home. August sells an optional keypad as well, but we don't recommend it due to the frequent connection and stability issues we encountered in our testing.

The August Smart Lock is a fine budget pick and suitable for most renters, but it doesn't come close to our top picks in terms of convenience or reliability. In order to make it easier than using a key, you need to turn on auto-unlock, which as we've noted can be unreliable and is thus problematic (and if you arrive home without a phone, or with a dead battery, you're locked out). In our tests, on a few occasions the August auto-unlocked when we were already home, or when we were several blocks from home—or it failed to unlock at all, requiring the use of our app, which ended up being annoying. Installation of the included DoorSense module, which detects when the door is open and closed, does somewhat solve the problem of accidental unlocks in that you can set the August to automatically lock when the door is safely closed after a customizable period of time. If all of that sounds confusing, consider this scenario: You're on your way home but still several hundred feet away, and then you decide to pop by the deli, where you get stuck in line. If the August lock detects you and auto-unlocks prematurely, your home is sitting unlocked—but if you have auto-lock set up to happen after say, 30 seconds, your door will lock itself and there's no real security issue.

It's a nice option, but in principle we don't recommend auto-locking unless you're using the DoorSense modules and you're confident, as it creates a serious risk of your locking yourself out of your home if anyone shuts the door when your phone is inside or elsewhere. The August's auto-unlock feature has been greatly improved overall, though, so that the trigger zone is now much smaller; in the past it was far too wide and would trigger when we were several blocks from our home in an urban environment, making it a nonstarter for use in cities.

August's native app is spare and easy to decipher, with basic controls that don't have you searching through menu settings. The app is dominated by a button that lets you lock or unlock (depending on the current state), and you can quickly view recent activity or invite guests and determine their level of access.

The August Smart Lock doesn't compare with our top picks in versatility or reliability, but as a budget model it's a good option, and for renters especially.

What to look forward to


A number of new locks have been released or announced.

The August Wi-Fi Smart Lock is nearly half the size of the company's Smart Lock Pro. It functions almost identically but also has built-in Wi-Fi, which enables you to connect to it remotely without having to rely on a plug-in Connect hub.

Igloohome has released the Smart Deadbolt 2S Metal Grey, a touchscreen keypad model that has a clever token system for letting owners share new PIN codes remotely without having the lock connect to the Internet. The company also has the Mortise smart lock, which we hope to test, and it will release a model with a fingerprint reader later this year.

Kwikset released a new keypad lock with built-in Wi-Fi, the Halo Touchscreen Wi-Fi Smart Lock. It also announced a follow-up model, the Halo Touch, a Wi-Fi–enabled lock with a built-in fingerprint reader that is compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant. It will be released sometime in 2020 and should cost $250.

Lockly announced the Lockly Vision, a keypad and fingerprint-reading lock with a built-in smart doorbell camera. It will be compatible with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple HomeKit, and will cost $400.

The Level Lock is an interesting model with unique hardware: Unlike most smart locks, which are designed to mount to an existing lock (or completely replace it), the Level is a mini assembly that replaces the internal portion of the deadbolt and the bolt itself while leaving your existing keyway and internal thumb turn. We haven't tested it yet, but it could be a good option for those who want the ability to unlock their door remotely in an emergency—or who plan to have it automatically unlock via HomeKit—while maintaining the aesthetics of a traditional lock.

The competition

Our experience with the smart locks we tested was largely positive, though we should note that every smart lock we've ever used has had instances where it didn't function correctly or required troubleshooting of some variety—an inevitability to be aware of when you're choosing to install one of these devices in your home. We have yet to meet a set-it-and-forget-it smart-home device.

Though we're confident that the Yale Assure Lock SL Connected by August is the best pick for most people, several of the models we have tested would certainly satisfy people with specific needs:

The August Smart Lock Pro is the most widely compatible smart lock we've ever tested, and August has consistently updated and improved its products over time. Our experiences using the Smart Lock Pro's signature auto-unlock feature have been inconsistent, however, and without that you need to whip out your phone to open the door every time, making it not as convenient to use as our other picks, especially the non-Pro August Smart Lock, which is usually $80 cheaper. If you live in a non-urban environment and are comfortable using auto-unlock, it's a good and versatile option (though be sure to keep an eye out for the soon-to-be-released Wi-Fi model).

The Nest x Yale Lock is largely identical to our pick, the Yale Assure Lock SL, except that it is compatible only with other Nest smart devices. If you have a smart-home system that is entirely Nest-based, especially a Nest Hello doorbell, it's a great option.

A previous pick for HomeKit users, the Kwikset Premis is a great and reliable device but was eclipsed by the Yale Assure Lock SL, which is compatible with both Android and iOS smartphones and supports Alexa and Google Assistant in addition to HomeKit. If you want only a HomeKit keypad lock, it's worth considering.

The Lockly Secure Plus keypad lock (deadbolt version) is in many ways a great smart lock, but we found it to be oversized and the plastic internal components to be of inferior quality compared with the metal ones of our top picks. In addition, when we tested it, the lack of remote access made it a nonstarter. The newer Secure Pro model is available for purchase with a wireless bridge, but at $300 it's not a good value compared with our picks.

The Schlage Sense, a HomeKit-enabled model virtually identical to the Schlage Connect, was previously one of our picks. Like the Connect, the Sense has a terrific keypad and top-quality ANSI Grade 1 hardware, but over many years of testing it has suffered from Bluetooth range issues that make it unreliable when we're trying to connect to it remotely—despite being within spitting distance of both our Wi-Fi beacon and an Apple TV acting as a hub. A $60 Wi-Fi adapter, which also enables Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant compatibility, is available but strips HomeKit compatibility. Still, the Sense is a solid model and a good option for rental properties. The Schlage Connect is a low-cost option for anyone who already uses a Z-Wave hub.

The Kwikset Kevo was a previous pick but has become notably dated, and as some commenters have pointed out, it is seemingly unique among smart locks in that it isn't compatible with a large variety of popular Android devices—you can render it incompatible if you buy a new phone. (We haven't encountered this issue with any other lock we've tested.) Considering that, coupled with the sheer length and breadth of the support-issue reports and complaints we continue to receive, as well as the expense and extended wait period for the gateway (which is required for remote access), we no longer recommend the Kevo.

The Yale Assure Lock Touchscreen Deadbolt (YRD226) was an alternative to our top pick (the YRD256), and we were pleased with its performance and looks. Unfortunately, in the course of long-term testing we found that we were able to pick its keyway with very little effort and with only novice lockpicking skills, something we have been able to do repeatedly. Although we understand that home thieves generally use brute-force methods to enter homes (or simply enter unlocked doors), low-cost, effectively unpickable keyways are widely available as a standard feature, so we recommend choosing another model that uses those technologies.

This guide may have been updated by Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

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