Tell me if this sounds familiar… you come home after grocery shopping at your local supermarket, you load yourself up with as many bags as you can in the hopes to only make one trip from the car to the house and start running to the front door before your fingers start to fall off. Only problem is, you get there, fingers beginning to turn purple but the door’s locked. You start dancing around like a dying praying mantis doing an impersonation of Peter Garrett trying to get keys out of your pocket and then into the keyhole until ultimately giving up in frustration, dropping the bags to floor and use your hands in an I-have-opposable-thumbs-and-can-hold-things, human kind of way.

Now imagine you make it to the door but instead of it being locked your phone has communicated your presence to your door and automatically unlocked it allowing you waltz right on in. You can now put your shopping down on the kitchen bench and as the colour begins returning to your hands’ extremities you hear the door lock itself again behind you. Sounds pretty good doesn’t it? Well, thanks to the August Smart Lock that’s exactly the experience I’ve been living for the past two weeks. Almost.

From August, the Smart Lock is the first, and currently only, product from the company. Formed by design guru Yves Béhar (Jawbone JAMBOX & OLPC) and co-partner Jason Johnson the lock was announced and began collecting pre-orders for US$199 way back in early 2013.

It promised keyless entry with the addition of an eco-system that allowed easy control over who and when could also open your door. Having a guest visit for a week would no longer mean loaning them a set of keys you’d simply add them to your August Smart Lock with a given time period and once expired so did their access to your home. Have a cleaner visit once a week? Give them access for just those few hours on a specific day. The whole while each unlock is being securely logged for you to keep a track of people’s comings and goings.

Twelve months later the promises were fulfilled as the product began shipping to it’s original purchasers and then, it’s biggest boon to date, Apple choosing to stock the item in their retail stores back in October 2014. On top of the originally promoted feature set new ones have been added such as the ability to “Auto-Unlock” based on proximity – albeit in beta and for iOS users only at present.


Setup

I’m not sure why but I had it in my head that installing the unit was one going to be far more complicated than what it actually was. Put it down to the jet lag I was experiencing having just returned from America (which is where I bought the lock) but in getting ready for installation I allotted a few hours, pulled out my electric drill and even found a drop cloth as I assumed there’d be some mess making involved.

The reality was I opened the very beautiful, very nicely magnetically sealed box the lock came in, read the instructions and had it installed in under 10 minutes!

Installation is as simple as removing the backing plate of your existing dead bolt and attaching one of three included August plates – based on the model dead bolt you have or if you don’t know the model, which lines up with your screw holes. Once the plate is in place you slide an adaptor onto the turning rod of the dead bolt and clip your August Smart Lock into place. That’s it, job done.

Once the physical side of things is done you move into the virtual world, installing the August app on your iPhone or Android device (sorry Windows Phone) and going through the setup wizard.

The wizard verifies both your email address and phone number before creating your August account and only then allows you to search for the newly installed lock. Once connected to the lock you’ll be taken through a very simple calibration process to ensure the device is turning the dead bolt the correct way and with necessary force to lock and unlock your model.

Further setup can continue should you wish, the enabling of August’s “Everlock” feature for example that auto locks your dead bolt after a given time of your choosing. For iOS users it’s here you can also enable Auto-Unlock, the software asking you to confirm your location on a map and adjust the geofence radius the application will use before it starts to look for your lock to unlock it once in Bluetooth range of your phone.

If you have others whom require access to your lock you can “invite” them to it through the app. You can select someone from your phone’s contacts or enter a phone number manually to invite them. You’re then given the option to choose the type of access they’re to have, permanent, meaning they can use the lock just like you, a temporary date/time driven pass or reoccurring access for a given day of the week and time. If whom you’ve invited doesn’t already have the August app installed with a valid account they’ll receive a text message asking them to download it.


Everyday Smart Lock living

A little over two weeks in and the August Smart Lock has very much assimilated itself into my life. Each morning I manually roll the barrel of the gorgeously designed lock to the left releasing my dead bolt to leave for work. By the time the elevator arrives to take me downstairs I hear it latch closed automatically making use of the Everlock feature.

Returning home I enter the recently updated smaller geofence of 100m of my apartment building where it activates my phone’s Bluetooth to look for the lock and as I exit the lift and walk the length of my hallway (approx 12m) I hear the door unlock just as I step in front of it – 80% of the time. The other 20% is split between standing there looking at the door like a child sent to the naughty corner for 2–10 seconds until it unlocks and me getting my phone out, launching the app and unlocking it manually. Not once has it gotten to the point I’ve needed to get my keys out to unlock the door by hand.

It should be noted that the Auto-unlock feature isn’t as simple as relying on your Bluetooth connection alone. When you install your lock and enable the feature it starts to build a profile based on your use of the lock. This in conjunction with your proximity are used to determine if it should unlock automatically as a safety precaution against stolen phones.

Unfortunately I don’t have a cleaner, which should I ever get I would hire purely on the fact they have a smartphone and would use the August app now, but I did have an overseas guest that visited since installing the lock. Guinea pig guest stayed for a couple of nights and was made to download the August app, invited with a temporary pass and used it flawlessly. They had Galaxy phone and was therefore stuck with “manual” operation of the lock but it just worked and with no reliance on electricity or WiFi being battery operated they had no problems getting into the apartment even during a short power outage. I can see this being a huge seller for AirBnB hosts who if you’ve ever used before often means searching for a key hidden in a combination box around the back of some building in a nook that quite often makes you look like a hobo or thief to passers by.

In just a couple of weeks the lock has definitely gained my confidence from a general day to day operation point of view but you’ll note I’m still conscious of ensuring I hear it function. I wont go into the lift until I hear it lock in the morning and when I return home hearing it unlock signifies to me it’s definitely been locked all day. August have addressed this in a way by releasing an accessory that plugs into a power socket called “Connect”. It links to the lock via Bluetooth and then to your local WiFi to allow you to remotely check your lock’s status and lock & unlock it. It’s a US plug though and I’ve not been able to confirm it operates on 240V so for now I’ll stick to listening for it operating.

What works

  • Auto-unlock is a god-sent with groceries or coming home after a bike ride.
  • Being able to unlock the front door when you’re busy upstairs or playing PS4 or whatever means you’re not near the door is awesome.
  • Guest access is so much easier than handing over a set of keys that you know are just going to be lost.

What doesn’t work

  • When Auto-unlock doesn’t work you curse it but only because when it does life seems so much better.
  • After an app update I had to re-enter all my settings again and setup Auto-unlock & Everlock all over. A pain but not the end of the world.
  • It’s still only available in the US & Canada despite being stocked by Apple Stores. Which means expensive postage via a holiday to America, drop shipping or eBay.
  • No IFTTT (or similar) integration.
  • Physically unlocking the door by manually twisting the August’s barrel has caused the battery plate to come off a couple of times until I adjusted how I held it.

Do you need one now?

Having an August Smart Lock is by no means a necessity for anyone and could easily be dismissed as a gimmick. In fact having any “smart lock” be it a touch-pad, RFID or other isn’t a must-have for any home at this stage but it is the future. Cars have been doing keyless entry for years so it’s only natural that homes are to follow and they’re doing it smarter with more features.

The August Smart Lock has become a regular part of my routine and lifestyle now. What started as a cool way to freak out friends by unlocking the door and hiding in another room has turned into a convenient lifestyle choice and whatever makes life easier is worth having right?

Poor Android users, for the time being you will have to weigh up whether or not to walk down the August path based on if you’re wanting to use the Auto-unlock feature. It will undoubtably come with time but right now, should I be one of you, it would be enough to stop me buying one.

August have actively shown their support for iOS’s HomeKit and a recent announcement as this year’s CES from Samsung acquired “SmartThings” makes mention the new iteration of their home automation hub will talk with the August Smart Lock. This leads to true home automation integration and the creation of scenarios like lights turning on inside once your door unlocks, the turning off of appliances once you leave home and much more that I’m looking forward to.

At US$249 the August Smart Lock is by no means a cheap “toy” and you’d expect a return in functionality. For me the return is there and I’m enjoying the convenience it offers but for others it wont just yet. After all getting a key out of your pocket is free.

Published post

This post was published to Reckoner on Sunday, March 22nd, 2015. If you would like to view the final edited piece click here.
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