How to choose a smart lock — and a home automation system.

Which smart lock do we want? More to the point, which home automation platform should we commit to? Please help me figure out the answer.

We’re making a surprisingly late foray into home automation — mainly because I know how easily it could become a time-consuming and expensive obsession. But I am tired of getting keys cut for our high-security door lock, and I don’t like wondering where our keys have ended up, which is why I’ve been intrigued by the idea of having a phone that would let us distribute virtual keys instead.

What really sold us on the idea of home automation, however, is a lot more than a matter of convenience. Smart locks, sensors and other smart home tools could make it a lot easier for us to keep our autistic son safe.

As he gets older, he needs more independence — but we still need to keep a close eye on his comings and goings. Home automation could be part of our solution.

And we’re starting with a smart lock. Thanks to the excellent guides on The Wirecutter, Tom’s Guide and CNET, I have a short list of options for electronic deadbolts:

  1. Schlage Connect (Z-wave) or Schlage Sense (Homekit)
  2. Kwikset Smartcode 916 (Z-wave) or Kwikset Premis (Homekit)
  3. August Smart Lock with Smart Keypad (though the terrible Amazon reviews for the keypad sure make me nervous)

But what makes choosing between these options so tough is that it means we’re also committing to a home automation platform. You might assume that as an ardently all-Mac (and iPhone, and iPad, and Apple Watch) household, we’d jump on the Apple Homekit bandwagon. But we don’t have an AppleTV (instead, we use a Mac Mini as our media server) and all our iOS 10-capable iPhones/iPads are in daily use outside the house, so we don’t have a spare device we can leave running as a Homekit hub. On top of that, I love playing with IFTTT, which Homekit doesn’t really work with (yet), and we have two Amazon Echos, which will likely play better with a non-Homekit system.

I have read a million reviews and FAQs to figure out which option will meet our core requirements and nice-to-haves, and to decide whether we should commit to Homekit or conversely, go Z-Wave and buy a Wink or SmartThings hub. Once we get on the home automation train I have a feeling we will soon be buying a couple of plugs and some window/door sensors, so it’s worth thinking about which system will meet our child safety needs with immediate notifications from a range of devices (still an issue for Homekit, last time I checked). On the other hand, I know that there’s some tension between our need to get immediate notifications when a door or window is opened, and our desire to keep Russian hackers from using our new system to take over our home network.

At this point, I’m ready for some expert advice — and in fact, I’m hoping to get that advice from the horse’s mouth. I know Schlage, August and Kwikset can’t decide whether we should be a Homekit or Z-wave household, but they can tell me which locks will meet our core requirements, and which investments we will have to make to achieve our full feature set. And I’m sure many other people will have strong views on the relative merits of Homekit, Wink, SmartThings and other home automation platforms.

So I’ve decided to treat our smart lock purchase as a test case for choosing our home automation platform. The various trade-offs between specific smart locks seem to reflect the kind of trade-offs different platforms will require between our Apple-centricity and our passion for tech customization.

But I still need help figuring out exactly what those trade-offs are. That’s why I have put together this handy set of requirements, and even created a Google form in the hope that lock manufacturers, vendors and/or home automation enthusiasts will help me figure out our best option.

If you have used (or sold!) one or more of these locks, and know which of these features they offer, I’d be delighted to get your input — either via my form, or in comments below. If you want to offer your thoughts and experiences with Homekit, Wink, SmartThings or another home automation platform, I’d love to get your thoughts in the comments, too. And of course, I will report my findings (and our purchase decision) in a follow-up post.

Must-have features

  1. Keypad entry (so guest users don’t need to install an app)
  2. Notification when door gets unlocked (so that if a kid tries to sneak out, we get an immediate (< 30 seconds) alarm via Amazon Echo or iPhone.
  3. Consistently accurate status check from within the house (so I can look at my phone or ask our Echo to confirm the front door is locked before going to sleep, rather than getting up to check. Every. Single. Night.)
  4. Can successfully and consistently close our front door even though it needs just a TINY bit of pull inwards to lock right now. (I know this is the trickiest requirement to assess, and may require a little physical adjustment to our door, but since it’s such a small amount of pull I wonder if some locks handle that better than others.)
  5. Uses standard AA/AAA batteries that last for at least 3 months, or if it uses non-standard batteries, lasts for 9+ months.
  6. Can meet all our must-have requirements, and at least some of our nice-to-haves, for under USD $250 (CAD $350).

Nice-to-have features

  1. Unlock via iPhone proximity rather than keypad
  2. Unlock via Apple Watch rather than keypad
  3. Unlock via Android rather than keypad (matters a lot less, but nice for guests)
  4. Person/time-specific keycodes/access (so we can give someone access for one week, or for one day a week)
  5. Remote unlock from our phone while away from home (if someone needs to get in)
  6. Programmable via IFTTT (no particular use case, but I am sure I will come up with some fun ideas. For example I would LOVE it if our Amazon Echo would tell my daughter to do her homework the second she walks through the door.)
  7. Doesn’t require us to invest in a smart home hub, or…
  • Uses an existing iPhone as a Homekit hub, without requiring the iPhone to be at home all the time. Yes, we realize that will make remote unlock (#5) impossible, but that’s ok if #2 and #3 of our must-haves will still work when the iPhone is at home.
  • Works with the Wink or SmartThings hub to achieve all the functionality on this list (i.e. if I’m finally going to commit to spending $100 on a smart home hub, it had better do EXATLY what I want.)

Last but not least, I really care about the level of customer responsiveness and support. And what better indicator of responsiveness than actually filling out my form? Schlage, Kwikset, August — and other lock or home automation vendors — I hope you’ll complete my form.