August Smart Lock: A Review

It’s been about three month since I installed my August Smart Lock.

This is generation 3, without the hub (I have an AppleTV that it ties into instead). Being in an apartment, I was a bit worried at first that this device would not be acceptable to my lease or would cause damage. It turned out to be an easy and unobtrusive installation process — the backplate is removed, and the device is put into place.

The key is still the same on the outside, and operates as if nothing has changed on the inside. I liken it to being an invisible hand on my deadbolt.

So, how has it been working so far? It is a little wonky, to be honest. The August app is okay, but I try to avoid it. It does give me a nice log rundown on how it was operated and when like my Eve app does for other sensors. It has a feature where if it thinks that you’re arriving home, it sets your mode from “away” to “home” (it requires location access in the background). Then, when you’re within 200 feet (bluetooth range), it will unlock your door.

At least that’s what it should be doing, but it routinely fails on me. I’d say that it works about 90-95% of the time.

Generally speaking, I am typically within a minute of it unlocking and me actually being there. The first time that I used it, I heard it unlock in front of me when I was approaching it through my hallway, however, it all depends on where you are coming from.

The app also has an auto-lock feature: God help you if you forget your keys or phone, because you will not be able to get back in. If you insist on using this, I recommend a thirty-second timer, to give you enough time to realize your horrible mistake and correct it. If you arrive home on this setting and are not entering immediately, it will first unlock, and then lock back the a timer — practically rendering it to be useless or at least inconsistent.

During a power outage, I can confirm that it still operated as expected within Bluetooth range.

Tying into the Homekit ecosystem, I have tried to use it on several automations, but it just isn’t meant for it. When added to the “Goodnight” scene, Siri throws an error about “secure devices”, which gets annoying. Likewise, I tried to set a leave-the-home lock automation, but it would always send a pop-up notification to enable it, making it rather useless if I’m driving or miss it. Just remember to lock it, and you’ll be okay.

The little white thing on the door frame in the video above is a sensor that tells the August app that the door is in the closed position. It is essentially a contact sensor that does not appear in Homekit (but could be exposed through Homebridge, so Reddit says). I guess it makes it work better? The door has still locked in the open position once for me, so no.

So, do I recommend this product? Yes and no. I’m so far not impressed with the auto-unlock and auto-lock features; I wish that they only worked if it sensed your phone within Bluetooth range coming and going, as to avoid being locked out completely. This may still be achievable with a new firmware update. I suspect that a few more updates should make it stabilize, but we just may see it become flawless in a generation 4.

My thought is that when Apple opens up its NFC API, we will see newer devices like this on the market that will use the phone more as a key and with less failure. In Tokyo, they use a newer NFC sensor to quickly let commuters pay for tickets on the subway (not used as slowly as Apple Pay) – kind of like EZ Pass or Express Toll is to your car. Walking up to this lock and confirming through Face ID or Touch ID will be a great two factor authentication method, if people want this setting turned on; even without, the lock would gain so much more functionality with NFC. That will be in the next few years, hopefully.

To summarize, the August Smart Lock is okay as a manual device; my only fault with it is that it requires you to verify with Touch ID if you’re on the lock screen and I get the security nature of that – which is why I wish the auto magic features were better. If you start out with little-to-no expectations, they will be exceeded in that regard. In terms of doing things automatically (like you really want it to), I would say to hold off until the software is sorted or a new generation is released.

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