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August Pro

Noting the convenience of smart locks at a couple of Airbnbs we stayed in, I started looking at the various options over a year ago.  Smart locks are expensive, so you want to be sure you really want to live with one, and I didn't want big honkin' brass panels on both sides of my door, which eliminated most of the options on the market.  Then I stumbled across the August Smart Lock Pro.  It was getting quite good reviews, and I especially liked that it simply replaced the little flippy thingie on the inside of a deadbolt, and it would change exactly nothing in terms of how we already used our deadbolt. We could use the same keyhole on the outside of the door we have been using, and the smart lock on the inside of the door could be turned to lock and unlock -- just as we had with the flippy thingie.  Not to mention that there is no huge panel on the inside -- just a silver or black cylinder -- kind of big compared to what was there, but understandably so because it has to be able to fit four AA batteries.

Without taking away analog functionality, the device also allows you to lock and unlock your door using an app on your cell phone, by telling your smart speaker to lock or unlock the door, or using an optional keypad.  The package I bought included a WI-FI bridge, which you need to access the lock remotely and/or to interface with Alexa.

Smart locks are like smart light bulbs. Their basic functions are 'on' and 'off', and while they often offer more ways to use the devices, they are fairly simple to use.  Once installed the August app presents you with a big button that is green when the door is unlocked and red when it is locked. The August app also has a widget on the iPhone, making it easier to access the lock without loading the actual app.  I also installed it so that Siri and Alexa could control it, and, again, it's easy to use. Say 'Alexa, lock the front door', and she will if she can, and the same with Siri (it also works with Google Assistant).

August ProWifi bridge and key padThe real question is how easy or hard is it to install?  The Smart Lock Pro turned out to be remarkably easy to install.  The only tool needed was a Phillips-head screwdriver.  I taped the keyhole portion of my existing lock to the door so it wouldn't fall out when I took off the back plate (tape is supplied).  I unscrewed the two screws holding my existing lock together, and removed the inside portion, the one with the flippy thingie.  using the same screws I replaced that portion, replacing it with a metal plate that comes with the lock.  I raised two spring-loaded handles on the back of the lock, fitted it over the plate, and let go of them -- now the lock is attached to the door.

I pressed my finger on the August logo, which angles the face plate so you can remove it (it is held on magnetically, so no tools needed here.  Then I removed a plastic tab that was keeping the batteries from connecting, and replaced the face plate.  I cranked up the app on my phone, created a user account, then followed simple directions that the app walked me through to recognize the lock.  The app even made Siri (Apple Homekit) setup very easy, again, walking me through the steps.

Now there were two optional steps to go.  The kit had DoorSense gadgets that tell the lock whether or not the door is open.  The easy way is the less attractive way, simply screwing or double-sided taping a white slug-shaped thing on the door jam near the lock.  The hard way involves drilling a hole in the door jam and inserting a circular plastic thing into the hole.  The easy way is less attractive, leaving this slug thing in view -- it looks like a home security alarm sensor.  I opted for the easiest way, on the grounds that I could do it the hard way later, but also because it involves less damage to the door (if we move I will want to take the lock with us -- I also saved the flippy thingie piece of my existing lock in a place where I can find it just in case).  I can always change my mind later.

Setting up the WI-FI bridge was more of a problem, because it didn't appear to be connecting to the Internet.  August suggests placing it near the lock, but that put a wall between it and my router.  So I tried installing it in the room with the router, and that did work.  The last piece was to go into the Alexa app on my phone and enable the August skill, pretty much the same routine I had gone through with light bulbs and our thermostat.

If you want Alexa to unlock your door you have to set a code so that just anybody can't yell 'Alexa, unlock the front door!' and then come in and rob you.  I thought that would be a nuisance, but after trying it a few times I realized it was no trouble at all.  I used a four-digit code that me and my wife can both remember.

As with most smart locks you can invite friends and family members to use the app with temporary or permanent access that you control using the app on your phone.  You can also set it to automatically unlock when you approach the door, and then lock as you walk away.  I have not tried this yet -- our front door is right next to the stairway in our house, and i am afraid that every time I go upstairs or into the kitchen it will unlock when i pass by, and lock when I'm far enough away, kind of like those automatic doors in the supermarket.

But I have told Siri to unlock the door a few times as went from my car to the door, and that's pretty swell, especially when your hands are full and fiddling with keys is a nuisance.

I did encounter one problem, which does impact the lock even though it's not its fault.  Our front door is metal that contracts on extreme cold days,so the bolt no longer aligns perfectly with the locking plate in the door jam.  By jiggling the door you can get it to line up and get the deadbolt closed, and depending on how cold it is, you might have to jiggle pretty hard.  Of course the day I installed the lock was quite cold, so I spent some time adjusting the locking plate, and will need to do some more.  Because one thing the smart lock doesn't do is jiggle the door on cold days (I haven't had it long enough to know, but I strongly suspect it won't jiggle the door on warm days either).

The app also walked me through installing the keypad and assigning it to my lock.  Once set up you punch in the number and press the Enter key (which is the August logo) to lock or unlock the door.  I am finding significant lag time between punching in the number and the lock actually locking or unlocking.  And one time I mis-entered the number, because after an interval the keypad beeped at me.  Using the app is instantaneous, so I think giving out phone app keys is the best way to use this lock.  The app logs all activity so you can tell when a wrong number was entered, as well as each time the door is unlocked or locked and by whom.

Now I can either enable a key for people we want to have access using their smart phones, or assign them a secret key (both of which which I can revoke at any time).  Or I can still give them a physical key -- you know, that little metal thing with the jagged edge.

So far, except for the weather, the experience has been quite good.  In addition to my physical key, but I now have four other ways to lock and unlock my door (Alexa, Siri, keypad, and the August App).

One of the great benefits is that after I have gone upstairs to bed, when I have one of those sudden sit up straight from a sound sleep thinking 'did I lock the front door???' all I have to do is ask Siri or Alexa and she'll tell me.  No need to get out of bed if she says it's locked.  It's probably worth the cost or a smart lock, just for that.  But for the security of knowing you can get in your house if you lose or forget your keys, or let the cat-sitter in from wherever you are traveling when you forgot to give her a key... and the absolute absence of disruption to your daily routine or even to the look of your front door, the August Pro is a great choice.
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