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Smart Locks - Demystified (Types, Benefits, Top Ten Features, Why You Should Buy One)

Smart Locks - Demystified (Types, Benefits, Top Ten Features, Why You Should Buy One)

January 02, 2018

More and more consumers ask me about Smart Locks. What are they? What are the different types available? What are the Benefits? What are the Top Ten Features? and Why should they Buy one?. There seems to be a lot of confusion and misunderstanding because of different terminology used by manufacturers. The answers, though strangely obvious, are not as straightforward.

Let us break this topic into separate sections and take a deep dive to understand them.

What exactly are Smart Locks?

To put it simply, a Smart Lock is your “normal mechanical lock” with some electronics integrated into it to make them more intelligent, thereby, giving the user Convenience, Flexibility and Freedom to make his life less stressful.

Smart Locks essentially have the same locking mechanism as a mechanical lock. These mechanisms can be broadly categorised as:

  1. Deadbolt
    A Deadbolt is always complimented by a separate Door Handle or a Door Knob (latch type lock).
    Deadbolt, Bluetooth Door Lock, Digital Door Lock, Electronic Door Lock, Smart Door Lock, Fingerprint Door Lock, Keyless Door Lock, Wifi Door Lock, Digital Deadbolt, Electronic Handle, Mortise
  2. Latch with Lever/Handle
    A Latch type lock can be in the form of a Knob or can have a Lever/Handle and is generally the only locking device on the door.
    knob, latch, lever, Bluetooth Door Lock, Digital Door Lock, Electronic Door Lock, Smart Door Lock, Fingerprint Door Lock, Keyless Door Lock, Wifi Door Lock, Digital Deadbolt, Electronic Handle, Mortise
  3. Mortise
    Generally speaking, a Mortise is the most secure type of lock and is usually fitted to Entrance Doors. Also, a Mortise lock will usually have a Deadbolt and a Latch working as a combination in one single unit.
    mortise, Bluetooth Door Lock, Digital Door Lock, Electronic Door Lock, Smart Door Lock, Fingerprint Door Lock, Keyless Door Lock, Wifi Door Lock, Digital Deadbolt, Electronic Handle, Mortise

Now let us try to analyse what makes a Lock “Smart”?

This is a question which has many answers. It is not about being right or wrong, but, the fact the lock has some additional functionality which can be used to make life easy for us.

In the world of non-mechanical locks, there are no set rules on the minimum requirements or which functions a lock “should” offer to “earn” the label "Smart". This makes it particularly difficult to differentiate a Smart Lock from a Digital or Electronic Lock. Let us take a minute to analyse what this means. Broadly speaking, non-mechanical locks can either be labelled as Digital locks or Electronic locks and they both are essentially the same. It is just the terminology; some Brands use the word Digital while others use Electronic. 

Types of Smart Locks: (Digital, Electronic, Hybrid)

The common “feature” in non-mechanical locks (Smart, Digital, Electronic or Hybrid) is that the primary method used to “operate” the lock is not a KEY. Hence the terms “Keyless Digital lock” or “Keyless Electronic lock”. Technically, most of the non-mechanical locks will have a key for backup and/or emergency purposes.

Typically, Digital or Electronic locks are stand-alone meaning they are not connected to the outside world via the Internet or GSM. In a way, they are just like a mechanical lock but you don’t use a KEY to operate the lock, you use one or any of the following as the Primary method to operate the lock:

  1. Pin Code or Password (via a Keypad - Touch Screen or Physical buttons)
  2. Access Card (via RFID, Mifare card or similar)
  3. Biometric (via a Fingerprint Sensor)

A Smart Lock is very similar to a Digital or Electronic lock but it is almost always “connected” to the outside world via at least one of the following:

  1. Home Automation Router/Hub (eg. Z-Wave, ZigBee etc)
  2. Internet (usually via WiFi)
  3. GSM (usually via a SIM card)
  4. Bluetooth (usually via a Smartphone and APP) 

To summarise, ALL Smart Locks are Digital / Electronic BUT not all Digital / Electronic Locks may be Smart. Please refer to the chart below where I have tried to put together the functions offered by various types of non-mechanical locks.

Electronic Lock

Digital Lock

Smart Lock

Pin Code/Password


Access Card

Bluetooth (Smartphone)

Home Automation

Internet (WiFi)


Remote Operations

 - Check Status Of the Lock

 - Grant or Revoke Access

Different Levels Of Access

Main differences between a Smart Lock and a Digital or Electronic Lock:

Digital / Electronic Lock
Smart Lock

A Digital or Electronic lock cannot be operated remotely.

All operations have to be programmed directly on the lock:

  • Local Configuration of a Pin Code/Password
  • Local Configuration of a Fingerprint
  • Local Configuration of an Access Card

A Smart lock can be operated remotely.

Most operations can be programmed From a Smart Device:

  • Remote Configuration of a Pin Code/Password
  • Configuring of a Fingerprint
  • Configuring of an Access Card
  • Remote opreration of a Lock
No ability to check the Status of the lock remotely.
You can check if the lock is “locked” or “unlocked” remotely.

Usually, the validity of a Pin Code, Fingerprint or Access Card is 24x7.

A Smart lock will generally allow a greater flexibility when configuring a Pin Code, Fingerprint, or Access Card for eg.:

  • Timed (specify a Time Period)
  • Permanent
  • Cyclic (Recurring Pattern)
  • One Time

 New Age – Hybrid Smart Locks

These are a new breed of "super" Smart Locks which have Dual-Homed Architecture. They can work Online via Cloud-Based eKeys and Offline via Intelligent Passcodes. They have the necessary "Smart" capabilities to operate remotely without the need of being connected to a Smart Home Automation Hub, Internet or GSM. They are sometimes known as Hybrid Smart Locks. These types of Smart Locks use a system similar to an RSA token which is usually used by Banks and eliminate the need of being connected to the Internet.

Some of the reasons you may want to consider purchasing a Hybrid Smart Lock are:

  1. A majority of users want Smart Security for their property but don’t necessarily have or want to spend big bucks on Home Automation. So, if you are on a Shoe String Budget these Hybrid Smart Locks are perfect.
  2. Some B&B properties don’t have Internet connectivity because of their remote location. In these cases, picking a Hybrid Smart Lock which can offer remote functionality without any connectivity is essential.
  3. A Hybrid Smart Lock can work independently as a stand-alone unit, it has no dependency on the Internet being up and running at all times.

Benefits Of A Smart Lock

Considering the popularity and rate of adoption, surely, there must be some compelling Benefits to install a Smart Lock! Lets us look at some of the main benefits of Smart Locks: 

  1. Freedom from Keys!
    - This has to be the number 1 benefit. In our busy and fast-paced lifestyle managing keys is most certainly something we want to eliminate.

    - Whether you own a B&B, Holiday Home, Motel, Home or Office – Managing Keys is a pain everyone hates. It is cumbersome, it takes a lot of time and effort but it is something that has to be done.

  2. Remote Access Management (Grant and Revoke Access)
    This is another huge benefit. We want the freedom to be able to Grant and Revoke Access to our property from Anywhere in the World! We no longer want to be bogged down by Geographical Boundaries.
  3. Different Levels Of Access
    We want to be able to Grant different Level Of Access depending on the nature of the requirements. Gone are the days of handing out a Key which can be used 24x7.
  4. Intelligent Security
    We want to know Who Accessed our property and When in Realtime. We want to be better informed and take appropriate action as it happens.
  5. Save $$$
    Installing a Smart Lock eliminates the need to ReKey your Lock, have new Keys Cut or to change your Lock depending on your circumstances.

What are the Top 10 features You should have in your Smart Lock?

While the needs will differ from person to person, in general, you should ensure a Smart Lock has at least the below-mentioned features:

  1. Ability to Auto Lock.
    If a Lock has the ability to Auto Lock itself after a preset time interval then you will have peace of mind as you won’t need to keep checking the status of the lock.
  2. Ability to configure a new Pin Codes or Access Cards with different validity periods remotely.
    This is quite important to have. You don’t want to travel to the lock to be able to Create or Delete a Pin Code or Access Card. 
    The Smart Lock should have the ability to program different validity periods for eg.:
  3. Ability to Online Cloud-Based and Offline Modes with Unlimited eKeys. 
    The Smart should support Online Cloud-Based and Offline Pin Code modes. This ensures continuous reliable Access Management with or without Internet Access. Make sure there are no limitations to how many eKeys you can issue and there are no Monthly subscriptions or Ongoing charges to pay. 
  4. The Smart Lock should have the capability to change the validity period of an existing Pin Code, Fingerprint or Access Card remotely.
    This is important because say you have a Short Term Guest in your B&B property and they have been granted a 10 day Code. If the guests decide to shorten or extend their stay you should be able to “adjust” their Pin Code remotely as required.
  5.  APP free access for Guests, Tradies, Delivery Guys etc.
    This is also an important feature to have. If you are the owner of a B&B property you don’t want your guests to down an APP on their Smartphone and register themselves to use it. Access for the guests should be relatively easy and straightforward.
  6. Ability to Delegate Admin Access to Multiple Phones to be able to Manage Pin Codes, Fingerprints and Access Cards.
    In a typical situation, you will want either your partner, your property manager or someone else to also have the ability to configure Pin Codes, Fingerprints or Access Cards. This is very useful if the primary person/phone is not available. This is also called Delegation of Admin Access.
  7. Ability to changeover all your Lock and User configuration from One Phone to another without loosing data. Also good to have is the ability to TRANSFER Lock Ownership to another User.
    Typically, a Smartphone is changed every 2-3 years. So, it is essential that the Smart Lock application can be easily migrated from one phone to another without loosing any data. In the case a user looses a phone there should be an easy and quick way to remove access from the lost phone remotely.
  8. Scrambled Decoy Pincodes.
    You must ensure the Smart Lock is capable of "Scrambling" Pin Codes. What this means is that you should have the ability to put in some FAKE Digits before and After your actual Pin Code. This ensures that if someone is "looking over your shoulder" they will not be able to know what your REAL Pin Code is. This makes your Smart Lock more Secure.
  9. Ability to review Access History remotely.
    The Smart Lock should be capable to report back the History of Access via any form of operation remotely.
  10. Ability to upgrade the firmware of Smart Lock “over the air”.
    Though not obvious, this should be a must-have feature of your Smart Lock. Over a period of time, you get Security Updates on your Smartphone or you upgrade the Operating System on your Smartphone or new Features are added to the functionality of the Smart Lock. All these changes will require an update of your Smart Lock application which is quite easy to do via the Apple App store or the Google Play store. However, some features might also require the Firmware on the Smart Lock to be upgraded. So it is imperative that the Smart Lock has the ability to update its own Firmware “over the air” meaning there should be no need to uninstall the Smart Lock to do the Firmware upgrade.
  11. BONUS - Another important feature to have is the ability to Sync your Smart Locks to your SmartWatch. This enables you to Open your door directly using your SmartWatch.

      Why Should You Buy One?

      By now, you should already be leaning towards buying a Smart Lock because of the Benefits. Smart Security with Convenience is going to make your Life easy and less Stressful. However, if you still not there yet let me summarise the key points to make your decision easier.
      The basic function of a door lock is to manage (or control) access to a property. We have been doing this for decades with our faithful mechanical lock, so, is there really a need to change over to a Smart Lock? The answer actually depends on your needs and your Lifestyle, but, most likely, the answer is Yes.

      The Primary reason to install a Smart Lock is Intelligent Security and Convenience

      - People want the ability and flexibility to “do more” in 24 hours.
      - Changes in today’s lifestyle:
         * People travel more
         * More People have an: 
              - Investment property, Holiday Home, Rent out a Room in their Home 
            and need a more Smarter way to Manage Access.
      - We have less trust in others now than a few decades ago
      - We lead an extremely busy life
      - We have smaller families and rarely someone is at home to grant access when required
      - More People seem to lock themselves out of their property due to stress

        Whatever your reason, a Smart Lock is instrumental is eliminating these main pain points:

        1. Key Management
        2. The ability to Manage Access to your property from Anywhere in the World.
        3. The ability to know who has entered your property in real-time.

        So, if you feel you have one of the above reasons or want to eliminate an existing pain point you are experiencing then you should go get yourself a Smart Lock. With the advent of major Iconic brands like Amazon (Amazon Key) jumping into Smart Lock technology, rest assured, there will be a lot of action within the world of Smart Locks in 2018.

        One last and most important thing to keep in mind before you head out to buy a new Smart Lock is SUPPORT. Ensure that you will get good, prompt support for your Smart Lock when you need it. The Smart Lock will most likely be fitted on your Front Door so it is imperative to be backed up with timely support. This is even more important to keep in mind when purchasing a "cheap" Smart Lock Online from overseas.

        Hopefully, you are now better informed about choosing the right Smart Lock for your property depending on your needs and requirements.

        This article is meant to help novice users understand Smart Locks and their use, benefits and functionality. It does not cover Home Automation as a topic.