Making my home slightly “smart” with a smart lock

I’ve always found the hype surrounding smart homes overblown, being able to look inside my fridge using a smartphone or saying “Alexa, switch on the lights” ..doesn’t seem to be solving much of a problem. Household keys, on the other hand, are well overdue modernisation. I’m conscious that if I lose my front key it will be a nightmare getting back in, plus being a landlord, it’s a pain getting keys cut all the time. Last year I spent £90 travelling to my rental property to let people into my flat which could potentially be avoided. All of this, plus the fact a friend recently lost my spare key made me do a bunch of research into smart locks. If anyone else is thinking about making the change, then hopefully my research helps you too.

Things you can do with a smart lock

I’m not someone that buys technology for the sake of it, I see tangible advantages of making the move from keys to digital. The main uses that make the investment worthwhile (IMO) are :

  • You can open your door remotely, for example to a tradesperson.
  • You can issue temporary PIN codes that only work at certain times.
  • Your door will automatically open and lock when you come in and out (based on your phone’s Bluetooth signal).
  • Seamless integration with AirBnB so guests are sent an auto-generated PIN code.
  • Fob, PIN and fingerprint access.

Brits slow on the uptake

I don’t know anyone with a smart lock, it’s fair to say that they haven’t taken off in the UK. Whereas, in the US they are far more popular with 35% of households claiming they would buy one in the next 12 months. Security doesn’t seem like a valid concern, as your average burglar would probably struggle more with a smart lock. One valid issue is smart lock battery/failure though, fortunately some vendors offer a good old fashioned key fallback.

Lock compatibility

Many smart locks are retrofitted so before you decide on a smart lock you need to make sure it’s compatible with your current lock. Mortice locks, night latches, cylinder locks and multi-point locking systems are the most common in the UK. Most smart locks work with cylinder, multi-point and mortice locks.

Mortice lock
Night latch
Multi-point lock
Cylinder lock

The main UK smart lock vendors

As you’d expect there are a load of choices but the biggest vendors are Yale, August and Nuki. There are various reasons I didn’t choose any of them:

  • Yale’s reviews look terrible. There are quite a few horror stories of people getting locked out. In addition, the installation sounds tricky, numerous comments that their app/software isn’t any good, poor support and they charge for additional digital keys.
  • August is one of the biggest vendors in the USA and available in the UK. However, their locks only work with deadbolts with an internal thumb turn. Their product wasn’t compatible with my lock.
  • Nuki is one of the leading smart locks vendors in Europe. Their product looked quite bulky and I felt it would look a little peculiar, if that doesn’t put you off then it does look easy to install.

“Worked beautifully for 3 weeks …. but I’m currently locked out of my house.”

A Yale smart lock reviewer

Ultion smart lock

After extensive research, I decided on the Ultion smart lock which uses a Brisant Secure cylinder lock (a key back up). Ultion are experts with traditional locks and have partnered with Danalock (a Danish company) who are experts with smart technology. Your requirements might be different, however, the following were all dealbreakers for me which were only solved by Ultion:

  • I want a traditional key as a backup in case of battery or technical failure,
  • I want a keypad to provide “disposable” PIN codes,
  • Aesthetically, I want something that doesn’t look ridiculous

In addition, I don’t want to pay for installation and Ultion Smart looks easy to install. The replacement Brisant cylinder lock is a major upgrade on my old cylinder. It’s anti-snap, anti-drill and anti-bump proof and considered one of the most secure on the market.

14 days post-purchase

I’ve been using Ultion’s Smart lock now for 14 days, here’s what I think.

Ultion Smart with Danalock PIN pad

Installation

First off, the installation isn’t as easy as they claim. I had to manually adjust the length of a metal bar that ‘s part of the cylinder lock because they sent me the wrong size. Therefore my first impression wasn’t good. If you get sent the wrong size then you’ll need to shorten the metal bar by breaking it with 2 pairs of pliers.

Using the Ultion smart lock

It took me a good 7 days of usage to workout out how to property use the lock, this in part is due to there being no documentation. You need to go to Danalock’s website to view the documentation online. I’m guessing this is because it’s a partnership between Ultion and Danalock and they don’t want to confuse you with Ultion and Danalock messaging. However, it’s more confusing my not having proper documentation.

The Ultion smart / Danalock app

Danalock/ Ultion smart app

The app is intuitive so you can be up and running quite quickly. There are a few features you need to experiment with though, to best optimise the setup. One recommendation I have is to use manual calibration instead of automatic. This “tells” the smart lock when your door is locked and unlocked. When I’d used the automatic settings, I had some unusual behaviour of the app being out of sync with the door “thinking” it was locked when it wasn’t.

The pin pad

The Ultion/Danalock pin pad works as expected. Although there’s an auto-lock feature available within the app (set on a timer) I prefer to be able to press the lock/padlock button on the pin pad. One of the nicest aspects of the PIN pad is it allows you to walk out of your home without keys and without a phone, which I often do when going for a run.

Summary

My Ultion smart lock after install (internal view)

Following a tricky installation and getting to understand how to best optimise the setup, I’m happy overall. The battery life seems to be good even though only 14 days later it’s still running at 100%. On a side note, the Ultion cylinder is a major upgrade to my previous cylinder lock. Ultion keys are difficult to get cut/copied but easy for the lock owner by supplying a unique key code and getting them delivered the next day. This non-smart feature alone is useful (especially for landlords). I’ve yet to connect my Ultion smart lock to the internet which is done via a gateway/home hub. This is optional and if like me your lock is your only smart device you may not need or want to. Keys have been in existence for 1000s of years, eventually, they’ll become a thing of the past, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. If you’re looking for a smart lock with a traditional key fallback then Ultion’s smart lock might be what you’re looking for. If you’ve got any questions about this lock, then feel free to leave them below.

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