Level Lock+ now supports Apple Home Key for its stealth smart lock – Six Colors

Cupertino, January 30, 2024

When I reviewed the Level Bolt a few years ago, I was generally impressed with its unobtrusive nature and HomeKit integration. But while I've continued to use the Bolt since then, I've become acutely aware of its reliance on Bluetooth as the wireless connectivity of choice. Basically, Bluetooth just isn't the right choice for a smart lock: it's not inherently designed for proximity and it's always been temperamental. For better or worse, that lack of reliability meant that the Bolt ultimately ended up being little more than a lock of average intelligence for me. In the meantime, smart lock technology has advanced. Fortunately, Level has not been sitting idle either. Meet the Level Lock+, an improved version of Level's flagship smart lock that, in addition to Bluetooth, has added NFC, enabling support for Apple's home key standard. That felt like a good reason for me to give it a try, and Level was kind enough to give me a review copy to try it out. The Lock+ essentially replaces both the Level Lock and the Level Lock – Touch Edition, offering one model with all the bells and whistles. No surprise, all those bells and whistles come at a price: the Level Lock+ retails for $349, although that includes the Connect Wi-Fi bridge as part of the package (more on that later). Unlike the Bolt, the Level Lock+ is a complete replacement for your existing deadbolt, complete with keyway and rotating paddle. But like the Bolt, the Lock+ excels in that it doesn't stand out: if you don't tell anyone it's a smart lock, literally no one will ever know. Level offers the Lock+ in four finishes that match those of common door fittings: matte black, satin chrome, satin nickel and polished brass. I chose the latter, which fits nicely with my existing door fittings. In addition to the lock and installation hardware (including two different sized strike plates and a longer cover so the latch can be adjusted to different door sizes), the Lock+ package bundles a CR2 battery to power the motor, a pair of keys and a pair of NFC key fobs. The Art of Installation I probably had an easier time installing the Lock+ than most users: I was already using the Level Bolt and the internal mechanism of the Lock+ is basically the same size and shape. That meant I simply had to remove my existing deadbolt, pull out the two parts of the Bolt (the internal motor and the bolt itself) and replace them with the equivalents of the Lock+. There was an anxious moment when I realized I hadn't measured to make sure the Lock+ was the same size, a fact I only discovered when the deadbolt plate seemed slightly larger than the hole in my door. Luckily a few blows with a rubber mallet and everything was cured. With the Lock+ hardware in place, all I had to do was attach the keyway and paddle, screw them together, and insert the battery. All told, the whole process took maybe 10 minutes. (Although I have to add an asterisk at the end because of everyone's favorite: software. When I first set up the lock, I had some trouble adding it in HomeKit, mainly because I had neglected to rename my existing Bolt and tried "I wanted to use the same name for the Lock+. This led to the HomeKit process failing; I ended up having to reset the Lock+, which required me to remove the back of the case and press a small button on it. The problem was largely a problem of my own making, and it worked fine the second time.) Depending on your setup, one disadvantage of the Lock+ over the Bolt may be the physical keyway. Because the Bolt uses your existing deadbolt, you can keep your existing keys; This is useful if you have multiple locks with the same key. You can re-pair the Lock+ with any existing key, but Level recommends calling in a professional locksmith. Although I've rekeyed a number of locks over the years, I wasn't brave enough to tackle it with the test tool, so I was stuck with an extra key on my keyring. And of course, like all other smart locks, the Level Lock+ is always subject to the whims of your specific door. Level highly recommends that you ensure that your door opens and closes smoothly before proceeding with installation. Make sure you're connected. As with the Bolt, once the Lock+ is set up, you can access it via the Level app or the Home app. The former offers a number of features not available through HomeKit, including the ability to create time-limited passes for others (which requires them to download the Level app themselves), encrypt physical NFC key cards (available from Level for a separate fee. cost) and tweak settings such as volume level and range. To be honest, I rarely use it outside of installation. For those who don't use HomeKit, Level+ now allows integration for Google Home and Amazon Alexa, but there's a catch: you have to use the included Level Connect along with the Lock+. The Connect (which you can also buy separately) is essentially a Bluetooth-to-Wi-Fi bridge: connect it within six meters of your Lock+ and you can access the lock's functionality over your network. Unfortunately, each Connect only works with one lock, which can certainly get a bit cumbersome if you want to have several in your home. This is one place where HomeKit has a big advantage, because if you already have a compatible home hub (an Apple TV or a HomePod), all this functionality is already handled for you. There's another wrinkle in the connectivity story: while Level has said its smart locks will have Thread radios and would be updated to support Matter, the company has yet to implement that functionality - presumably this will happen in 2024, but given the ongoing evolution of the Standard it may take a while. So in the meantime the Level Connect. Home Key advantage And now the most important point: the reason for this review: Level's support for Apple's Home Key standard. I admit to some envy about Jason's home key-compatible smart lock, and now that I've used it for several weeks, I can say that envy was justified: the home key is a fantastic feature, and I can't stand it I can't imagine ever investing in a smart lock that doesn't support this. For those who haven't taken the plunge yet, the Home key lets you use your Apple Watch or iPhone to lock or unlock your door by holding the device nearby. And with Express Mode enabled, you don't even have to unlock or wake your device. In practice, I've almost always used my Apple Watch for this, since I don't have to dig into my pocket to get my phone out. Why wouldn't I just grab my keys? For me, the home key is much better than the location-based auto-unlock/auto-lock option that the Bolt offered. First, it requires intentionality on the part of the user, which greatly reduces both the number of false positives and the number of false negatives. On the other hand, it improves accuracy: given the proximity basis of NFC, the locking/unlocking takes place immediately, unlike the location-based Bluetooth system, which could have a significant delay time. In my use, the home key functionality is almost completely reliable. About 95 percent of the time it works exactly as I expect. About 5 percent of the time I encountered problems where I had to position my watch just right, or there was a mechanical problem where the door wouldn't close properly, for example because it wasn't locked all the way. Closed. In both cases I was always able to open the door with the house key, but it took a little longer. I think I used the physical key maybe once in the weeks I had Lock+ installed. To put it bluntly, this is how a smart lock should work. Sharing access requires setting up passes in the Level app. However, I have come across one asterisk with the home key functionality: sharing. For those in your household, it's not a problem: my wife had immediate access to our house key as soon as I added it, no additional configuration was required. But if we want to share access to the smart lock with, say, a friend from out of town or a contractor, we still have to go through Level's system; you can't share iOS home keys with people outside your household. (Some smart locks have "cards" that can be managed through the Home app, but Level doesn't appear to support that functionality.) That said, this is an Apple problem, not a Level one problem, and it is a feature that I hope the company will add in a future iOS update. Reach out and touch something. The Lock+ offers other features, but the only one I've used routinely is the 'Touch to Lock' feature. When this is enabled, you can place a finger on the outer lock housing and the lock will automatically engage. This means you don't even have to use your device to lock the door behind you, which I find very convenient. And since you lock the door, there isn't really a security issue. However, you can set a time window during which this feature is available after the lock has been used and/or detects the opening or closing of the door. Once or twice I've accidentally hit the housing when the door opened and triggered it, but those incidents are rare and it just means you have to unlock it again (usually when the door is open, so no big deal). There's a similar "Touch to Unlock" feature, but I didn't bother turning it on, largely because it relies on the Bluetooth geolocation features that I found so unreliable in the Bolt. However, I appreciate that there is a separate aspect to this feature that allows you to use Touch to Unlock within ten seconds of Touch to Lock, in case you suddenly realize you've left something in there. Verdict: It's a lock What I particularly liked about the Level Bolt was its unobtrusive nature, combined with its smart features, and the Lock+ improves on that in almost every way. The addition of home key support is a breeze, the Touch to Lock feature is much more useful than I thought it would be, and even though I had to replace my existing deadbolt,
the Lock+ style is seamless. At $349, the Lock+ certainly isn't cheap. Other house key compatible locks, such as the Schlage Encode Plus and the Yale Assure Lock 2, are available for less than $200. However, both also include keypads as part of their housing, which you may or may not consider from an aesthetic or functional standpoint. can address. But after using the Lock+ for a few weeks now, I'm having a hard time wanting to go back to the Bolt, which was starting to feel like a smart lock in name only. In addition to hopefully getting my own Lock+ to replace this test device, I also plan on adding one to our front door when we refinish it later this year. As skeptical as I've been about smart locks in the past, the home key has made me a believer and I'm ready to throw away my keys for good.

[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at @dmoren@zeppelin.flights or reach him by email at dan@sixcolors.com. His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is out now.]

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