Kwikset Kevo review: This brainy smart lock just isn't brawny enough

Another minor quibble is that your iPhone will vibrate and make the "new mail" sound whenever you activate the lock. I like feeling that buzz in my pocket and knowing that the process is working, but the app doesn't currently offer a way to change the sound, or mute it completely. Look for that to change in the near future as the app gets updated.

All that said, my favorite part of the app is that you can sort of forget about it. Unless you're managing multiple eKeys, you can safely store it out of sight in a folder once you're all set up, because you won't ever need to run it in order to open your lock. Your phone can be asleep in your pocket, and as long as you have Bluetooth turned on, it'll work with the Kevo.

The app looks stylish, but it isn't quite as intuitive as I'd like. I found myself getting a bit lost looking for specific functions, unable to remember which icon to press in order to find my way. It's the kind of thing that I'm sure you'd get used to with repeated use, but as I just wrote, I'm not sure that I'd be using the app all that regularly. To be fair, this also means that the app's ease of use really isn't that big of a deal, at least not to someone like me.

Android users will be stuck using the fob for touch entry, or a plain old key -- at least for now. Colin West McDonald/CNET

Because the Kevo lock isn't connected to the Internet, you also can't use the app to control it remotely like you can with other smart locks. If my friends called me while I was at work and needed to get into my place for some reason, I wouldn't be able to unlock the door for them through the app. I could send them an eKey, but if they don't have a smartphone with Bluetooth 4.0, they're out of luck.

That brings us to the true elephant in the room. Since the Kevo relies on Bluetooth 4.0, it currently only works with compatible iOS devices (iPhone 4S and newer, iPad 3 and newer, or the fifth-generation iPod Touch). Android 4.3, BlackBerry 10.1, and many other smartphone operating systems don't use compatible Bluetooth hardware, so they can't use the Kevo. That's an awful lot of people left locked out.

Kwikset's people say that they hope Bluetooth 4.0 will expand to these devices soon, and as soon as it does, they promise to be ready shortly thereafter. In the meantime, they suggest that slighted Android users simply use the key fob for touch-to-open entry, then migrate to their phones as soon as the hardware becomes available. We'll see how that plays, but I suspect it'll end up sending a fair deal of business toward the Lockitron, Goji, and August -- all three of which are supposed to support both iOS and Android devices.

The Kevo is available in three different finishes. Kwikset

Modern smarts, same old parts
The heart of the Kevo is Kwikset's SmartKey deadbolt, which has been around for a few years now as an upgrade over the standard Kwikset deadbolt. The SmartKey uses a unique horizontal slider in place of the classic pin and tumbler setup, and this means that lock can't be bumped. The SmartKey deadbolt is also notoriously difficult to pick, boasting top certification from Underwriters Laboratories, the third party organization that tests how resistant locks are to being picked.

However, the SmartKey's horizontal slider creates some new vulnerabilities, too. Unlike standard locks, the SmartKey deadbolt is particularly susceptible to certain forced entry methods involving common tools like screwdrivers, tension wrenches, and blank keys. In today's age, there's no more "security by obscurity." These techniques are out there on the internet for anyone to research, and unlike lockpicking, they don't take much skill or practice to execute correctly. A thief will need to know that you've got a SmartKey deadbolt before arriving at your door, which might be a bit far-fetched, but still, it's a legitimate concern.

Still, Kwikset has a lot of confidence in their SmartKey deadbolt, and are quick to note that almost every lock is vulnerable to some sort of forced entry. I agree with this to an extent, though for over $200, I think it's fair to expect a lock that's more secure than the average deadbolt. Still, I appreciate the Kevo's multiple layers of digital encryption, as well as the SmartKey deadbolt's very cool rekeying technology, which will let you manually alter the lock to fit a new key in just a few minutes, with no need to remove it from the door or call a locksmith. If you want your new Kevo deadbolt to work with the same key you use for the knob lock, or if you want to change the lock so your creepy ex-roommate's key won't work, then you're in luck.

The interior half of the lock is definitely larger than your average deadbolt. Colin West McDonald/CNET

Like many Kwikset locks, the Kevo is available in three common exterior finishes -- Satin Nickel, Polished Brass, and Venetian Bronze -- so you shouldn't have any trouble matching it to your door's decor. As for the interior half of the lock, it's definitely larger than a standard deadbolt (after all, it has to house the Kevo's motherboard, along with the batteries that keep it powered). The size wouldn't bother me, but for some, it might be too much of an interior footprint. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Kwikset try and shrink the design down a bit for the next generation of Kevo deadbolts.

Kwikset also knows how to make locks that are easy to install, and the Kevo is no exception. You don't need to be Bob Vila to get this thing into your door -- all you'll need is a screwdriver and about 15 minutes, tops. The Kevo is designed to easily adjust to doors of different thicknesses, so if you aren't sure how thick your door is, you'll want to grab some measuring tape, too.

You can install the Kevo in about 15 minutes using only a screwdriver. Colin West McDonald/CNET

Service and maintenance
The Kevo runs on four AA batteries, which come included and should last about a year before you need to replace them. When the batteries are running low, you'll receive notifications within the app, and the lock itself will also flash red. The key fob also has a flashing light that'll let you know when its CR2025 battery is running low.

In the event that you lose your phone, you can log on to Kevo's Web portal and delete it from the lock. You can also initiate a hard reset on the lock itself. You'll need to use the key or the key fob to control the lock until you find your phone or replace it. If you need to replace a key fob, or if you'd like an additional one, they're available for purchase as standalone accessories directly from Kwikset.

The Kevo comes with a lifetime warranty on the mechanics and finish of the deadbolt, along with a one-year warranty on the lock's electric components.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Conclusion
$219 is a lot to pay for a deadbolt, and I can already hear the jokes about keys never needing to have their batteries replaced. But the Kwikset Kevo is much more than just a novelty. It's a step forward. It's the kind of device that makes us reimagine what technology can bring to our daily lives. And yes, it's downright cool.

This is why it's such a shame that Kwikset didn't opt to upgrade the deadbolt itself for a higher level of security against forced entry. It's a smart lock, maybe the smartest we've seen yet. But I can't say that I'd call it a strong lock, and for the money you'll spend on it, that's more than a little bit disappointing -- certainly enough so to warrant holding out and seeing what August and Goji have to offer.

Editors' Top PicksSee All

 

Join the discussion

Conversation powered by Livefyre

Hot Products