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Christmas Gift Guide
Gadgets

Hands-on with the Quicklock NFC padlock

Ideal for both personal use and work environments, this smart lock opens as if by magic. And now it has a lower price, too.

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The Quicklock can be opened with a key card, shown here, or a ring or fob. Rick Broida/CNET

Padlocks date back to Romans, though the etymology of the word itself is a bit more recent: sometime between 850 and 1000 A.D. such locks were used to secure livestock in their pens -- better known as paddocks. So: "paddock lock" became "padlock," at least according to Wikipedia.

Functionally speaking, not much has changed. Then, as now, most padlocks relied on a key or combination. That's one reason I'm so fascinated by the Quicklock: It's the first padlock that can be opened with the simple wave of a card, fob or ring. (A tap on your smartphone will work, too.)

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The Quicklock fob. Quicklock

That's because the Quicklock incorporates near-field communication (NFC) technology, the same exact tech that drives Apple Pay and various other forms of wireless wizardry. It also features Bluetooth, meaning it can be unlocked via Android or iOS app, should you prefer that option. (As of press time, the Android version was still awaiting approval for the Google Play Store. The developers expect it to arrive in a matter of days.) Update: The Android app isnow live.

I got the chance to test-drive a Quicklock and came away mostly impressed. Available in four colors, the die-cast zinc body resembles that of a traditional padlock, albeit without the usual combination wheel, and feels very solid and substantial. The shackle seems a bit flimsier, if only because its matte finish gives it a sort of plasticky look. The entire package is waterproof, and therefore suitable for outdoor use.

Because there's wireless technology behind the scenes, the lock does rely on a rechargeable battery. But it's good for up to two years(!), according to the company, and you can recharge it via an included standard Micro-USB cable.

The various NFC "keys" incorporate RFID and therefore require no batteries of their own. They're also waterproof. To unlock the Quicklock, you simply press the sole button on the front, then pass your card, fob or ring over the logo. I tested this dozens of times with the card; it worked flawlessly every time.

However, even if your smartphone has NFC capabilities, it can't be used in the same pass-over fashion. That's due to the limitations of the implementation, according to Quicklock. Instead, you have to pair it via Bluetooth -- and I had trouble accomplishing this with my iPhone: the app simply wouldn't detect the lock.

I'm waiting on a response from the company's tech-support department and will update the post if and when this issue gets resolved. Update: App pairing is now working. Make sure to tap Add Lock even if the app appears to be trying to connect already.

When it's working, the app allows you to not only unlock the Quicklock, but also see a record of other users who unlocked it, and when, using what method (card, ring and so on). This could prove extremely handy in a work environment, where multiple employees have access to, say, a supply locker.

When it was first announced in February, the Quicklock had a starting price of $79 -- steep for a padlock, even one as advanced as this. I'm happy to report that it now sells for $49.95 (around £30 or AU$60; it ships worldwide), a price that includes one NFC card. You can purchase additional cards in packs of 5 or 10 ($11.95 and $21.95), while a set of three NFC keychain fobs will run you $11.95. A single NFC ring runs $36.95, which seems disproportionately high.

Even so, the Quicklock is a very cool product, and definitely more practical than a traditional padlock, at least for some applications. Is it wrong that I now want a compatible RFID tag embedded in my finger?