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Smart Home

Altro Smart Lock doubles as a video doorbell at CES 2019

The motion-sensing smart lock features a built-in camera -- but can the rechargeable batteries keep up?

altro-smart-lock
Altro

From cameras to connected security kits, we've seen a surge in interest in smart home security over the past year or two. That's helped fuel a growing number of video doorbells, and it's put smart locks front and center for lots of smart home shoppers, too. Now, at CES 2019, a company called Altro is showing off a product that combines both into one.

That product is the Altro Smart Lock, and in addition to offering keyless control of your deadbolt, it functions as a video doorbell, complete with two-way audio that lets you talk through the lock with whoever's at your door. Shipping this month for $350, it isn't cheap, but it's more or less on par with what you'd expect to pay if you were buying a smart lock and a video doorbell separately.

The lock itself is entirely keyless, relying instead on a number pad that lets you punch in a code to get inside. The lock also uses Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to pair with your phone and your local network to let you control the lock remotely. Altro says that includes controlling the deadbolt with voice commands via Alexa and Google Assistant. You can also set the deadbolt to lock automatically when it detects that you're inside -- Altro says that autounlocking, for when you're at the door with a handful of groceries, is in the works too.

As for the video doorbell, it'll send your phone an alert whenever someone rings, letting you quickly pull up the app's video feed to see who's at the door and, if you like, talk to them. The lock will record video whenever it detects motion. There's no SD card slot for local storage of those clips -- Altro uploads encrypted video clips to the cloud.

With Wi-Fi, video recording, constant motion detection and the simple act of a motor turning your deadbolt, the Altro Smart Lock sounds like a pretty power-hungry device, and it's not like you can keep the thing plugged in. To that end, Altro's lock comes with two removable and rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that promise up to two months of juice. When one runs low, just swap it out for the other.

That's a little more high-maintenance than simpler smart locks that offer closer to a year of battery life from a set of AAs. With no place for a key and just two months of juice per charge (or less), the chances of a low-power lock out seem heightened. A USB port on the front of the lock lets you plug in a power source if the battery runs dead, but that seems less than ideal unless you're in the habit of carrying a battery pack in your purse. Something like the 9-volt nodes on the bottom of the also-keyless Kwikset Obsidian, which lets you hold a battery to the lock to give it enough power to accept your code and let you in, might have been a better choice.

At any rate, if we ever get the chance to test this thing out, expect a lot of scrutiny of those batteries.

Altro is a small startup in a smart home category that's about as competitive as it gets. Along with smart locks from established names such as Yale, Kwikset, Schlage and August, it'll need to wrestle attention from popular video doorbells such as the Amazon-owned Ring and the Google-owned Nest Hello. Calling that an uphill battle would be an understatement, to say the least.

Still, the idea of combining a smart lock and video doorbell into a single, all-in-one product is intriguing -- enough so that I'm a little surprised that no one's really tried it until now, even with the battery concerns. The closest thing to it that comes to mind is the Goji Smart Lock, a once-promising connected deadbolt with a built-in still camera for screening visitors. After crowdfunding tons of cash, the Goji completely failed to make it to market, leaving early backers fuming for refunds after years of delays and eventual radio silence. Here's hoping Altro fares at least a little better.

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