Editor's note, Feb. 13, 2015: This review has been updated to account for the August Connect WiFi accessory.
Editor's Note, Aug. 20, 2020: In August 2020, PCMag and Bitdefender released a report alleging that August and Yale Android apps when working with Connect modules were vulnerable to a hack during setup mode that could give away Wi-Fi credentials. In August's latest response to CNET, it states, "If the Connect's firmware is up-to-date and the user's August Android app is up-to-date, their device will not be vulnerable to the original attack even if the unit enters into setup mode." The following review was published prior to this report and has not been altered.
The August Smart Lock nails most of the things I'd want in a connected door lock. It's easy to install. It looks good (yes, despite its size) and the August app (in iOS, at least) gives you the right balance between flexibility and keeping things safe and simple. The fact that it works with your existing deadbolt is also a plus.
The $250 asking price (international availability pending) puts August on the more expensive end of the smart-lock spectrum. The August Smart Lock also suffers from the same limitations as other connected locks. Because it's a Bluetooth-only device, controlling the lock with your phone when you're out of range requires either a compatible third-party hub or August's new $50 Connect accessory that you'll need to buy separately. Bluetooth also means you'll suffer from minor but still annoying lag when you first open the app to interact with the Smart Lock.
If the lag means you won't likely swap your physical key out for the August and a connected smartphone, this lock still gets enough things right that it's become our new favorite automated door control. We will certainly see more connected locks come to market over the next few years. This is the one they need to beat.
Not like other locks
We've reviewed a handful smart locks , and all of them but August involve wholesale replacement of your lock hardware. In the case of the August Smart Lock, it's designed to use your existing deadbolt and keyset, replacing only the thumbturn on the inside face of your door.
For the most part the complete lock sets have been fine, but we ran into trouble when we reviewed the Kwikset Kevo . The Bluetooth-based functions of that lock work well enough, but the deadbolt is not as secure as the company claimed. As we said in our review last year, the Kevo's Bluetooth tech is impressive, but the product as a whole suffers since you can't separate it from the lock hardware.
Because the August is a retrofit product, the quality of the deadbolt is up to you. As long as your existing lock uses one of the 100 or so compatible deadbolts on this list, you can add the August lock to it.
Read the directions with your August lock to make sure you match up the various pieces of mounting hardware with your existing deadbolt, but overall installation is simple and should only take about 15 minutes.
Essentially, you take off the thumbturn, and use your lock's existing screws to attach the August mounting plate and adapter to your door. To hang the August lock itself on the mounting plate, you lift up two little "wings" on each side of the lock, situate the lock on the plate, and the push the wings down to hold the lock in place.
In theory this installation should be simple, and if you align everything correctly it will be. If it doesn't all slide together easiler, you'll be tempted to push the lock in hard and force the wings down if you don't get a perfect fit at first. Don't. I broke one August by turning it too hard. If it doesn't latch on to the plate easily, start over.
Once you install the lock, or likely even after you take it out of the box, you'll notice that it's big. At almost 2.25 inches thick and 3.25 inches across, it's smaller than the boxy control units that come with most of the other smart locks we've seen, but between its size and its unique shape, August gives a bulky first impression.
I got used to its looks after a few days. There's a certain Duplo-inflected charm to its stubby, over-sized appearance. The silver case and the line pattern etched into the finish also look good (black, red, and "champagne gold" options also available). I also like that the metal ring around the lock functions as a mechanical turn for the deadbolt. It's crucial that any smart lock performs its basic lock/unlock functions regardless of whether it has power. August's approach does that well.
You use four included AA batteries to power the August. To connect it to your phone, download the August app, turn on Bluetooth, and follow the software walkthrough. It works with iOS 7-plus-based devices from the iPhone 4S forward, and with any Android 4.4 or greater-based device that also has low-power Bluetooth. The only difference between the two versions is that Android lacks a handy auto-unlock feature. August tells us it's working on adding it to Android in a future update.
During set up you'll create an account and manage a "Keychain" designed to handle multiple locks. You can name each lock, and if your account is dubbed the "Owner," you can manage all of the settings and distribute e-keys to anyone with a compatible smartphone or tablet.
August carves out an advantage for itself with its free, unlimited e-key distribution policy. Kwikset and other smart-lock makers charge you per key once you go past a certain allotment. That approach has always felt stingy, and I'm glad to see August expose it as such.
As with those other locks, you can also customize the parameters for each key you send out. You can set them for permanent access, allow them to work only on a certain schedule or set them to expire after a certain time. You can also revoke any of the keys, or upgrade a guest user to owner status instantly. Being an owner lets a user distribute keys of their own and grants geofencing-based auto-unlocking.
Just walk away
The auto-unlocking is one of the August Smart Lock's best features. For now it's only available to iOS users, but August says it hopes to turn it on for Android users by the end of the year.
With the auto-unlock feature enabled, the August lock will open automatically once you leave and then come back within 100 yards. I found this feature almost flawless. It will only work once you've traveled a sufficient distance away from your door. Every time I drove away from my house, or walked a significant distance and came back, auto-unlock worked exactly as expected.
The one time auto-lock failed was during the video shoot for this review, when I walked to what I thought was just past the 100-yard mark and then back again. My hunch is that you need to put more than 100 yards between yourself and the door for it to work. I'd like to test this further when I have the chance, but this was a minor hiccup given that the lock opened as expected every time I got home from work or after walking the dog.
Yes, you can use the lock in conjunction with the app and tap the virtual button in the app to lock and unlock the door. The lag that comes with Bluetooth, though, means that every time you open the August app it will pause for a few seconds while it finds the lock. After taking out your phone, opening the app, and waiting for the Bluetooth signal, you've lost any speed advantage over using a traditional key.
If you'd rather the lock open only when you're in close proximity to it, you might get your wish eventually. August says it's waiting to generate enough real world user data to see if wants to set a shorter auto-unlock distance or whether it will let you customize the distance yourself. The concern is that if works over too short a distance, you might unwittingly open the lock while you're still at home, causing a potential safety issue.
I don't blame August for acting cautiously here, although I can see how city apartment dwellers or others who may regularly leave their homes but don't travel far might want to adjust the distance. Consider accordingly before you make a purchase.
The other built-in automated feature is the Everlock setting, which will tell August to lock itself automatically 30 seconds after you've opened it. This feature also worked reliably, and it even works when your phone is turned off. August says it will let you customize the timing of this feature soon via software update.
Control from afar
To control the August outside of Bluetooth range, you'll need to bridge the device to your home WiFi network. Right now the only way to do that is via the company's new Connect WiFi accessory.
The August Connect plugs directly into a power outlet, and it must sit within 30 feet or so of the lock for a reliable connection, the closer the better. To join the two, select the new "WiFi Settings" option on your lock's settings menu in the app, and from there you'll get a brief prompt to map it to your home WiFi network. Once you've successfully paired the two, you can control August from anywhere you can get online.
Using an external device to get on your lock on your wireless network might seem cumbersome, but it's also the most maintenance-free approach given the current state of wireless technology. Built-in WiFi is certainly possible, but it also means reduced battery life. Along with August, Kwikset , Polycontrol , Schlage , Yale , and Lockitron all have locks either in production or coming soon that take this same approach.
What August does not do yet is work with other smart home devices. The company has announced integrations with SmartThings , the Logitech Harmony Home , and Apple's HomeKit, all of which would theoretically tie behaviors between the August lock and other smart home devices. As of this writing none of those partnerships are live.
For the rest of its app features, the August lets you see a complete lock/unlock record for each lock you're assigned to as an owner. It will tell you the time of each action, as well as the user responsible. This logging feature also has a guestbook attached, where a user can leave you a note. I can imagine this might be something an AirBnB owner would make use of.
To protect your account, August boasts "financial-level" digital security, which means 128-bit AES software encryption, as well as two-factor authentication for your account log-in. It says it has taken more precautions, but it won't disclose what they are. In all, that seems as robust as most consumer-grade home security products. If you lose your phone, you can simply log in to your account from another device and remove access from the one that's missing.
It's hard not to like the August Smart Lock since it works so well and is so easy to use. From the free e-keys and logical user management, to the reliable automated lock and unlock settings, this lock can legitimately make a small element of your life easier. Yes, both the lag I encountered and the lack of true Internet-based controls are annoying, but those issues feel like limitations of the current technology, rather than design oversights or corner-cutting.
Like the Nest Learning Thermostat , the Philips Hue Connected LED light bulbs and other hyped smart-home products, you will pay what feels like an ambitious premium for the privilege of owning the August Smart Lock. The price isn't so far off from that of its competition, though, and what you get here is a noticeably more polished smart lock.