Kwikset Kevo Bluetooth Deadbolt (2016) review: Kwikset's touch-to-open lock is back, and better than before
In 2013, Kwikset teamed with Unikey to bring touch-to-unlock smarts to your front door. The product was the Kwikset Kevo, a Bluetooth-enabled deadbolt that pairs with your phone and unlocks with just a tap when it detects you standing outside. It was a legitimately cool glimpse at a key-free future, but a high price tag and concerns about the physical security of the deadbolt made it tough to recommend.
Three years later, Kwikset is back with a second-gen Kevo. It's essentially the same touch-to-unlock smart lock as before, albeit with a couple of subtle yet important improvements. For starters, it's sturdier and more thoughtfully designed, with an interior housing that's much smaller than last time. It's stronger, too -- you can't force it open with the same brute attack that works on version one. And, in an especially welcome change, the "eKeys" that grant others access to your door are now free and unlimited.
All of that makes for a better Kevo, but at $230, it's even more expensive now than it was three years ago. On top of that, the second-gen smart lock also excludes a $25 key fob accessory that originally came included -- so you're getting less hardware for more money. The Kevo is still legitimately cool, but you need to really want that touch-to-unlock convenience in order to justify buying one.
First impressions and key considerations
Before you buy this smart lock or any smart lock, you're going to want to take a good look at your door. Lock it and unlock it a couple of times. Did you need to push or pull on the doorknob in order for the bolt to turn smoothly? If so, you'll need to realign the door, because smart locks can't hold the door in place as they turn the lock like you can.
You'll also want to take a look at your door's design. If it's cut to hold a mortise-style lock, for instance, then the Kevo won't fit. Most more traditionally-styled doors should work, but download the Kevo app and check your measurements before buying just to be sure. This would also be a good time to check compatibility with your phone, especially if you're an Android user -- Kevo only works with Android 5.0 and higher.
If everything checks out, then rest assured that installing the Kevo is a pretty simple process. In most cases, all you'll really need is a screwdriver and about 15 minutes. The app is helpful here, with detailed, step-by-step instructions and easy-to understand animated illustrations. The second-gen lock is also designed for an easier installation than ever, with color-coded insides and a single-cable connection between the interior and the exterior. Credit to Kwikset.
Once it's installed in your door, the Kevo looks more or less like any other standard deadbolt you might use. It's plain and inconspicuous, only lighting up when you touch it. I'm a fan of the low-key design, as the thought of bolting flashy, expensive-looking tech to the exterior of my home gives me pause. And, with three different finishes to choose from, you shouldn't have any problem picking a Kevo that'll blend in with your home's decor.
Not quite keyless
In addition to locks at the CNET Smart Home and the CNET Smart Apartment, I installed a second-gen Kevo on the back door at my own home in Louisville, Kentucky. It's the door I go in and out of each day when I leave for work and when I come home, and I wanted to get a sense of what the Kevo could offer my day-to-day.
I started by pairing it with my phone. With the app running in the background on your Android or iOS device, the Kevo will detect when you're outside. Then and only then will touch-to-unlock let you in.
Except it didn't. At the start of my tests, I had just upgraded to the newly released iOS 10, and iOS 10 launched with tweaks to how devices connect over Bluetooth. As a result, iPhone users needed to have the app open in the foreground before the lock would let them in. I stuck with the key.
Fortunately, subsequent iOS updates corrected the Bluetooth issue, and within a few days I was able to start using touch-to-unlock like normal. It worked reliably well over the rest of my week of tests, and never failed to let me in. The only exceptions were a handful of times where I had to tap on the lock two or three times before it'd open -- it's picky about your phone's specific location.
The reason for that is a good one. It's not enough just to be in wireless range of the lock -- the Kevo needs to know that your phone is outside of the door. Otherwise, anyone could tap to unlock your door any time you left your phone, say, sitting on a table just inside.
The downside is that the lock takes a few seconds to think before letting you in, and sometimes, won't let you in on the first touch at all. And, of course, you won't be able to tap your way inside if you leave home without your phone, or if your battery dies. For these reasons, you'll still want to keep the key on your keychain.
What about fob?
Your other touch-to-unlock option is to use the Kevo's fob accessory. It's a small bit of black plastic that clips to your keychain, and it houses its own Bluetooth radio. Pair it with the lock, and you'll be able to use it in place of your phone to get touch-to-unlock working.
I like the fob. In fact, I prefer it. With the fob, there's no worry about a software update messing things up the way iOS 10 initially did, and no concerns about other paired devices interfering with your connection, either. It's a dedicated link between you and the lock, and in my tests, it worked just as well as my phone did.
The only problem? The fob doesn't come included. It did in generation one, but now, you'll need to pay an extra $25 for it on top of the $230 that you're already spending on the lock itself.
About the app
As said earlier, the app does a nice job walking you through the installation process. After you install the lock, you probably won't need the app very much. You can use it to lock and unlock the door remotely (provided you're within Bluetooth range), but I never had reason to do so during my day-to-day tests. If you want to connect to the lock from beyond Bluetooth's limited range, you'll need to purchase the $100 Kevo Plus plug-in gateway to get the lock on your WiFi network.
The real post-installation purpose of the app is to help you manage multiple users. You'll do so using what Kwikset calls "eKeys." Send one to a friend's email address, and they'll be able to sync their phone up with the lock, too. From there, they'll be able to use touch-to-unlock to get inside, and you'll be able to see when they come and go in the app's history section.
eKeys come in three varieties: Anytime eKeys, Guest eKeys and Scheduled eKeys. Like the name suggests, Anytime eKeys will work indefinitely until you revoke access. Guest eKeys are just Anytime eKeys that only work for 24 hours, then expire. Scheduled eKeys come with optional schedule restraints -- you can give them an expiration date, or restrict them to work only on certain days or at certain times.
Best of all, Kwikset no longer charges you $2 per eKey. All three varieties are now completely free and unlimited -- a definitive win for the user base.
On the smarts front, I was underwhelmed with the Kevo's third-party integrations. Despite being around for three years, the Kevo doesn't work with any larger home automation platforms, and instead, only connects directly with the Nest Learning Thermostat and with video doorbells from Skybell and Ring. Kevo does offer integration with Amazon Alexa, but you'll need to purchase the $100 Kevo Plus Wi-Fi module. Competing smart locks do better, especially the August Smart Lock -- in addition to Nest, it also works with Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant to let you lock the door using voice commands.
The recent addition of an IFTTT channel for the Kevo helps, though. An acronym for "if this, then that," IFTTT is a free online automation service that connects things that don't work together otherwise. With the Kevo, you can trigger IFTTT-compatible devices and services each time your door is locked or unlocked (you can also limit those triggers to only fire when a specific person uses the lock.) For instance, you could create an applet on IFTTT that turns your Lifx smart LED bulbs on each time you unlock the door.
We tried (and failed) to break in
One last thing: This is a stronger, more secure deadbolt than generation one, which, three years ago, we showed was susceptible to a specific brute-force attack that uses a screwdriver and a tension wrench to force the lock to turn.
That's not the case any more. For generation two, Kwikset made sure to address the vulnerability -- even going so far as bringing the independent security expert who discovered it, Marc Weber Tobias, on as a consultant to help correct it. A vocal critic of the deadbolt used in the first Kevo, Tobias now calls it one of the most secure locks on the market, and even told me that he uses one in his own home when I spoke with him on the phone.
We didn't just take his word for it, though (he's on the Kwikset payroll now, after all). Instead, we broke out the toolbox and tried the technique out for ourselves, just like we did with the first-gen Kevo. CNET technical editor and all-around handyman Steve Conaway made the brute-force entry look easy three years ago -- but this time, he wasn't successful. The lock didn't give one bit, no matter how hard he tried.
In addition to the sturdier design, the SmartKey deadbolt inside of the Kevo is nearly impossible to pick, with very high ratings from independent testers and security experts. It's also designed to prevent lock bumping, a popular and alarmingly easy way of forcing cheap locks open.
On the cyber front, Kwikset uses end-to-end encryption for all of the lock's wireless transmissions, and doesn't connect to the cloud at all unless you purchase the Kevo Plus Wi-Fi extender. It would take a very skilled, very determined hacker to trick it into opening, and they'd need to be within Bluetooth range to do so.
If I had to pick a smart lock for my door right now, I think I'd go with the second-gen Kwikset Kevo. It isn't as well-connected as smart locks that are designed to work with larger home automation platforms, and it doesn't quite get us to the key-free promised land, but it's still a unique and futuristic gadget that works as promised. Touching to unlock is convenient, unique, and undeniably cool -- the charm of it never really wore off during my multitude of tests.
Still, $230 is a painful premium for an upgraded deadbolt, and it's more than the original Kevo cost despite the fact that the key fob accessory no longer comes included. I like this lock a lot, but I don't think I'd pay more than $200 for it.
EDITOR'S NOTE, 3/3/17, 4:10 PM: Since publishing this review, Kwikset eliminated the $2 fee to send someone an Anytime or Scheduled eKey. The text has been updated accordingly, and the Kevo's score has risen from 7.9 to 8.1 out of 10.