Kwikset Kevo Bluetooth Deadbolt (2016) review: Kwikset's touch-to-open lock is back, and better than before

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The Good The Kwikset Kevo is a uniquely convenient smart lock that can let you in with a single touch. The second-gen model is designed better than before, with a smaller interior footprint, easier installation and resistance against brute-force attacks. All "eKeys," including time-restricted ones, are now free and unlimited.

The Bad The second-gen Kevo no longer includes the helpful key fob accessory, but it still costs more than generation one.

The Bottom Line This is a very solid smart lock that offers a true convenience upgrade for your front door.

8.1 Overall
  • Features 9
  • Usability 7
  • Design 9
  • Performance 7

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 want to make sure the Kevo will work with your door before buying one.

Chris Monroe/CNET

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.

The Kevo will flash blue when you tap on it to let you know it's thinking. When it decides to unlock the door for you, it'll flash green.

Chris Monroe/CNET

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?

For an extra $25, you can pair the lock with a keychain fob accessory instead of your phone.

Chris Monroe/CNET

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.