The lock has potential, but its flaws are just too much to get past.
Owning a bicycle brings me a tremendous amount of joy. I love the convenience of riding through a city and stopping off to explore shops, parks and cafes. The downside to such adventures though is needing to lock up my bike so someone doesn't take it. And even then a lock doesn't guarantee my bike won't be stolen.
Last year, a San Francisco-based company named Lattis, launched the Ellipse smart bike lock . It's a U-Lock packed with sensors, batteries, a solar panel and Bluetooth that connects to your phone.
In lieu of a physical key, I secure the lock with the Ellipse phone app available on Android and iOS. For basic locking and unlocking, the app works simply enough -- I tap the big blue button on the screen and voila! It's locked. I tap it again and bam: Unlocked.
The Ellipse is forged of hardened steel similar to other premium bike locks. The shackle is flattened to make it more difficult to saw or grind off.
Though I dig that the smaller design is pocketable, I wish there were was an option for a longer shackle. I would often find it nearly impossible to get the Ellipse through my bike's frame and wheel while securing it around a parking meter pole.
There's a dual-locking mechanism to secure both sides and the Ellipse is rated IPX4 which means that can handle the occasional splash. Here in San Francisco there was never enough rain to challenge that claim. In addition, the Ellipse has built-in batteries. There are two ways to charge: Through the Micro-USB port or via the cleverly integrated solar panel.
In everyday use, the lock worked… okay. But there were many times I struggled with it. For example when we filmed the video accompanying this review, I tried to lock my bike to a thicker post and ended up dropping my phone and cracking the screen. This scenario happened frequently: Holding the two pieces of lock and my phone, while tapping the screen to force the Ellipse closed.
The Ellipse app does provide a "handsfree" alternative called auto lock and auto unlock. To use, I close the Ellipse around my bike and the rack, walk away, and the app automatically triggers it to lock. The same thing happens in reverse to unlock it: I just have to walk towards the lock.
This is a good idea, but it doesn't work consistently. Sometimes it took an unnerving amount of time for the lock to trigger. Also, this doesn't quite solve the problem when I had to physically hold the Ellipse closed to lock it. I wish the Ellipse was integrated with the Apple Watch or Wear OS device to free up my hands.
There were also instances when my phone's Bluetooth connection was off, and I had to wait for it to connect to the Ellipse and then unlock it. For those moments, I opted to use the lock's built-in touch keypad. But even then, the keypad was annoying, too. It feels like touch technology from 10 years ago. I was only able to enter my passcode successfully when I used a deliberately slow touch.
As for the battery, during the months I used the lock, it always had a charge thanks to the solar panel. An hour of sunlight gives the Ellipse enough power for a week. I'm curious how well these batteries will age over years of use. My current bike lock that doesn't need batteries is 8 years and still works great.
In the end, the Ellipse lock did what it was supposed to do and my bike wasn't stolen. I found the handful of "theft detection" notifications sent to my phone useful, even if they ended up being caused by someone who just bumped my lock (which was usually the case).
The Ellipse uses its built-in accelerometer to detect crashes and can send an SMS text to a person you set as a contact. One time, I had the Ellipse on my handlebars while riding and the bumpy streets shook it enough to trigger a crash detection notification. Moments later a worried friend called me to make sure I was okay. On one hand, I'm glad the crash detection worked, but on the other, I didn't have an actual crash. I ended up keeping the lock in my bag to prevent another false crash text.
Both theft and crash detection are two of the best features of the Ellipse, but these instances of false detection generally sum up my whole experience with the lock. Lattis' approach to the Ellipse's design is well-thought, but its execution doesn't hold up in the real world. The Ellipse is inconsistent and frustrating. Even the app needs some improvements -- for example, I never got the friend sharing feature to work. The Ellipse costs $199 which converts to £150 and AU$270. It's hard for me to recommend this lock at that price.
That being said, Best Buy and Amazon are currently selling the Ellipse for $152 and REI offers it for just $100 which to me makes the lock worth considering. But you'll have to ultimately decide if the tradeoffs are worth the frustrations.