Saturday, May 21, 2022

Schlage Encode Plus smart lock review: Unlocking your door is now as easy as using Apple Pay

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For years, smart locks have allowed us to throw away the keys and unlock our front doors through our phones. But while smart locks can be quite useful, especially if they have PIN pads or fingerprint scanners, using your phone to unlock the door can be just as cumbersome as searching for the right key in the dark. You have to take out your phone, unlock it, find the right app, tap the unlock button and wait for the lock to respond.

Schlage’s new $299.99 Encode Plus, which was announced earlier this year and is now available to buy, simplifies that enormously. As one of the first smart locks to use Apple’s Home Key standard, announced at WWDC 2021, unlocking the Encode Plus is as simple as tapping your phone or watch against the keyboard and waiting for the green light. You don’t need to open an app, tap a button, or even unlock your phone. The whole process is similar to, but even easier than, buying something with Apple Pay.

The Encode Plus is not exclusive to Apple devices, unlike some HomeKit video doorbells. It works with Android phones via the Schlage app and integrates with Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant. It also has a pin block for guests or family without a phone, plus a traditional keyhole.

But if you want to pay three Benjamins for this smart lock, you really need to have an iPhone with you or use an Apple Watch as the best trick only works with those devices.

In terms of design, the Encode Plus is very similar to the earlier Schlage Encode locks. The obvious keyboard doesn’t try to hide the fact that it’s a smart lock – in fact, the only noticeable difference between this and previous versions is the brackets around the 5 button that tell you where to tap your phone or watch. It’s not particularly subtle, but it’s far from the ugliest smart lock I’ve come across.

You can get the Encode Plus in two different styles with two different finishes for each; the review unit I tested is the Century design with a satin nickel finish. Underneath the keypad is a sleeve for a traditional key (one key comes with the lock), which can come in handy if the batteries ever run out and you’re locked out. But the primary way you want to use the Encode Plus is through the keyboard or by tapping your phone.

The back of the lock, or what’s on the inside of your door, is bigger and blockier than the front. It has room for four AA batteries, which Schlage says will last up to six months if the lock is used on Wi-Fi or up to a year if you use it with Thread. I’ve been testing the lock on my primary input for nearly two months, and the Apple Home app reports that the battery has 82 percent left. The lock sends alerts to your phone when the batteries are low. (Schlage does not recommend using rechargeable or lithium AA batteries, as their voltage can interfere with the battery life reporting system.)

The Encode Plus has a simple design, but does not hide the fact that it is a smart lock.

The only hardware feature missing here is a fingerprint scanner, which is slightly easier to use than a keyboard and can come in handy if you have kids who don’t have phones or Apple Watches of their own. But with my family’s lifestyle and usage, we didn’t miss any in the time I tested the lock.

Installing the lock is simple: it only requires a Phillips screwdriver and about 15 minutes of time. My front door is quite old and doesn’t close quite perfectly when you close it casually, something that has tripped motorized door locks in the past. But the Encode’s deadbolt has a slight taper on each side, which helped it close when the motor turned the lock — and made up for the misalignment of my door.

The motor itself is not completely silent and you can hear it buzzing when it automatically locks or unlocks the door. (Soft chimes accompany the action to let you know if it succeeded or failed.) Thankfully, it’s not particularly loud, nor does it have an annoying grinding noise like some of the older smart locks.

An iPhone displays the lock options in the Apple Home app for the Schlage Encode Plus

You can control the lock remotely or set up automations in the Apple Home app if you have a Home Hub such as a HomePod Mini or Apple TV.

If you plan on using the Encode Plus with an iPhone and Apple HomeKit, you don’t even need to download the Schlage app. You can add the lock directly to the Home app on your phone, configure access codes and control it directly or through automations. If you have a HomePod Mini or a second-generation Apple TV 4K, the Encode Plus connects via the more energy-efficient Thread protocol. Otherwise, it uses Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to connect to your other devices.

Adding the lock to the Home app also automatically adds the Home Key card to the Wallet app on your iPhone and Apple Watch — and to anyone else’s you’ve added to your Home. From there, you can enable Express Mode, which activates the key card without having to unlock your phone or watch. Just tap it against the front of the lock and you’re in. If you want an extra layer of security, you’ll need to disable it to unlock your phone before unlocking the door.

If you’ve ever used Apple Pay, getting used to Home Key is very easy. Since I almost always have my phone in my hand when I get home, I can just tap it against the lock — no fiddling with keys or opening an app and waiting for it to load. I can tap the phone to lock the door or just press the little lock button on the bottom right of the keyboard. Outside of automations that unlock the door for me, this is by far the easiest way I’ve worked with a smart lock.

The Home Key card displayed on an Apple Watch

When you add Encode Plus to your HomeKit home, the Home Key cards are automatically added to the Wallet app on your iPhone and Apple Watch.

The Apple Watch integration works the same way, but it’s a little clunkier because it’s not as easy to twist my arm around to tap the watch against the front of the lock as using my phone. But if you’re the type to stash your phone in your bag, the Watch integration comes in handy.

You can also program different guest codes in the Home app for other family members or visitors. This functionality is quite simple; you can name the guest and set a code, but there is no option to limit it to a specific time block or give it an expiration date. To remove access, remove the guest in the Home app.

Since the Encode Plus is fully integrated into the Home app, you can set up various automations to automatically lock or unlock the door or activate other devices when you operate the lock. You can also set up geofencing rules to automatically lock or unlock the door when you leave or come home.

Controlling the lock from the Home app over a Thread connection is very fast – much more than Bluetooth or Wi-Fi locks. There were a few times when I pressed the button in the app and before I even looked up from my phone, the door was already locked.

The Schlage app on an iPhone with several options for the Encode Plus lock.

The standalone Schlage app is required to set up integration with Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. It also offers a few options that are missing from Apple’s Home app.

The Schlage app offers a few more options, including the ability to have the door lock automatically after a specified period of time (between 15 seconds and 4 minutes, depending on your preference). It also offers the option to connect the lock with Alexa or Google Assistant to control it on those platforms. While iPhone owners don’t need to use the Schlage app at all, Android phone users will need to use it for setup and to operate the lock. Once it’s set up, Android owners can also control the lock via the Google Home or Amazon Alexa apps.

While the Encode Plus is firmly on the expensive side of the smart lock spectrum (it’s not hard to find options for well under $200 right now), it offers the best experience I’ve had with a smart lock yet. , especially if you own an iPhone and a HomeKit smart home.

Photography by Dan Seifert / The Verge

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