Smart locks have allowed us to get rid of the keys and open our front doors from our phones for years. But while smart locks can be very handy, especially if they have pinpads or fingerprint scanners, using your phone to unlock the door can be as cumbersome as fumbling for the right key in the dark. You have to pull out your phone, unlock it, find the right app, tap the unlock button and wait for the lock to respond.
Beat the new Encode Plus for $299.99, that was announced earlier this year and is now available for purchase, simplifies that enormously. As one of the first smart locks to leverage Apple’s Home Key standard announced at WWDC 2021, unlocking the Encode Plus is as simple as tapping your phone or watching the keypad and waiting for the green light. No need to open an app, tap a button, or even unlock your phone. The whole process is similar, but even easier than buying something with Apple Pay.
The Encode Plus, unlike some HomeKits, isn’t exclusive to Apple devices video doorbells. It works with Android phones via the Schlage app and integrates with Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant. It also has a pinpad for guests or family members without a phone, as well as a traditional keyhole.
But if you’re spending three Benjamins on this smart lock, you really should carry an iPhone or use an Apple Watch, as the best trick only works with those devices.
In terms of design, the Encode Plus looks very similar to the previous Schlage Encode locks. The obvious keypad doesn’t try to hide that it’s a smart lock – the only notable difference between this and previous versions is the brackets around the 5 key, which indicate 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, each with two different finishes; The review unit I tested is the Century design with a satin nickel finish. Underneath the keypad is a cylinder for a traditional key (a key comes with the lock) which can come in handy if the batteries ever run out and you’ve locked yourself out. But the primary way you’ll want to use the Encode Plus is via the keyboard or tapping on your phone.
The back of the lock, or whatever is on the inside of your door, is larger and blockier than the front. It holds four AA batteries, which Schlage says can last up to six months if the lock is used with Wi-Fi, or up to a year if you’re using it with Thread. I’ve been testing the lock on my front entry for almost two months, and the Apple Home app reports 82 percent battery life remaining. The lock sends alerts to your phone when the batteries are low. (Schlage does not recommend using rechargeable batteries or lithium AA batteries as their voltages could interfere with the battery life reporting system.)
The only hardware feature missing here is a fingerprint scanner, which is a bit easier to use than a keyboard and can be useful if you have kids who don’t have their own phones or Apple Watches. But with my family’s lifestyle and usage, in the time I tested the lock, we didn’t miss having one.
Installing the lock is straightforward: all you need is a Phillips screwdriver and about 15 minutes of your time. My front door is quite old and doesn’t quite fit 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 hold it shut when the motor turned the lock – and made up for my door’s misalignment.
The motor itself isn’t entirely silent, and you can hear it whirr as it automatically locks or unlocks the door. (Quiet chimes accompany the action to let you know if it’s a success or failure.) Thankfully, it’s not particularly loud, nor does it have an irritating grinding noise like some of the older smart locks.
If you plan to use 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 passwords and control it directly or through automations. If you have a HomePod Mini or a second-generation Apple TV 4K, Encode Plus connects using the more energy-efficient Thread protocol. Otherwise, it uses Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to connect to your other devices.
When you add the lock to the Home app, the Home Key card is also automatically added to the Wallet app on your iPhone and Apple Watch — and any others 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 the front of the lock and you’re in. If you want an extra layer of security, you need to unlock your phone before it unlocks the door.
If you’ve ever used Apple Pay, it’s very easy to get used to Home Key. Since my phone is almost always in my hand when I come into the house, I can just tap it on the lock—no fussing 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. Aside from automations unlocking the door for me, this is by far the easiest way I’ve interacted with a smart lock.
The Apple Watch integration works similarly, but it’s a bit more cumbersome because it’s not as easy to rotate my arm to tap the watch to the front of the lock as using my phone. But if you’re the type to stash your phone in your pocket, the Watch integration comes in handy.
You can also program different guest codes for other family members or visitors in the Home app. This functionality is pretty simple; You can name the guest and set up a code, but there’s no option to limit them to a specific block of time or give them an expiration date. To remove access, delete the guest in the Home app.
Because Encode Plus fully integrates with the Home app, you can set up various automations to either automatically lock or unlock the door or trigger other devices when you control the lock. You can also set up geofencing rules to automatically lock or unlock the door when you leave or arrive home.
Controlling the lock from the Home app via a Threaded connection is very fast – much faster than Bluetooth or Wi-Fi locks. There were a couple of times where I pushed the button on the app and before I even looked up from my phone the door was already locked.
The Schlage app offers a few more options, including the ability to set the door to automatically lock after a specified time (between 15 seconds and 4 minutes, depending on your preference). It also offers the ability to connect the lock to Alexa or Google Assistant to control it on those platforms. While iPhone owners don’t have to use the Schlage app at all, Android phone users have to use it to set up and control the lock. Once set up, Android owners can also control the lock using the Google Home or Amazon Alexa apps.
While the Encode Plus sits firmly on the expensive side of the smart lock spectrum (it’s not hard to find options well under $200 at this point), 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 Verand
https://www.theverge.com/22964521/schlage-smart-lock-review-encode-plus-apple-home-key-test Beat Encode Plus Smart Lock Review: Unlocking your door is now as easy as using Apple Pay