I Installed a Smart Lock That Looks Nothing Like One, and Keys Are a Thing of the Past
High tech, low disruption.
Published Mar 23, 2023 1:14 AM
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Every first-time homeowner looks forward to that final, cinematic moment when your real-estate agent hands you the keys to your new place. It’s really, finally yours. My husband and I, however, got something else entirely: a text with a code.
Mind you, our sweet little house has a lot going for it—crocuses in the front yard, the original 1930s dentil molding, a recently renovated kitchen—but the security situation was rather dismal: a finicky old Schlage keypad that frequently left us spinning the dial this way and that until the door miraculously swung open. Did I mention it was glaringly ugly?
Dealing with it quickly fell to the bottom of our to-do list, as other projects (hello, leaking water heater) started piling up. So by the time a coworker asked if I’d heard of the smart security startup Level a few months after we moved in, I was desperate for an upgrade. We weren’t opposed to smart locks as a genre—it was nice to never have to dig around for actual keys—but ours wasn’t cutting it in the looks or function department. My order? The Level Lock+ in matte black.
When the lock arrived, it was immediately clear that one of Level’s biggest claims, that it makes technology invisible, was very much true. From the outside, the bolt looks just like a standard low-tech version, and it was half the size of our bulky keypad. Even the packaging is minimalist—underneath the instructions pamphlet and a couple key cards, the bolt, motor, and two outer plates are nestled neatly into designated spots next to a box with the battery, bolt strike plate options, and screws. Those plus a Phillips screwdriver are all you need to install it.
FYI: What the Lock+ does not come with is a matching black door handle. If you do not purchase the one sold separately on Level’s site, you might be left with a clashing set like I was.
Is Your Door Compatible?
We have a standard, builder-grade front door, so the Lock+’s basic requirements—1¾-inch door thickness, a standard deadbolt—were no problem. Come installation time, the first step also involves assessing your current setup. You’ll need to check that the door shuts and locks smoothly as is, which ours did.
Next, we said a not-so-fond farewell to our existing keypad, the corresponding bolt, and the bolt strike plate (on the door frame) with the help of the screwdriver. From there, you simply screw the new Level bolt into the door per the instructions.
FYI: If curiosity compels you to manually push in the bolt mechanism at this point and you close the door, you will actually lock it…with no easy way to retract the bolt. Don’t do this unless you want to get into an argument with your significant other and end up pulling out the bolt with pliers.
The step that requires the most finesse is sliding the motor into the hole and onto the bolt in an upright position; “Level” should be facing up. Do it slowly, though, and you’ll be fine. After that, you attach the outer plates to either side of the motor with, yes, more screws. (Full disclosure: I pulled out our drill at this point to make it even easier.) The “paddle,” aka the dial you turn to lock the door from the inside, snaps into place with a push.
Once you screw the strike plate into the door frame, you’ll turn your attention to the bolt one last time to pop in the battery. A chirping sound indicates a job well done. According to Level, the Lock+ battery should last about six months.
In total, installation took us 45 minutes, but 30 of those were dealing with the aforementioned bolt debacle.
The Level Home App
Download the Level Home app on your phone and connect it to your lock right away (apparently, you only have 30 minutes to do so for security reasons or you’ll have to reset it). You’ll be asked for some personal information, then a few prompts follow. We’re talking an under-five-minute process, after which your phone becomes a key in and of itself. To lock or unlock the door, you simply hold down the Level logo when you’re in front of the door until you hear the sweet sound of it turning.
Locking and Unlocking
You have three different ways to engage your Level Lock+: your phone, a hotel-like key card, and a regular ol’ key. If you spring for Level’s separate keypad, add a fourth to the list. We use the Level Home app’s press-to-unlock feature the most—our phones are always with us!—but I was relieved that the Lock+ gives you a couple alternatives. This way, should your phone die (or should a guest love the analog life) you’ve got hands-on options at your disposal.
Within the app, you can unlock—pun very much intended—a few extra methods. For tech-friendly visitors, you can share forever, temporary, or recurring access. There’s also an auto-lock/unlock feature, which uses your location to determine when you’re within a certain radius of your house. At that point, the door is meant to open with either a touch of the hand or without you having to do a single thing (your choice). I could see this being particularly handy when you’re loaded down with groceries or mail.
FYI: My husband has found that the auto-unlock feature to be hit or miss. Sometimes his phone doesn’t recognize him—or if it does, it’s only after he’s been standing at the front door for a solid minute.
You also can add your Lock+ to a few compatible apps you may already be using—specifically Apple’s Home Kit or Amazon’s Sidewalk or Ring—and control it from there. Integrate your Lock+ with Apple Home Keys and you get another benefit: the ability to enable an express mode, where all it takes to open the door is holding your phone near it (and confirming your FaceID or pass code, if you wish).
The Final Word
I’ve gained back minutes, if not hours, of my time after installing Level’s Lock+. Meaning, I no longer have to pause to finagle the knob or search my brain for a series of numbers when I’m in a rush; I just press down my finger and go. That express mode feature? I discovered it after the fact, while researching this story, and you best believe I’ll be trying it out today to shave off even more seconds.