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Picking a protocol: Bluetooth, Z-Wave or Wi-Fi

Publisher: Management   Release time:2017-03-14

Bluetooth, Z-Wave and Wi-Fi are three wireless communication standards that make all of that smart stuff built-in to today's connected locks possible. You'll find similar protocols throughout the broader smart home space, too. Here's how they relate to smart locks.


   Bluetooth is a common smart lock protocol, as it generally relies on less battery power than the other wireless technologies, especially standard Wi-Fi. Conserving power is important, because most people won't run a hard wire power line to their door. That means batteries, and who wants to change the batteries on a door lock every month?


   Another key thing to know about Bluetooth is that it only allows for connectivity within a specified (limited) range, up to about 300 feet. That should be enough to control a lock when you're home, but wander too far and you'll lose the connection.


   Z-Wave smart locks are available from brands like Schlage, Poly-Control and others, and they require a separate hub device to control them with your phone. Typically that hub communicates with your home Wi-Fi network, which then transmits data over the Internet, letting you control your lock from anywhere you can get online.


   The range of a Z-Wave connection is about 120 feet, although if you have multiple Z-Wave devices, each additional device can act as a range extender. The Z-Wave signal can bounce up to four different times, for a maximum range around 600 feet (walls, doors, and other obstructions will all take a toll on range).

Some, Z-Wave locks like the Schlage Camelot Touchscreen Deadbolt don't offer their own app -- instead the interface for the lock will pop up in the app of whatever Z-Wave hub you use.


   Wi-Fi is available as an optional add-on with select models, like the August lock. The $79 August Connect plugs into a power outlet and bridges the connection between the Bluetooth August lock and your home Wi-Fi network. Once you've made that connection, you can control your August lock from anywhere you're connected to the Internet.


   While this doesn't require a clunky router-connected hub, the Connect is yet another hunk of hardware that you wouldn't otherwise have to deal with. Still, it could add significant value to a once Bluetooth-only product, depending on your needs.


   As we mentioned earlier, a smart lock doesn't necessarily equal a safer lock. If you're generally skeptical of the whole smart home thing and are unsure about a lock that's linked over Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or another protocol, this sort of product definitely isn't for you.

With smart locks, it's really all about trying to add a small convenience to your daily life. They can make getting in your house easier when your arms are full and your keys are out of reach. They can also save you a trip the hardware store to have a key made when you need to grant access to someone when you're not home.


    Another general concern is battery life, but this will vary significantly (for all smart locks) based on how much you lock/unlock your door, the quality of the batteries you're using, if your deadbolt occasionally sticks and requires extra effort from the built-in motor and even the weather -- colder temperatures can hurt battery life.


    In the end, there's no right answer here in terms of the model you end up buying, but considering key details (see what I did there?) like whether you should keep or replace your current deadbolt, what protocol best lines up with your needs, considering what, if any, third-party devices you'd like your lock to work with and if you prefer a touchpad or a different lock design -- will help you.


    Narrow down your options so you can quickly find the right smart lock for you.