SwitchBot Key $99 is the first smart door lock I tested that doesn’t replace any part of your existing lock. Instead, it attaches to the back of your door above the thumb loop. This eliminates the main pain point of smart locks: the installation involved. But the SwitchBot Lock really looks weird—my husband actually stops and says, “What’s that?” I had the same reaction when I first saw it and wasn’t at all convinced that this big black piece of plastic would have the strength to unlock my latch.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the SwitchBot Lock moved the thumb as best I could, and it remained firmly in place during my two weeks of testing, despite only being attached with double-sided tape. (No word on long-term durability yet, but so far it looks promising).

The downside is that it’s not very smart and it’s missing some key features (haha). You also need around Accessories worth $70 to add smart home control and keypad. This puts it closer in price to more elegant-looking solutions, like $230 August Wi-Fi Smart Lockwhich takes a bit more work to install but doesn’t leave you with a large piece of plastic honking on your door.

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SwitchBot Lock is a retrofit Bluetooth powered smart door lock that can lock and unlock your door using the SwitchBot app on your smartphone or Apple Watch. (Not this one Home Key Compatible). It attaches to your door using 3M VHB tape and uses a small plastic grabber to hold and turn the thumb lock.

The grabber can change anything. Videos on Amazon review show even by turning the key, making it an excellent solution for people with nontraditional door locks and multipoint locks who cannot activate other smart locks (see the list here). It is cleverly engineered with a sliding base plate that prevents the key from twisting itself when turning the key.

This is what SwitchBot is all about: making ordinary devices smart. They have little bot that pushes the light button for you and a robot that crawls along your curtain rod to open and close the curtains. This one is a robotic hand for your door lock. It comes with three different sized adapters, so you can find the right one for your setup. SwitchBot Lock doesn’t remove any functionality — you can still use your key, and you can still turn the latch manually; it just adds the ability to use your phone or watch as your key.

Keypad Touch adds a fingerprint reader for another way to unlock your door.

There are a total of seven ways to control the door lock: your lock, smartphone/Apple Watch app, NFC tag using your phone, code lock using keypad, fingerprint reader, NFC lock card, and smart home/voice control. That’s a lot of options—though only the first three work out of the box.

Keypad and door lock.

For keycard, keypad, or fingerprint entry, you need one of the Two SwitchBot Bluetooth keypads. These are attached with double-sided tape (or screws if you prefer). I tested the fingerprint version, which costs $60, and it works quickly and reliably.

The non-fingerprint version is only $30, but fingerprint access is my favorite way to use the smart door lock. The keypad also works with NFC key cards. (One is provided and you can buy three packs for $15.) Although, if you have a keypad, I don’t see the need for a keycard, as you can share permanent, temporary, and disposable codes with anyone who needs access. Annoyingly, six digits is the minimum here, which is a lot of digits.

If you’re not using an additional keypad, another unlocking option is to use the two NFC tags that came with the lock. You can pair it to your phone to lock or unlock the door with one tap of your phone. But you have to use two tags: one to lock and one to unlock. Sticking two pieces of white plastic on your door doesn’t improve the overall look here, and if you’ve already taken your phone out, using an iOS or Android lock screen widget is almost as fast.

SwitchBot works with Amazon Alexa Shortcuts, Google Home, and Siri (but not HomeKit), so you can use voice commands to lock and unlock doors and add locks to smart home routines (Alexa and Google only).

But you need $40 SwitchBot Hub Mini to connect the key to Wi-Fi and make this integration; the key itself communicates via Bluetooth. You’ll also need a hub to control the lock or check its status when you’re not at home using the SwitchBot app. The hub works with all SwitchBot gadgets but needs to be installed near the lock.

Operate SwitchBot with Apple Watch via Bluetooth.

I installed the SwitchBot Lock on my back door, which is the main entrance to our house. This leads to our mud room from our garage and gets a lot of foot traffic. The fingerprint reader and keypad make it easy for my child to use the lock — no need to download an app. However, without it, there is no easy way for a child without a smartphone to access the door.

I was also disappointed that the notification when the door was opened didn’t show which code or fingerprint was used. This is a common feature on other smart locks and one I personally use to help track the arrivals and departures of my older children while I am at work. I can check the logs in the app to see who opened it.

It locks and unlocks quickly when controlling it with the keypad, but the phone app takes more than five seconds to connect — especially annoying if you’re standing in the rain. Apple Watch connects faster, and if you don’t have a keypad, it’s the easiest way to control the lock. All of this interaction is via Bluetooth, so you should be on the lookout. To control it remotely with an app or voice control, you need a hub.

The top of the lock comes off for battery replacement and to adjust the lock to fit your door.

Setup and installation was quick, all in less than 5 minutes. This is one of the key’s biggest selling points, but it’s also not entirely straightforward. There’s a bit of a queue to make to make sure the lock will turn before you attach it to the door, and you’ll need to use a small screwdriver (supplied) to adjust the lock spacing. Cleverly, it attaches in any direction, vertically or horizontally, so you can fit it around your door handle. It also features a magnet to sense when the door is open or closed, although I was still able to remotely lock it when it was wide open without warning or notification.

The SwitchBot app is basic. There’s no way to set a schedule to lock or unlock the doors at set times, and the auto-lock feature is very unstable. It only works with “Lock after a certain amount of time” and “Lock back if door has been opened but not unlocked” active, and even so, it’s not reliable. This seems like a possible software bug to fix. But that means I have to take my phone out to lock the door (there are iOS and Android lock screen widgets to make it even faster), use the Apple Watch app, or use my lock. However, when I add a keypad, I can press a button to lock it.

There are several useful notification options, including when the door is locked, if the door is left unlocked, and if it is left open after a period of time. Notifications need a hub to work, and actually, they only have to sell this with a hub. That definitely makes it a better smart lock. With the hub, I can connect to Alexa and add keys to Alexa Routines which automatically locks it every night at sunset.

It works, but doesn’t seem to be working.

SwitchBot Lock is a good choice for tenants who can’t change their door lock at all or for those who can’t or won’t remove part of their existing latch. It needs to be attached to the door frame using a heavy-duty adhesive, which is likely to eat up the paint if you remove it. Similar retrofit options from August, Wyze, and Bosma require removing the rear deadbolt, and all cost over $100.

But the smart features are limited to controlling the lock locally with your phone, Apple Watch, or an existing lock. When you add a Wi-Fi hub, you get more useful remote control and smart home integration, but only with Google Home and Alexa; no HomeKit support and limited IFTTT integration. (Keys are just triggers, not actions.)

If you also add a keypad – especially a fingerprint – it becomes a much more useful proposition, but then you’re knocking $170, closer to the price of a not-so-ugly option with better smarts that doesn’t require all this extra gear (but needs removing some or all of your door locks). This includes Smart Lock Wi-Fi August plus Keypad and Eufy Smart Key Touch with Wi-Fi (fingerprint reader and keypad in one but full key replacement).

The biggest benefit of this lock is its versatility. You can even use two on one door to handle multipoint locking. Its ability to pick up almost any type of locking mechanism, including locks, means it may be the only smart solution that works for your door.

Photography by Jennifer Pattison Tuohy / The Verge

By Blanca

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