Smart locks have allowed us to ditch keys and unlock our front doors via our phones for years. But while smart locks can be really handy, especially if they have PIN pads or fingerprint readers, using your phone to unlock the door can be as tedious as searching for the right key in the dark. You have to take out your phone, unlock it, find the right app, press the unlock button and wait for the lock to respond.
The new $299.99 Encode Plus from Schlage, which was announced earlier this year and is now available for purchase, greatly simplifies this. As one of the first smart locks to take advantage of Apple’s Home Key standard announced at WWDC 2021, unlocking the Encode Plus is as easy as pressing your phone or looking up at the keyboard and wait a moment for the green light. You don’t need to open an app, press a button, or even unlock your phone. The whole process is similar, but even simpler, to buying something with Apple Pay.
The Encode Plus is not exclusive to Apple devices, unlike some HomeKit video doorbells. It works with Android phones through the Schlage app and integrates with Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant. It also has a pin pad for guests or family members without a phone, as well as a traditional keyhole.
But if you’re going to shell out three Benjamins for this smart lock, you really should be carrying an iPhone or using an Apple Watch because its best trick only works with those devices.
In terms of design, the Encode Plus is very similar to previous Schlage Encode locks. Its obvious keypad doesn’t try to hide the fact that it’s a smart lock — in fact, the only noticeable difference between this and previous versions are the parentheses around button 5 that indicate where to press. 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. Under the keypad is a barrel for a traditional key (a key comes with the lock), which can be useful if the batteries die and you get stuck. But the main way you’re supposed to use Encode Plus is through the keyboard or by tapping on your phone.
The back of the lock, or what’s inside your door, is larger and more blocking than the front. It has room for four AA batteries, which Schlage says can last up to six months when the lock is used over Wi-Fi or up to a year if you use it with Thread. I’ve been testing my front door lock for almost two months and the Apple Home app says it has 82% battery life left. The lock will send alerts to your phone when the batteries are low. (Schlage does not recommend using AA rechargeable or lithium batteries as their voltages may interfere with the battery life reporting system.)
The only hardware feature missing here is a fingerprint scanner, which is a little easier to use than a keyboard and can be useful if you have kids who don’t have a phone or Apple Watch. But with my family’s lifestyle and usage, we haven’t missed one since I’ve been testing 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 line up perfectly when you close it casually, which has triggered motorized door locks in the past. But the Encode’s deadbolt has a slight taper on each side, which helped guide it close when the motor turned the lock – and compensated for my door’s misalignment.
The motor itself isn’t completely silent, and you can hear it humming as it automatically locks or unlocks the door. (Soft chimes accompany the action to let you know if it passed or failed.) Fortunately, it’s not particularly loud, nor does it have an irritating squeaking sound like some of the older smart locks.
If you plan to use Encode Plus with an iPhone and Apple HomeKit, you don’t even need to download Schlage’s app. You can add the lock directly to the Home app on your phone, set up passcodes, and control it directly or through automations. If you have a HomePod Mini or second-generation Apple TV 4K, the Encode Plus will connect via the more power-efficient Thread protocol. Otherwise, it will use 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 anyone else you’ve added to your home. From there, you can enable express mode, which will activate the keycard without requiring you to unlock your phone or watch. Just press it against the front of the lock and you’re in. If you want to have an extra layer of security, turning it off will require unlocking your phone before it unlocks the door.
If you’ve used Apple Pay before, it’s very easy to get used to Home Key. Since my phone is almost always in my hand when I walk into the house, I can just press it on the lock – no hassle with keys or opening an app and waiting for it to load . I can press the phone to lock the door or just press the little lock button on the bottom right of the keypad. Other than automations unlocking the door for me, this is by far the easiest way to interact with a smart lock.
The Apple Watch integration works the same way, but it’s a bit more awkward because using my phone isn’t as easy as twisting my arm to press the watch on the front of the lock. But if you’re the type to stash your phone in your bag, the Watch integration comes in handy.
You can also program various guest codes in the Home app for other family members or visitors. This feature is pretty basic; you can name the guest and set up a passcode, but there’s no option to limit it to a specific block of time or give it an expiration date. To remove access, you delete the guest in the Home app.
Since the Encode Plus fully integrates with the Home app, you can set up various automations to lock or unlock the door automatically or trigger other devices when controlling 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 via the Home app via a Thread connection is very fast – much faster than Bluetooth or Wi-Fi locks. There were a few times when I pressed the app button and, before even I 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 certain amount of time (between 15 seconds and 4 minutes, depending on your preference). It also offers the possibility of connecting the lock to Alexa or Google Assistant to control it on these platforms. While iPhone owners won’t need to use the Schlage app at all, Android phone users will need to use it for setup and to control the lock. Once set up, Android owners can also control the lock through the Google Home or Amazon Alexa apps.
While the Encode Plus is firmly on the pricey side of the smart lock spectrum (it’s not hard to find options for well under $200 at this point), it offers the best experience I’ve had with it yet. a smart lock, especially if you own an iPhone and have a HomeKit smart home.
Photograph by Dan Seifert/The Verge