Smart locks have allowed us to drop the keys and unlock our front doors via our phones for years. But while smart locks can be quite practical, especially if they have needle pads or fingerprint scanners, using your phone to unlock the door can be just as cumbersome as fumbling for the right key in the dark. You need to pull out your phone, unlock it, find the right app, press the lock button and wait for the lock to respond.
Schlage’s new $ 299.99 Encode Plus, which was announced earlier this year and can now be purchased, simplifies it a lot. As one of the first smart locks to take advantage of Apple’s Home Key standard announced at WWDC 2021, unlocking Encode Plus is as simple as pressing your phone or watch against the keyboard and waiting a moment for the green light . You do not have to open an app, press a button or even unlock your phone. The whole process is similar, but even simpler, than buying something with Apple Pay.
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 needle pad for guests or those in your family without phones, plus a traditional keyhole.
But if you are going out with three Benjamins for this smart lock, you should really carry an iPhone or use an Apple Watch because its best trick only works with these devices.
In terms of design, the Encode Plus is very similar to the previous Schlage Encode locks. Its obvious keyboard does not try to hide the fact that it is a smart lock – in fact, the one notable difference between this and previous versions is the brackets around the 5 button 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 Encode Plus in two different styles with two different finishes for each; the review unit i have tested is Century designed with a satin nickel finish. Under the keyboard, there is a barrel for a traditional key (a key is included with the lock), which can be handy if the batteries ever die and you get locked out. But the primary way you are meant to use Encode Plus is via the keyboard or pressing your phone.
The back of the lock, or whatever is on the inside of your door, is larger and more blocking than the front. It accommodates four AA batteries, which Schlage says can last up to six months when the lock is used on Wi-Fi or up to a year if you use it with Thread. I’ve been testing the lock on my primary input for almost two months, and the Apple Home app reports that it has 82 percent battery life left. The lock sends alerts to your phone when the batteries are low. (Schlage does not recommend using rechargeable or lithium AA batteries as their voltages may interrupt 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 children who do not have their own phones or Apple Watches. But with my family’s lifestyle and usage, we have not missed having one in the time I have tested the lock.
Installing the lock is straightforward: it only requires a Phillips screwdriver and about 15 minutes of time. My front door is quite old and does not fit perfectly when you accidentally close it, something that has previously triggered motorized door locks. But Encode’s deadbolt has a slight taper on each side, which helped steer it closed when the engine turned the latch – and offset my door’s poor adjustment.
The engine itself is not completely silent and you can hear it buzzing when it automatically locks or unlocks the door. (Soft chimes accompany the action to tell you whether it has succeeded or failed.) Fortunately, it is not very loud, nor does it have an annoying abrasive sound like some of the older smart locks.
If you plan to use Encode Plus with an iPhone and Apple HomeKit, you do not even need to download the Schlages 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 another generation of Apple TV 4K, 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 your iPhones and Apple Watchs Wallet app – and everyone else you’ve added to your Home. From there, you can activate Express Mode, which activates the key card without you having to unlock your phone or watch. Just tap it against the front of the lock and you’re done. If you want an extra layer of security, it will require you to unlock your phone before it unlocks the door.
If you’ve ever used Apple Pay, getting used to Home Key is very easy. Since my phone is almost always in my hand when I enter the house, I can just push it to the lock – no hassle with keys or open an app and wait for it to load. I can press the phone to lock the door or just press the small lock button at the bottom right of the keyboard. In addition to automations that unlock the door for me, it is by far the simplest way I have interacted with a smart lock.
The Apple Watch integration works the same way, but it’s a little more awkward because it’s not as easy to twist my arm around to press the clock in front of the lock as it is to use my phone. But if you are the type who has your phone tucked away in your bag, the Watch integration is useful.
You can also program different guest codes in the Home app for other family members or visitors. This functionality is pretty basic; you can name the guest and create a code, but there is no way to limit it to a specific time block or give it an expiration date. To remove the access, delete the guest in the Home app.
Since Encode Plus is fully integrated into the Home app, you can set up various automations to either lock or unlock the door automatically or trigger other devices when you control the lock. You can also configure geofencing rules to automatically lock or unlock the door when you leave or arrive home.
Managing the lock via the Home app via a wired connection is very fast – much more so than Bluetooth or Wi-Fi locks. There were a few times where I pressed the button in the app and before I even looked up from my phone, the door was already locked.
The Schlage app provides a few more options, including the ability to set the door to lock automatically after a certain amount of time (between 15 seconds and 4 minutes, depending on your preferences). It also allows you to connect the lock to Alexa or Google Assistant to control it on these platforms. While iPhone owners do not need to use the Schlage app at all, Android phone users will need to use it for setup and to control the lock. Once configured, Android owners can also control the lock through Google Home or Amazon Alexa apps.
While Encode Plus is stuck on the expensive side of the smart lock spectrum (it’s not hard to find options for well under $ 200 at the moment), it provides the best experience I’ve had yet with a smart lock, especially if you own an iPhone and have a HomeKit smart home.
Photograph by Dan Seifert / The Verge