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Level Lock Plus with Home Key review: form, function and many features – for a price

Level Lock Plus with Home Key review: form, function and many features – for a price

The new Level Lock Plus ($329) smart lock is almost identical to 2020’s Level Lock Touch. Like the Touch, its ingenious design packs all the smart lock components into the deadbolt housing itself, removing the unsightly bulge on the back of your door that is the trademark of most smart locks. The only real difference is that Lock Plus supports Apple Home Key; it is one of only two locks available in North America that do so. (The other is the Schlage Encode Plus which is very hard to find in stock.)

Currently, Lock Plus (like all Level’s locks) only works with Apple Home and Ring, but Level confirmed to The Verge that everyone the locks will be updated to support Matter-over-Thread, which will open the gates to any compatible smart home platform, including Google Home and Samsung SmartThings.

As it stands today, Home Key Lock Plus is the killer feature. It allows you to unlock the door using the NFC radio on your iPhone (XS or later) or Apple Watch (Series 4 or later) just by bringing it up to the lock. It’s like using contactless payment or a remote control in a hotel room, and it works in a fraction of a second – much faster than opening an app and pressing unlock. It’s also marginally faster than the Bluetooth-powered automatic unlock feature, which is also offered on this lock as well as locks by companies including Yale and August. I especially like how easy it was for everyone in my household to use too (at least people with iPhones).

HOW WE RATE AND RATE PRODUCTS

When I added the lock to the Home app using the HomeKit code, I was prompted to enable Home Key for myself and other members of my household. The key appeared on my husband and son’s iPhones automatically, a nice change from having to make them download a new app to unlock the door. I test a lot of smart locks, so this is a real advantage for them.

By default, Home Key requires you to authenticate with Face ID or your password. You can get around this with Express Mode, which allows you to open the door without unlocking your phone or watch, but this is much less secure as anyone with your phone can use it to unlock the door.

A hand holding an iPhone up to a door.  On the phone screen is an image of a key card with the Apple Home logo, and the words

Apple Home Key lets you unlock your door with your iPhone’s NFC radio.

Apple says you’ll soon be able to share Home Keys with people who aren’t Apple Home members. That would be nice, because right now the only way to give a guest access, unless you also have Level’s keyboard ($79), is to have them download the Level app.

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You may worry that your phone is your key—especially if you’re someone who has a battery that’s always in the red. But Home Key uses Apple’s Power Reserve feature, which allows you to still access the Key feature on an iPhone for up to five hours after the phone dies.

Aside from the new Home Key feature, the Lock Plus is identical to the Level Lock Touch (my pick for “Best Smart Lock That Doesn’t Look Like a Smart Lock”). Like the Lock Touch, the Lock Plus has a myriad of ways to lock or unlock the door. In addition to the Home Key, there’s touch to unlock and auto unlock — both of which require you to have your phone on you, but neither of which means you actually have to take it out of your pocket. You can also use a physical key, an NFC card (two included) or fob, the Level keyboard (sold separately), Siri voice commands, and the Apple Home or Level apps.

The components of Level Lock Plus arranged according to the caption.  The caption doesn't mention the two pumpkins in the background, but they are there.

These are all the components of the Level Lock Plus: from left, the inner mechanism, the bolt, the keyhole and the rear thumb swing.

The wireless radio on the Lock Plus — and all Level locks — is currently Bluetooth-only, but it can also support other 2.4GHz protocols, including Thread, according to Ken Goto, co-founder and CTO of Level. “All level locks are 100% hardware compatible with Matter, and Thread will be supported in future releases because of this,” said Goto. “We are pleased that Matter has recently been certified and are closely monitoring this to release this feature in a firmware update soon.” Thread is designed for battery-powered smart home devices with low power consumption. It should be more reliable than Bluetooth, and as a mesh network it should have a longer range.

Today, out-of-home control requires an Apple Home Hub or a Ring Sidewalk Bluetooth Bridge (such as Ring Pro 2 Video Doorbell, Ring Video Doorbell v3 and Ring Floodlight Camera). With Matter support over Thread, the lock will be compatible with all Matter-enabled platforms, including Google Home, Samsung SmartThings and Amazon Alexa, as long as you have at least one Thread border router in your network.

In the Level app, you can enable either touch to unlock or auto unlock – but you can’t have both at the same time. The lock needs to detect your phone’s Bluetooth signal for both to work, and if you set it to unlock when it detects the signal is approaching (automatic unlock), you can’t also set it to unlock when someone presses the lock.

These methods can be faster than Home Key since you don’t have to pull out your phone or twist your wrist to get your Apple Watch up to the lock (it’s not a natural motion), but you still need to have the phone on you. Also, in my experience, they didn’t always work right away. Using the Home Key was the most reliable method of unlocking the door.

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Exterior image of a front door, with satin nickel Level Lock Plus installed over a satin nickel finished handle set.

Level Lock Plus is discreet enough to fit in with most door sets, although it is only available in two finishes: satin nickel and matte black.

Lock Plus was designed in collaboration with Apple, but it doesn’t feel like a seamless part of the home experience. Many of the best features work better in the Level app, and some settings are only available there.

For example, you can set up auto-lock and auto-unlock through Apple Home automations, but they require verification of your device first. With the Level app, everything happens automatically. And if you want to be able to lock the door from the outside without having to pull out your phone or (gasp) a physical key, you’ll either have to set up auto-lock and push-to-lock in the Level app or pay extra for the keypad.

A door with Level Lock Plus installed.  The door is ajar and the bolt is closed.  A hand holds the end of the bolt itself, which is unscrewed to show that the CR2 battery has been partially removed from the bolt.

The Level Lock Plus is powered by a single CR2 battery, which fits neatly into the deadbolt itself.

The Level Lock Plus is one of the easiest smart locks I’ve installed and I did it in under five minutes. The only additional step is to connect the locking mechanism to the deadbolt itself with a small screw.

One word of caution: If you have an older door, you may struggle to get the bolt and deadbolt to fit as tightly as this high-tech machinery requires. I got a few notifications in the Home app that the lock was stuck. It wasn’t, but something about my dilapidated 1960s front door didn’t sit well with the Level’s inner workings. In practice, this did not prevent the lock from working as required.

Level says the Lock Plus gets up to a year of battery life on a single CR2 battery, which fits into the bolt itself and is easy to replace. In my experience testing Level Touch, this works out.

Level told The Verge that all locks are hardware compatible with Matter

If you want a smart lock that doesn’t look like a smart lock, and you either don’t need a keypad or don’t mind paying extra for one that isn’t attached to the lock, the Level Lock Plus is an obvious choice, especially if your smart home already runs on Apple Home.

If you’re interested in a Level Lock but don’t have an iPhone, it’s probably still worth the $30 premium over the Home Key-less but otherwise identical Level Lock Touch (currently on sale for $299), in case someone in your family updates one day. If you just want the auto unlock features and don’t need touch to unlock, the $249 level bolt is a good option. It only replaces the interior of the lock, so you can keep your existing lock set. If you want to replace the locking hardware, the $249 Level Lock looks identical to the Level Touch; it just doesn’t have the touch-to-open feature.

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That said, people who don’t already use Apple Home should wait to buy some Level locks until they have been updated to support Matter-over-Thread.

If you prefer an all-in-one keypad/lock for the convenience of guests, visitors and family members without smartphones, the Schlage Encode Plus has Home Key support and a built-in keypad for the same price as the Level Lock Plus. It currently uses Thread and works with Google Home and directly with Amazon Alexa, unlike the Level locks – although that gap should be closed when the Level locks are updated to support Matter (Schlage has also committed to supporting Matter). However, the Encode Plus is not as discreet or elegant as the Lock Plus, and is very difficult to find in stock.

If you don’t care about Home Key but want an Apple Home-compatible lock with a built-in keyboard—and a promised upgrade to Matter over Thread—the Yale Assure Lock 2 is my high recommendation at less than half the price of the Tier or Schlage.

Agree to continue: Level Lock Plus

Every smart device now requires you to agree to a series of terms and conditions before you can use it—contracts that no one actually reads. It is impossible for us to read and analyze each and every one of these agreements. But we’re going to start counting exactly how many times you have to hit “agree” to use devices when we review them, since these are agreements most people don’t read and definitely can’t negotiate.

You can set up the level lock only through Apple Home, and you don’t have to agree to any other terms of use or privacy policy beyond what you already agreed to for your iPhone. However, to use all the features of the Level app, you must download the Level app (iOS and Android) and create an account with your email address and phone number and agree to Level’s privacy policy

The final count is an optional agreement.

Smart Home Data Privacy: Level Lock Plus

Bringing connected devices into the home also brings with it concerns about how the data they collect is protected. The Verge ask each company whose smart home products we review about the security measures they have in place for your data.

The primary data Level Lock itself collects is kept locked to your home. If you use the Level app, the company’s privacy policy states that it collects:

  • Setup information you provide
  • Contact information
  • Direct actions to the device, mechanically and externally
  • Technical information from the device
  • Mobile location data
  • Bluetooth data

The company says it uses this data “to provide, develop and improve Tier products, including to make assessments and recommendations about product use.” It also says it does not “share personal information for commercial or marketing purposes unrelated to the activation and delivery of Level products without first asking you.” It will share personal information under a selected number of conditions, as described in the Privacy Policy.

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