THE BLOG
11/03/2013 06:59 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Kwikset Kevo Review

Surprise - your door lock just learned Bluetooth! Or, at least, it did if it's the Kwikset Kevo (satin nickel, Venetian bronze, polished brass) - a motorized, Bluetooth-controlled one-cylinder Kwikset SmartKey deadbolt that you can open with a smartphone, a key fob or a traditional key.
Let's take that sentence apart and see what it all means.
A deadbolt is the kind of lock uses a square-ish bolt. That contrasts with a spring latch, which locks automatically (via a spring) when you close the door. Those are often built into the doorknob itself, and offer less security.
A cylinder is the thing you stick a key into. So, a one-cylinder deadbolt is keyed on one side - the outside, obviously - and is operated on the inside via a small thumb knob, called a turnpiece. (A two-cylinder deadbolt is the kind that requires a key on both the inside and outside, but that's not what the Kevo is.)
Kwikset, a 65 year old company, is the manufacturer, and (with sister companies) sells about 55 million locks per year. The Kevo technology is licensed from UniKey Technologies. The Kevo lock incorporates UniKey technology, Kwikset analog know-how, and some Kwikset electronics borrowed from its SmartCode pushbutton doorlocks. So Kevo has traditional lock-building in its DNA and a high-tech startup in its RNA. Something like that.
The Kevo lock also incorporates SmartKey, a patented Kwikset technology that's available on many of their locks. It's a physical technology - it has nothing to do with Bluetooth - and allows you to rekey the lock in seconds, so that if your house has seven doors and nine locks you can get them all to work with a single key without paying a locksmith a couple hundred dollars in fees to come over to your house. I love it for that reason. Some people don't though; we'll come back to that.
You can open Kevo in several different ways. The most boring way is to just use a traditional key. The lock comes with two, and you can have duplicates made at any hardware store. But that's not what you came here for.
The other way you open Kevo is that you just touch the lock with your finger. Until you do, the lock hardware on the outside of your door looks virtually identical to any other lock (which is a plus, since who wants to attract attention to their lock). But when you touch the housing - the "deadbolt rose," if you like lock lingo - a ring of blue LED's around the lock light up and begin swirling around. The lock will seek out your compatible cellphone using Bluetooth technology and, in a few seconds, after confirming that your cellphone is authorized to open the door, the LEDs turn green and stop swirling. There's then a rather loud whirr and the deadbolt is retracted. Voila, open sesame, the lock is unlocked. And yes, the necessary 4 AA batteries are included.
Right now, "compatible cellphone" means 2012 vintage (or later), Apple only. To be precise, that's iPhone 4S, 5, 5S, 5C, iPad Air, iPad 3, iPad Mini (including the newest one, with the Retina display), and fifth generation iPod Touch. Your device has to be running the free Kevo app at the time you approach the door.
Why not Android? Kwikset explains that most Android devices don't support Bluetooth 4.0, also known as Bluetooth Smart or BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy). Some do, such as my own near and dear Samsung Galaxy S4 xxx link to review xxx, but even in such cases the currently available version of Android doesn't offer the proper software support (the API doesn't expose all BLE functionality).
I tested the product using an iPod Touch - which worked great - but I don't carry it with me regularly. What's a 'droid head to do? That's where the key fob comes in. One comes included in the package, and you can purchase additional fobs. A key fob is a little rectangular thing with a hole that lets you put it onto your keychain. (Or wrestle it on - the fob is just slightly thicker than one might wish.) Inside is a battery (also included) and Bluetooth transceiver technology, so that the fob can tell the lock, "Hey, the dude doesn't own an iPhone, but let him in anyway."
You can send eKeys to people you want to allow to come and go - family members, friends, maid service, even the hottie you just met at a bar. Hmmm, that last might not be the greatest idea. You can disable or delete eKeys, but you can't reassign one to a different person. That means that when you change maid services (or friends), you'd delete the old eKey and issue a new one to the new company or person.
Until a day or so ago, Kwikset would give you two eKeys for free and additional ones at $1.99 each. That seemed stingy for a $200+ product, and the company is now giving 7 eKeys with any lock purchased by December 1. That date may get extended - hopefully indefinitely. I think the company underestimated the degree of passion that early adopters express when they feel slighted.
An important note to avoid disappointment - the lock cannot be locked and unlocked via the Internet. However, the company is actively working on this feature and expects to make it available to new and existing Kevos. There's no committed date for this however.
Installation of the product is in three phases: physical installation (24 steps, but very easy, assuming you're replacing a standard deadbolt); rekeying Smartkey to match your existing locks (if they're Kwikset); and setup of the cellphone and fob.
Physical installation required only a screwdriver and ruler. A caveat: When you route the cables in the unit as instructed (step 17), it's extremely important to follow the instructions exactly in order to avoid pinching or bunching them.
One thing I really liked was that the lock uses a slightly tapered deadbolt rather than one that's purely rectangular. That means that even though my existing deadbolt was sticky, the Kevo one isn't, because there's more clearance when the bolt enters the strike (the plate on the doorframe that the deadbolt goes into when you lock the door. A tapered bolt is more tolerant of an installation in which the strike doesn't precisely match the lock. I didn't even remove the existing strike.
After you install the product, you have to "enroll" your phone - i.e., authorize it to the lock. This is an easy process that takes a few seconds. The phone will now work with your Kevo.
You then optionally "calibrate" the phone. This process ensures that Kevo can tell whether the phone is inside or outside the door. That way, if you're inside but near the door, and someone outside touches the lock, it won't open for them. (If you're inside but not near the door, of course, there's no issue. Even without calibrating, Kevo knows that the phone is nowhere near the door.)
Calibration involves pushing a button on the interior side of the lock, then quickly stepping outside, closing the door, and touching the lock three times while the phone is in your pocket. The process works regardless of what your door is made out of, including metal. If all goes well, the green LEDs will light up, signaling a successful calibration. Sort of like Dorothy, who had to click her heels three times before she could wear emerald slippers.
I had no problem calibrating my iPod Touch, but the fob was a different story. It comes preenrolled, but you still need to calibrate it if you want the additional peace of mind that inside-outside detection offers. The fob simply wouldn't calibrate in my pocket - I kept getting red LEDs rather than green, signaling that calibration had failed. I finally did manage to calibrate the fob by holding it in my left hand at about chest height. Once calibrated, the fob generally worked well in my pocket, though I find that I sometimes have to remove it and hold it in my hand.
I also installed a second Kevo (my rather strange house has two front doors). Once again, installation was not tough, but fob calibration was. In addition, I cross-enrolled each Kevo's fob to the other Kevo. This was easy to do. Now each fob will open either Kevo.
The lock has some beeps that it makes during certain operations. These can be disabled by a switch on the lock, as can a blinking light on the interior portion of the lock.
Let's talk looks for a moment. First of all, the box. It looks very handsome - blue, white, some clear plastic that displays the product nicely. Unboxing is straightforward. Now, the product. The outside of the lock looks virtually identical to an ordinary door lock, except that if you look close, you'll see the ring of LEDs, and also a silicone gasket to keep water out. (The company says the product will stand up to heavy rain.)
The inside-the-room portion of the lock looks a bit like the inside portion of a hotel room lock. In other words, the inside housing is a bit boxy. Unfortunately, it's also plastic (with a metalized coating). It looks decent - not as nice as metal, but not supertacky. It's not fragile, but by the same token it's not as strong as metal either. The choice of materials is a bit disappointing, but not to my mind a dealkiller. You won't "ooh and ahh" at the way this product looks, but you will enjoy the way it works.
(To be clear, the housing is plastic, but the security components are metal, of course.)
Also in the box are a straightforward Installation Guide and a clear, well-written User Guide. PDFs of both are available on the Support page so you can learn more about the product before purchasing. And here's a secret: the Support page also includes a pdf of a Troubleshooting Guide (not included in the box). This will answer the hard questions for you, such as calibration issues, use of the product with gloves on, and so on.
I strongly recommend reading the Installation Guide, User Guide, Troubleshooting Guide and FAQs before purchasing the product. That will reduce the possibility of unwelcome surprises ("Oh, I didn't realize that . . ").
One part that's not in the box is something that most U.S. customers don't need, a "Drive In Latch." This is an alternate configuration of latch mechanism. If you do need one, Kwikset told me they'd ship you one at no cost, with overnight shipping so that you'll get the part within a business day or two of calling.
How secure is Kevo? There are several issues. Electronically, the company says the lock uses "military grade PKI encryption." Physically, the lock seems no more or less secure than a $35 Kwikset SmartKey 980 deadbolt (available in at least seven different finishes, whereas Kevo is only available in three). How secure is that, you might ask? Now we're into a realm of some controversy. On the one hand, the company says that Kevo, like the 980, is pick-resistant, bump-proof (bumping is a variety of lock picking) and certified as BHMA/ANSI Grade 2, with the cylinder itself certified to Grade 1, the highest level of residential security.
On the other hand, there are videos online showing SmartKey locks being defeated with a specialized lockpicking tool, or by ramming a specially-prepared blank key into the keyway and turning with a screwdriver and vice grips. That's disconcerting.  A 2011 Consumer Reports article took a broader look, examining a range of attacks, and found that no company's locks were satisfactory except for one from Medeco. That company's products also have the advantage of using restricted blanks, intended to make it more difficult for someone to duplicate the key without authorization. Medeco locks are reportedly used at the White House, Pentagon and other such places.
But Medeco locks - the mechanical, analog ones - are $150-$200 each. And if you're upgrading to that level for your front door, you should be having the lock professionally installed, and upgrading your back door(s) as well. You'll also want to upgrade other weak points -- strike plates, door frames, hinges, windows, garage doors, peepholes, exterior lighting, and possibly security system, etc. That's a whole realm of expenditures.
Moreover, hackers have found ways to foil even Medeco locks with screwdrivers, wire and even duplicate keys cut from credit cards.
In any case, if you're looking for a lock that offers the ultimate in physical security, Kevo is not the product for you. But if you're looking for a blend of security and convenience, Kevo might be right for you.
One aspect of that is in key management. Rather than giving out physical keys, you can give out eKeys, which you can easily revoke. Of course, this assumes that your recipient has a compatible phone. And even if you give out physical keys, it's easy to rekey the lock using SmartKey.
Kevo is also very convenient if you're carrying groceries, since you don't have to fumble for your keys. Of course, if you also have a spring latch, you'll need your keys for that unless you keep it unlocked.
There are at least three other Bluetooth enabled smartlocks due out in coming months (Lockitron, August and Goji), so this marketplace is about to get very crowded. They each will no doubt have their own combination of convenience and vulnerability.
My bottom line: Kevo may not enhance security and isn't a necessity, but it's a fun, handsome product from a company that has been making locks for decades and would make a great gift for a tech enthusiast or DIY-er, particularly for a house that already uses Kwikset locks. Check it out on Amazon in your choice of satin nickel, Venetian bronze or polished brass.
Disclosure: The manufacturer provided product for this review.