Level Smart Lock Review: Smart hardware design and terrible Siri integrationMarch 9, 2022
I finally moved to a place where I can change the main door lock and so I started looking for the next addition to my Smart Home series–the smart lock. After going through Google search results and online reviews, it seemed like August locks were the top picks for everyone. I somehow didn’t like them enough so I continued searching. I don’t remember how but I ended up on Level’s website. After doing some more research about the Level Smart Lock brand that no other tech website covered with as much fanfare as August, I spent $400 and ordered Level’s latest touch lock.
It looks like an elegant dumb lock but has some very smart features.
The Installation Problems:
This was truly a nightmare experience and added $200 to the cost of the device ($150 for the lock smith and $50 for a new door handle). Installing a door lock is actually not complex. However, in my case I ran into several issues. Starting with the main door… once I started removing the existing lock I ran into 2 issues:
- I would need a new separate hand lever for the door since my existing handle is a one-piece handle and lock setup
- The bore hole in the main door was smaller than what was needed for the Level lock
- The Level deadbolt is round while the strike plate was a rectangle
Level Co does sell a bundle of the lock with a handle but I didn’t select that as an option. I didn’t think I’d need it and I also thought that I could order it later. I was wrong on the latter, you can’t buy the handle from Level later. Not a big problem, I could solve #1 with a trip to Ace hardware, and that’s what I did but #2 was very complex based on all the YouTube videos I saw. Given the issue, I figured I’d return the lock. I started the process but one of the videos on how to expand the bore hole suggested calling a lock smith. And that was perfect, throwing more money to solve an expensive gadget problem sounds like my approach.
The lock smith came, took 30 minutes to set everything up, damaged my door a bit (as seen above), but worth it to get the lock installed into the door!
Level Smart Lock Setup:
This was going extremely smooth till I had to scan the HomeKit code and I couldn’t find the manual that Level Co sent. In my clutter of moving in, I lost the manual. Some Google searches later, the website has a guide on how to find the Level lock’s HomeKit code, it’s printed on the lock. This meant I had to remove the lock, get the code, and put the lock back. So that’s what I did. Anyway, once HomeKit was setup, I was in love with the lock.
Features I Really Love:
- It looks like a very elegant dumb lock and does not stand out like a smart lock
- Because of HomeKit, the lock showed up on my wife’s iPhone instantly and I didn’t have to “set her phone up” for this
- The app is very simple to add people. I added my wife as an Admin and my brother as a Guest in Level’s app and he won’t need a key to enter
- I have setup hotel-like entry key cards that are easy to carry when going to run an errand
- I don’t have to get up to unlock the door for anyone
- Lock activity log
- Send temporary permission links
The features I really wanted to this lock for but it simply doesn’t work for a variety of software design flaws: The Touch to Unlock and terrible Siri integration.
This brings me to my list of features that I not only dislike but truly get annoyed over. That’s because Level as a company doesn’t see these as usability issues.
Stuff I Dislike (features or lack thereof):
HomeKit / Siri support is infuriatingly slow and unreliable.
Two issues here:
- Working with Siri sucks: I ended up buying a HomePod Mini and keeping it close to the lock, it still didn’t work. (See image at the beginning for where the HomePod is and where the lock is.) I have had to enable “Boost Range” for the lock, and this has improved Siri reliability when I’m inside. I can’t unlock the door when I’m right outside, connected to the WiFi, telling Siri to open it. It just doesn’t work and I get angry each time. Siri support is also very slow. Don’t buy this lock for its Siri / HomeKit integration, it’s unusable.
- Working with HomeKit requires the phone on you all the time (in the same security): HomeKit doesn’t let any automation for locks work without manual intervention like unlocking the phone. This essentially means that no automation is automated; it’s all manual. Even when I ask Siri to unlock the door through CarPlay, Siri wants me to unlock the phone which Siri rightfully tells me I shouldn’t while driving. It really triggers my anger.
Door left unlocked or not closed, Level informs you of nothing.
I don’t get this one to be honest. The whole point of making things smarter is that they will be an extension of human productivity. Level Lock has no setting to inform you that your lock has been left unlocked for a long duration or left unlocked when you have left the geofence. It will also not tell you if your door was left a bit ajar. This smart lock is pretty dumb.
Extremely large geofence.
This is a software issue that Level refuses to acknowledge or consider. The geofence is several blocks. Which means that when I am 2 blocks away from my building, the lock will trigger itself to expect a touch to unlock. This touch to unlock is only active for a maximum of 5 minutes. It takes me significantly longer than 5 minutes to walk, take an elevator, get to my door; or, to drive into the parking garage, take an elevator, and get to my door. This very wide geofence makes the touch to unlock unusable.
Auto-lock and Touch to Unlock are truly unusable in apartments.
Further adding to the problem above, if I go to pick up mail from downstairs, I will NOT be able to use the “touch to unlock” feature. This is because according to the app, I have not left the geo-fence. This feels like a problem making the lock’s smart feature less usable. Here’s the Level co website explaining this:
Let’s say, for example, you lock the door behind you on your way out to get the mail. If you have Auto-Unlock enabled, you might expect your lock to unlock when you return to your door. However, Level App still sees you in the Home Boundary since you haven’t left the geofence. You’ll have to use Level App, a key card, or your keys to unlock your door. You have to leave the geofence before Level App recognizes you’re Away. When you return Home again you can use Touch-to-Unlock or Auto-Unlock.
My current configuration is:
- Auto-lock: Disabled
- Touch to lock: Enabled
- Boost Range: Enabled
- Touch to unlock: Disabled (it’s unreliable, extremely annoying, and I find lack of consistency to be a security issue)
- HomeKit / Siri: Enabled
- HomeKit: All automations disabled because the locks don’t work without unlocking the phone (including Siri Shortcuts)
Screenshot of the app: