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Level Lock Plus with Home Key review: form, function and lots of features — for a price

Aug 15, 2023

By Jennifer Pattison Tuohy, a smart home reviewer who's been testing connected gadgets since 2013. Previously a writer for Wirecutter, Wired, and BBC Science Focus.

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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, doing away with the unsightly bulge on the back of your door that’s the trademark of most smart locks. The only real difference is that the Lock Plus supports Apple Home Key; it’s one of only two locks available in North America that do. (The other is the very hard-to-find-in-stock Schlage Encode Plus.)

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

As it stands today, Home Key is the Lock Plus’s killer feature. It lets you unlock your 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 pay or a hotel room keyfob, and it works within a fraction of a second — much faster than opening an app and tapping unlock. It’s also marginally quicker than the Bluetooth-powered auto-unlocking feature, which is also offered on this lock as well as locks by companies including Yale and August. I particularly like how easy it was for everyone in my household to use, too (at least the people with iPhones).

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

By default, Home Key requires you to authenticate with Face ID or your passcode. You can bypass this with Express Mode, which lets you open the door without unlocking your phone or watch, but this is a lot less secure since anyone who has your phone could use it to unlock the door.

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

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

Aside from the new Home Key capability, 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 your door. In addition to Home Key, there’s touch-to-unlock and auto-unlock — both of which require you 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 are included) or fob, the Level keypad (sold separately), Siri voice commands, and the Apple Home or Level apps.

The wireless radio on the Lock Plus — and all Level locks — is currently Bluetooth-only, but it can support other 2.4GHz protocols too, including Thread, according to Ken Goto, cofounder 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 excited that Matter has recently been certified and are watching this closely to release this capability in a firmware update soon.” Thread is designed for low-power, battery-powered smart home devices. It should be more reliable than Bluetooth and, as a mesh network, should have 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 any Matter-enabled platform, including Google Home, Samsung SmartThings, and Amazon Alexa, as long as you have at least one Thread border router in the 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 in order for either to work, and if you set it to unlock when it detects the signal approaching (auto-unlock), you can’t also set it to unlock when someone taps the lock.

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

The Lock Plus was designed in partnership 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 those require verification on your device first. With the Level app, it all happens automatically. And if you want to be able to lock your door from the outside without having to pull out your phone or (gasp) a physical key, you either need to set up auto-lock and touch-to-lock in the Level app or pay extra for the keypad.

The Level Lock Plus is one of the simplest smart locks I’ve installed, and I did it in under five minutes. The only extra step is connecting the lock mechanism to the deadbolt itself with a small screw.

One word of warning: if you have an older door, you may struggle to get the bolt and the strike plate to line up as closely as this piece of high-tech machinery requires. I did get a few alerts in the Home app that the lock was jammed. It wasn’t, but something about my dilapidated 1960s front door didn’t sit well with the Level’s inner workings. In practice, this didn’t prevent the lock from operating as required.

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

Level told The Verge that all its 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’s not attached to the lock, the Level Lock Plus is an obvious choice, especially if your smart home already runs on Apple Home.

If you are 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), just 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 replaces just the interior of the lock, so you can keep your existing lockset. If you do want to replace your lock hardware, the $249 Level Lock looks identical to the Level Touch; it just doesn’t have the touch-to-open feature.

That said, people who don’t already use Apple Home should wait to buy any Level Lock until they’ve 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 — though that gap should close once the Level locks are updated to support Matter (Schlage has also committed to supporting Matter). However, the Encode Plus isn’t as discreet or elegant-looking as the Lock Plus, and is very hard to find in stock.

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

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’s impossible for us to read and analyze every single 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 just through Apple Home and you do not need to agree to any other terms of service or privacy policies beyond what you’ve already agreed to for your iPhone. But to use all the features of the Level app you need to 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 tally is one optional agreement.

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

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

The company says it uses this data “to provide, develop and improve Level Products, including to make assessments and recommendations about product use.” It also says it does not “share personal information for any commercial or marketing purpose unrelated to the activation and delivery of Level Products without asking you first.” It will share personal information under a select number of conditions, as detailed in its privacy policy.

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