Kevo Kwikset review: Can a touch lock replace your keys?

Credit: Stewart Wolpin/DVICE

There is no denying the UniKey Kevo Kwikset touch lock is cool, perhaps a presage of how we'll all lock and unlock our doors in the future. To unlock it, just tap it. To lock it, just tap it. That's cool.

Kevo doesn't read your fingerprint or contain any other biosensor. Kevo's reaction is predicated on a touch sensor, Bluetooth LE (low energy) and proximity to a compatible and calibrated key fob or iPhone.

Kevo is (relatively) easy to install and stupid-simple to operate. And yet, there's...something...nagging at me about the whole touch-to-open idea.

Installing Kevo

Kevo's installation is a two-step process. First there's the physical Kwikset deadbolt lock, then the Kevo Bluetooth calibration.

Don't be put-off by the two dozen parts included in the Kevo box. If you've never installed a lock, merely disassembling your standard interior deadbolt lock (one whose bolt slides into the doorjamb, as opposed to a surface/flush deadbolt mounted on the rear of a door) will school you on how to install the Kevo. All you need is a Phillips head screwdriver (one with a magnetic head is recommended) and to follow the instructions. If you're unsure, call a locksmith or a handy neighbor.

There are three differences in the installation of a standard deadbolt install and the Kevo.

First, the inside piece with the latch is a large compartment containing the Kevo electronics, intelligence and the four AA battery pack. A plastic hood slides over this component compartment. Second, there are two cables that have to be connected and tucked away inside the rear case housing. Third, installing the batteries requires strict attention to the three-step process (steps 20-22, to be specific).

Even with these minor installation quirks, for most DIYers the physical old lock removal and inserting the Kwikset replacement should take no more than 15 minutes.

Calibrating Kevo

Calibrating Kevo not only ensures that both your fob and iPhone can operate the lock, but will only do so from the outside your door. You don't want someone outside your door to be able to touch-open the lock while you're standing on the other side inside.

Kevo comes with two standard keys (which hopefully you'll need only in an emergency) and a small black Bluetooth-enabled key fob, in case you don't have an iPhone (there is no Android compatibility because of the fragmentation of Bluetooth LE inclusion).

Calibration requires a series of at least three touch sequences until you get a green light on the lock, indicating successful calibration.

For your iPhone, you download the Kevo app, which steps you through a similar calibration process. However, it took me eight frustrating tries to get the green light.

Operating Kevo

You do not have to have your fob or iPhone out or the Kevo app booted; just keep either in your pocket and touch the top of the lock.

In this instant-reaction touchscreen age, we are easily annoyed at even a nano second of lag time. And lag time is the first thing you'll notice about how Kevo operates. Kevo requires around three-to-five seconds to communicate with your pocketed fob or phone to lock or unlock.

Sure, the fuss of digging out your keys and finding the right key and inserting it into the lock and turning it and removing it and returning it to your pocket or purse may take much longer than three-to-five seconds, but at least you're doing something. With Kevo, you just stand and wait as you listen for the bolt to slide and the circling blue light to turn green (unlocked) or orange (locked). A red light is an oops, sorry, try again.

Kevo works most of the time. Only once in the last few days of testing and actual exits and entrances did Kevo require more than one attempt to touch lock or unlock — but you have to wait for the Kevo to cycle through, sometimes longer than five seconds, before you know your tapping failed. Of course, a key always works, so there's that.

Kevo Extras And Issues

Anyone within about 20 feet of you and your fob or iPhone can touch open the lock. This is handy when your spouse or kids are racing ahead of you, but something about this wide area access nags at me, especially in an urban/apartment building environment. I'd like to have the option to set operational distance limitations.

There may be times when someone crashes in your pad and you have to leave ahead of them, but they don't have a key and you don't want to leave them one. All your crasher need do (after you set the appropriate dip switch on Kevo's rear) is triple-tap the lock to bolt it behind them after they leave. Once thusly locked, your guest won't be able to unlock it.

Via the Kevo app, you also can send Kevo eKeys via email. Your eKey recipient will also need to open the email on their iPhone, download the app via the embedded email link and fill in security information to accept and activate the key.

I found this key-sending a bit overly-complicated — it took my wife around 15 minutes to complete the laborious process.

You also can't limit the use of the eKey, such as restricting its use to a specified time frame. If you intend an eKey to be temporary, you then have to use the app to disable and delete it.

But these are admittedly quibbles. Hopefully Kevo will expand its eKey and perhaps its proximity repertoire, especially since more expansive Bluetooth LE lock competition looms on the horizon.

Goji (February 2014, $245) and August (TBA, $199), for instance, both promise to perform a wider variety of programmable Bluetooth tricks than Kevo. They'll auto-open when you just get close to the door, and include Wi-Fi-enabled remote operation capabilities. But neither of these pending Bluetooth bolts are touch-to-open.

My larger issue with Kevo is more emotional than technological.

Kevo Security Concerns

Job one for any lock is how secure it makes the premises and how confident you are in the security it provides, regardless of its cool-factor. When you turn the key and feel the heavy deadbolt slide solidly into the door jam, you can turn and go about your day's business with faith you will find your abode and your belongings in the same condition and place in which you left them.

Kwikset may not be Abloy or Medeco, but its locks are generally well-regarded. While the Kwikset key just seems too easy to duplicate and there have been reports about Kevo being "easily" hacked (if you're an experienced locksmith armed with a Kwikset key blank, a screwdriver, hammer and vise grip), it's more Kevo's gestalt that makes me vaguely queasy.

The physical act of turning a key and feeling in your fingers the pressure of the bolt as it moves into place — the sense you've locked the door — fills me with confidence.

But inherent wireless uncertainty and distrust, the lack of some sort of personal interface with the lock — a fingerprint sensor, a password, even a key — Kevo's wide-area proximity, and the nearly disembodied act of simply touching the lock and listening to the bolt slide all by itself all combine to make me feel less secure with Kevo as my front-line lock.

I admit this is totally subjective, and maybe I'll get over it. Perhaps I'll feel more comfortable with a Kevo II with a stronger lock and enhanced eKey and proximity customization.

For those of you who are less a Nervous Nellie than I, the Kevo is definitely cool and something you'll love to show off.

For the latest tech stories, follow DVICE on Twitter
at @dvice or find us on Facebook