The $99 SwitchBot lock is the first smart door lock I tested that doesn’t replace any part of your existing lock. Instead, it attaches to the back of your door through the top of the thumb. This removes a major pain point of smart locks: a complicated installation. But the SwitchBot slot looks really odd – my husband literally stopped in his tracks and said, “What the hell is that thing?” I had a similar reaction when I first saw it and was totally unconvinced that this large piece of black plastic would have the power to unlock my deadbolt.
I was surprised to find that the SwitchBot Lock moves that thumb twist as well as I can, and it held up tight during my two weeks of testing, despite only being attached with double-sided tape. (No word on long-term sustainability yet, but it looks promising so far).
The downsides are that it’s not very smart and lacks a few key features (haha). You’ll also need about $70 worth of accessories to add smart home controls and a keyboard. This puts it closer to more elegant-looking solutions like August’s $230 Wi-Fi Smart Lock, which takes a little more work to install but won’t leave you with a honking piece of plastic on your door.
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The SwitchBot Lock is a retrofit Bluetooth powered smart door lock that can lock and unlock your door using the SwitchBot app on a smartphone or Apple Watch. (It is not compatible with Home Key). It attaches to your door using 3M VHB tape and uses a small plastic gripper to hold and turn the thumb of the lock.
That grab can turn anything. Videos in Amazon reviews show it even turns a key, making this a great solution for those with non-traditional door locks and multi-point locks who can’t get any other smart lock to work (see a list here). It is cleverly designed with sliding bottom plates that prevent the lock from twisting itself off while the lock is turning.
This is the thing about SwitchBot: making ordinary devices smart. They have a little robot that pushes your light switch in front of you and a robot that crawls along your curtain rod to open and close the curtains. This is a robot hand for your door lock. It comes with three different sized adapters so you can find the right fit for your setup. The SwitchBot Lock doesn’t remove any function – you can still use your key and you can still manually turn the deadbolt; it just adds the ability to use your phone or watch as your key.
There are a total of seven ways to control the door lock: your key, the smartphone/Apple Watch app, NFC tags with your phone, a keycode with a keyboard, a fingerprint reader, an NFC keycard, and smart home/voice control. That’s a lot of options, although only the first three work right out of the box.
For the keycard, keyboard or fingerprint you need one of SwitchBot’s two Bluetooth keyboards. These are attached with double-sided tape (or screws if you prefer). I tested the fingerprint version, which costs $60, and it worked quickly and reliably.
The fingerprintless version is only $30, but fingerprint access is my favorite way to use a smart door lock. The keypads also work with NFC keycards. (One is included and you can buy a pack of three for $15.) Although if you have a keypad I don’t need a key card as you can issue permanent, temporary and one-time codes to anyone who needs access. Annoyingly, six digits is the minimum here, which is a lot of digits.
If you don’t go for the extra keyboards, another unlocking option is to use the two NFC tags that come with the lock. You can pair it with your phone to lock or unlock the door with a tap on your phone. But you have to use two tags: one to lock and one to unlock. Sticking two white pieces of plastic on your door doesn’t improve the overall look here, and if you already have your phone, using the iOS or Android lock screen widget is almost as quick.
The SwitchBot works with Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and Siri Shortcuts (but not HomeKit), so you can use voice commands to lock and unlock the door and add the lock to smart home routines (Alexa and Google only).
But you’ll need a $40 SwitchBot Hub Mini to connect the lock to Wi-Fi and make these integrations; the lock itself communicates via Bluetooth. You’ll also need the hub to control the lock or check its status when you’re not at home with the SwitchBot app. The hub works with all of SwitchBot’s gadgets, but must be installed near the lock.
Control the SwitchBot with an Apple Watch via Bluetooth.
I installed the SwitchBot lock on my back door, which is a main entrance to our house. It leads from our garage to our utility room and gets a lot of foot traffic. The fingerprint reader and keyboard made it easy for my kids to use the lock – they didn’t need to download an app. However, without these, there is no easy way for a child without a smartphone to access the door.
I was also disappointed that the notifications when the door was unlocked didn’t show which code or fingerprint was used. This is a common feature on other smart locks and one I personally use to keep track of the comings and goings of my older kids when I’m working. However, I was able to check the log in the app to see who unlocked it.
Locking and unlocking is quick when you operate it with the keypad, but the phone app takes more than five seconds to connect – very annoying when you’re standing in the rain. The Apple Watch connects faster and if you didn’t have a keyboard, this is the easiest way to operate the lock. All of these interactions are over Bluetooth, so you have to stand by the lock. You need the hub to control it remotely with the app or voice control.
Setup and setup were quick, less than 5 minutes in total. This is one of the lock’s biggest selling points, but it wasn’t quite easy either. There is a bit of queuing to make sure the lock turns before sticking it to the door, and you need to use a small screwdriver (included) to adjust the lock spacing. It can be cleverly mounted in any direction, vertically or horizontally, so you can place it around your door handle. It also comes with a magnet to sense when the door is open or closed, although I was still able to lock it remotely while it was wide open without any warning or notification.
The SwitchBot app is simple. There is no way to create schedules to lock or unlock the door at a set time of day, and the auto-lock feature was very erratic. It only worked with both the “Lock after a period of time” and the “Lock again if the door is unlocked but not opened”, and even then it was unreliable. This looks like a software bug that may be fixed. But it did mean taking my phone out to lock the door (there are iOS and Android lock screen widgets to make this faster), use the Apple Watch app, or use my key. However, when I added the keyboard, I was able to press a button to lock it.
There are some useful notification options, including when the door is locked, whether the door was left unlocked, and whether it was left ajar after a certain amount of time. Notifications require the hub to work, and really they should just sell this with the hub. It certainly makes it a better smart lock. The hub allowed me to connect to Alexa and add the lock to an Alexa routine that automatically locked it every night at sunset.
The SwitchBot Lock is a good option for renters who can’t change their door lock at all or for those who can’t or won’t remove any part of their existing deadbolt. It should stick to the door frame with a strong adhesive, which will probably take some paint with it if you ever remove it. Similar retrofit options from August, Wyze and Bosma require the removal of the rear deadbolt, and they all cost over $100.
But the smart functions are limited to locally operating the lock with your phone, Apple Watch or existing key. When you add the Wi-Fi hub, you get outdoor control and more useful smart home integrations, but only with Google Home and Alexa; there’s no HomeKit support and limited IFTTT integration. (The lock is just a trigger, not an action.)
If you also add the keyboard – especially the fingerprint – it becomes a much more useful proposition, but then you come to $170, closer to the price of less ugly options with better smarts that don’t need all this extra equipment (but you do have to). remove some or all of your door lock). These include the August Wi-Fi Smart Lock plus keyboard and the Eufy Smart Lock Touch with Wi-Fi (fingerprint reader and keyboard in one, but a complete lock replacement).
The biggest advantage of this slot is its versatility. You can even use two to one door to deal with multi-point locking. The ability to grab just about any type of locking mechanism, including a key, means it may be the only smart solution that will work for your door.
Photography by Jennifer Pattison Tuohy / The Verge