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The Best Smart Locks of 2018

A Smart Approach to Security

A smart lock is arguably the most important part of a truly smart, connected home. Not only will it allow you to come and go as you please, it will also monitor who is entering and leaving your home while you’re away. Some models simply let you use your phone to open and close doors.

Some let you assign special privileges to friends, family members, or maintenance staff. Others can be activated using voice commands or triggers from other smart home devices[1] and services. Here are a few things to consider when deciding on a smart lock, along with reviews of the top models we’ve tested.

What to Look For

One of the first things you’ll want to consider is how much it will cost to upgrade your traditional lock.

After all, a smart lock costs a heck of a lot more than the standard-issue lock you can pick up at the local hardware store. You can find a few smart locks out there in the £100 range (not many of which made the cut for this list), but if you want a lock that you can control from anywhere, with features such as voice commands, push and email notifications, and tamper alarms, expect to pay somewhere in the £200-£300 price range. Many smart locks offer a mobile app that allow you to lock and unlock doors with a simple icon tap.

Some offer a web app that lets you control things from your desktop or laptop PC. Most apps let you add permanent and temporary users and set access schedules for specific days and times.

If the lock is Bluetooth-enabled, you’ll have to be within range (around 40 feet) to communicate with it, while locks with built-in Wi-Fi circuitry or a Wi-Fi bridge can be controlled from almost anywhere as long as they are connected to your home router[2]. Make sure your smart lock offers activity logs so you can go back in time to see who has entered or exited your home and when the activity took place.

The latest smart locks offer things like voice activation, geofencing, and auto-locking features. With voice activation, locking and unlocking doors is as easy as it gets; simply tell your phone to “unlock the front door,” and the lock will disengage. With geofencing, you’ll never have to worry if you locked up before you left the house; just use the mobile app to set up a perimeter around your house, and use your phone’s location services to pinpoint your exact location.

When you leave the perimeter, you can have the lock automatically engage behind you. Similarly, an auto-lock feature will have the lock automatically engage after it has been unlocked for a specific period of time. Other features to look for include keyless touchpads for those times when you don’t have your phone or your keys, tamper and forced entry alarms that warn you of a possible break-in, and push, text, and email notifications that let you know who is coming and going in real-time.

Easy to Install

None of the locks we’ve tested are especially difficult to install, but some are easier than others.

If your new lock comes with both an interior escutcheon (the housing you mount on the inside of your door) and an exterior component (usually a touchpad or a keyed cylinder), you’ll probably have to completely remove your old lock, including the deadbolt mechanism and strike plate, before you can install the new device. This is simply a matter of removing the two bolts that attach the interior escutcheon to the exterior component and removing both pieces. The deadbolt is also held in place by two screws.

The good news is that most smart locks use the standard pre-drilled holes so you don’t have to worry about drilling new ones. Additionally, there are smart locks available that attach to the inside of your door and are designed to use your existing keyed cylinder and deadbolt hardware, which means you only have to remove the interior escutcheon. Either way, you can count on spending anywhere from 10 to 25 minutes removing your old lock and installing your new smart one.

Smart Home Integration

Some locks integrate with other connected home devices, like the Nest Protect[3] smoke alarm, and services, like Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant, and If This Then That (IFTTT)[4].

For example, you can have your doors unlock when a smoke or CO alarm is triggered, or have certain smart lights[5] turn on when a door is unlocked. Depending on your home automation setup, you can even pair your lock with a video doorbell[6], like the Ring Pro[7], so you can see who is at the door before you unlock it, or have an interior camera begin recording when a door is unlocked. Just remember: The more features you get, the more you can typically expect to spend.

Other Kinds of Smart Locks

Keep in mind, there are also smart locks out there that aren’t necessarily door locks.

Master Lock’s 4400D Indoor[8] and 4401DLH Outdoor[9] are both Bluetooth-connected padlocks, for instance. They’re built to be as tough as any standard lock, but use Bluetooth to unlock with the tap of a button when you’re nearby. They also let you grant temporary or permanent guest access on your terms simply by using an app.

For more in smart home safety, see our picks for The Best Smart Home Security Sytems[10] and The Best Home Security Cameras[11].

References

  1. ^ smart home devices (uk.pcmag.com)
  2. ^ router (uk.pcmag.com)
  3. ^ Nest Protect (uk.pcmag.com)
  4. ^ If This Then That (IFTTT) (uk.pcmag.com)
  5. ^ smart lights (uk.pcmag.com)
  6. ^ video doorbell (uk.pcmag.com)
  7. ^ Ring Pro (uk.pcmag.com)
  8. ^ 4400D Indoor (preview.pcmag.com)
  9. ^ 4401DLH Outdoor (preview.pcmag.com)
  10. ^ The Best Smart Home Security Sytems (uk.pcmag.com)
  11. ^ The Best Home Security Cameras (uk.pcmag.com)

Apple HomePod: the best-sounding smart speaker yet?

One of the biggest wireless speaker releases of the year, the Apple HomePod is Apple’s first ever smart speaker and is likely to make a big impact on the market. It aims to raise the bar for the sound quality to expect from a compact wireless speaker and leave its rivals in the dust. Unlike competitor smart speakers from Amazon and Google with the Amazon Echo (2nd Gen)[1] and Google Home[2], Apple is touting the HomePod as a music player first and foremost and a voice assistant second.

Best Buy wireless and Bluetooth speakers[3] – see what the HomePod is up against. To achieve this ambition, internally it has seven tweeters for producing higher-frequency sounds, compared to just one on the Amazon Echo (2nd Gen) and Google Home. Like the Sonos One[4], it also optimises the sound it produces to match the shape of the room it’s in.

This means that in theory it attempts to distribute its sound evenly throughout – regardless of any odd-shaped corners in your room. The typical Apple build quality is on show here but, unusually, this is an exceptionally heavy speaker for its size at 2.5kg, making it rather like a shot put to lug around your home. What’s more, unfortunate early adopters have discovered that the silicone base of the heavy speaker can leave white marks on your home’s pristine wooden surfaces, which can be difficult to remove.

Apple has acknowledged the issue, giving recommendations on what to do[5] if this happens to you. Having a silicone base can help further improve sound – you can read our impressions on whether it’s worth it for the inconvenience, or whether its sound quality doesn’t make the grade regardless, in our HomePod first look review[6].

HomePod limitations

Earlier this month we also highlighted the significant limitations of the HomePod[7]. For example, Android smartphone users will have to look elsewhere, as you need an Apple device (newer iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch) to set it up.

In addition, the only music service natively supported by the speaker is Apple Music. There’s no direct support for popular alternatives such as Spotify. The only way you can access these is through AirPlay, so if you use other music streaming services such as Spotify, Tidal, Deezer or Amazon Music, see our recommendations[8] for alternatives to the HomePod.

In terms of smart functionality, Apple buries this quite far down in its list of what the HomePod can do. We get to the bottom of why this could be in our first look review. In the HomePod, Apple’s voice assistant Siri, which allows you to control your speaker with your voice and make additional commands such as asking it what the weather will be like, is competing directly with Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Google Assistant.

Siri can perform a variety of tasks when you ask it to, such as read you text messages, add reminders for things to do later and create notes on your Apple device.

However, with Apple wanting to focus on the sound quality and the HomePod having been delayed beyond its original December launch date, we wanted to find out whether Siri can match the functionality of Alexa and Google Assistant.

To read all about this and our full first impressions of the HomePod’s sound quality, visit our Apple HomePod first look review[9].

References

  1. ^ Amazon Echo (2nd Gen) (www.which.co.uk)
  2. ^ Google Home (www.which.co.uk)
  3. ^ Best Buy wireless and Bluetooth speakers (www.which.co.uk)
  4. ^ Sonos One (www.which.co.uk)
  5. ^ recommendations on what to do (support.apple.com)
  6. ^ HomePod first look review (www.which.co.uk)
  7. ^ limitations of the HomePod (www.which.co.uk)
  8. ^ our recommendations (www.which.co.uk)
  9. ^ Apple HomePod first look review (www.which.co.uk)

The Best Headphones of 2018

Ditch the Bundled Earbuds

The truth is, the earbuds that come with iPhones and many new Android phones sound a lot better than they used to. Still, if you’re serious about your music, those plastic pods can only take you so far. The single best accessory upgrade you can buy for a new media player, smartphone, or tablet is a solid pair of headphones.

With so many choices, ranging from inexpensive cans you can pick up at the local Best Buy, to budget-busting, finely tuned masterpieces, finding the right pair of headphones can be tough. But if you spend the time to pick the right pair, and you take good care of them, your headphones can easily outlive the device that’s delivering your music.

The Headphone Advantage

There’s an endless selection when it comes to headphone design, but you’re basically choosing between padded over-the-ear headphones or snug in-canal earphones. Both have their merits, but for this roundup we’re focusing on the over-the-ear and around-the-ear design of traditional headphones.

Generally, headphones are able to reproduce richer low-end, since they have larger drivers than earphones and they don’t rely on an in-ear seal to deliver sound. Some listeners also find headphones more comfortable to wear, and easier to put on and take off, than they do earphones. This naturally means that headphones are bulkier, and less suited to the gym.

If you prefer the in-ear design, we have separate lists for The Best Earphones[1] and The Best Headphones for Running[2].

Noise Cancellation

You might try to dismiss the din of the outside world by cranking up the volume, but the best solution for saving your sanity–and your ears–is to invest in a pair of noise-canceling headphones, so you can enjoy your audio at much lower volumes. Active noise-canceling headphones use microphones on the earcups to measure outside noise and adjust the signal to cancel it out.

It’s an effective technology, but it depends on power for the noise-canceling circuitry to work. For more, have a look at our picks for The Best Noise-Canceling Headphones[3]. If you just want to block out sound without noise-canceling circuitry, good over-ear headphones will naturally do that to some extent.

This is called noise isolation, and it simply works from the earcups forming a good seal over your ears to prevent outside noise from getting in. It’s not as effective, but it’s less expensive than active noise concellation and doesn’t require power.

Wireless Headphones

Wireless headphones can be convenient in any situation where you don’t want to deal with dangling cables–like the gym, for example.

And now that Apple has ditched the headphone jack in the iPhone 7, wireless headphones are also a good way to ensure you’ll be able to connect with all the latest devices. After years of poor-to-mediocre sound, Bluetooth wireless stereo audio has made great strides in sound quality. While the data signal containing Bluetooth audio is compressed, headphone and earphone manufacturers have found ways to enhance the signal to compensate for its deficiencies in a way that makes them less audible than before.

We’ve included some wireless options here, but if you’re really keen on cutting the cord, check out The Best Wireless Headphones[4]. No matter what type of headphones you want, you can’t go wrong with any of the options here. That said, you don’t need to spend top dollar for a quality pair of cans.

If you’re shopping on a budget, take a look at our picks for The Best Headphones Under £50[5].

Featured Best Headphone Reviews:

References

  1. ^ The Best Earphones (uk.pcmag.com)
  2. ^ The Best Headphones for Running (uk.pcmag.com)
  3. ^ The Best Noise-Canceling Headphones (uk.pcmag.com)
  4. ^ The Best Wireless Headphones (uk.pcmag.com)
  5. ^ The Best Headphones Under £50 (uk.pcmag.com)