SwitchBot Lock review: a smart lock with seven ways to unlock the door

SwitchBot Lock review: a smart lock with seven ways to unlock the door

The $99 SwitchBot Lock is the first smart door lock I’ve tested that doesn’t replace any part of your existing lock. Instead, it attaches to the back of the door above the top of the thumb. This removes a major pain point of smart locks: an involved installation. But the SwitchBot lock looks really weird – my husband literally stopped in his tracks and said, “What is that?” I had a similar reaction when I first saw it and was completely convinced that this large piece of black plastic would have the power to unlock my deadbolt.

I was surprised to find that the SwitchBot latch moves my thumb as well as I can, and it stayed in place well during my two weeks of testing, despite only being attached with double-sided sticky tape. (No word yet on long-term durability, but it looks promising so far).

The cons are that it’s not very smart and it lacks a few key features (haha). You’ll also need about $70 worth of accessories to add smart home control and a keyboard. This puts it closer in price to more elegant solutions, such as the $230 August Wi-Fi Smart Lock, which takes a little more work to install but doesn’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 Home Key compatible). It attaches to your door using 3M VHB tape and uses a small plastic gripper to grip and twist the lock’s thumb.

That gripper can turn anything. Videos in Amazon reviews show that it even involves a key, making this an excellent solution for people with non-traditional door locks and multi-point locks that can’t get any other smart lock to work (see a list here). It is cleverly constructed with interchangeable bottom plates that prevent the lock from turning on its own while you turn the lock.

This is SwitchBot’s thing: making ordinary devices smart. They have a little robot that flicks the light switch for 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 adapters in different sizes, so you can find the right fit for your setup. The SwitchBot lock does not remove any functionality — you can still use your key, and you can still turn the lock manually; it just adds the ability to use your phone or watch as a key.

Keypad Touch adds a fingerprint reader for another way to unlock the door.

Keypad Touch adds a fingerprint reader for another way to unlock the door.

There are a total of seven ways to control the door lock: your key, your smartphone / Apple Watch app, NFC tags using your phone, a key code using a keyboard, a fingerprint reader, an NFC key card and smart home / voice control. There are many options – although only the first three work out of the box.

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The keypad and door lock.

The keypad and door lock.

For the keyboard, keypad, or fingerprint entry, you’ll 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 non-fingerprint version only costs $30, but fingerprint access is my favorite way to use a smart door lock. The keyboards also work with NFC key cards. (One is included, and you can buy a three-pack for $15.) Even if you have a keyboard, I don’t see the need for a keycard, as you can hand out 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 connect them to your phone to lock or unlock the door with a tap on your phone. But you need to use two tags: one to lock and one to unlock. Attaching two pieces of white plastic to your door doesn’t improve the overall look here, and if you’ve got your phone out already, using the iOS or Android lock screen is almost as quick.

This is a robot hand for your door lock

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 do these integrations; the lock itself communicates via Bluetooth. You also need the hub to control the lock or check its status when you’re away using the SwitchBot app. The hub works with all SwitchBots gadgets, but must be installed near the lock.

I installed the SwitchBot Lock on my back door, which is a main entrance to our house. It leads into the mud room from our garage and gets a lot of foot traffic. The fingerprint reader and keypad made it easy for my kids to use the lock – no need to download an app. However, without these, there’s no easy way for a child without a smartphone to access the door.

SwitchBot Lock specifications

  • Dimensions: 4.39 inches x 2.32 inches x 2.88 inches
  • Weight: 8.9 oz
  • Color black
  • Lifetime: Up to 50,000 cycles
  • Power: Two 3V CR123A batteries
  • Battery life: Six months of locking and unlocking 10 times per day
  • Communication: Bluetooth 5.0
  • Works with: Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Siri Shortcuts, IFTTT, SmartThings
  • Encryption: AES-128-CTR

I was also disappointed that the notifications when the door is unlocked did not 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 my older children’s comings and goings when I’m at work. However, I could check the log in the app to see who unlocked it.

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Locking and unlocking is quick when you control it with the keyboard, but the phone app takes over five seconds to connect – very annoying if you’re standing in the rain. Apple Watch connects faster, and if you didn’t have a keyboard, it’s the easiest way to control the lock. All of these interactions are over Bluetooth, so you have to stand by the lock. To control it remotely with the app or voice control, you need the hub.

The top of the lock pops off for battery replacement and to adjust the lock to fit your door.

The top of the lock pops off for battery replacement and to adjust the lock to fit your door.

DATA SMART HOME PRIVACY: SwitchBot Lock

Bringing connected devices into the 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 the security measures it has in place for your data.

The primary data a smart door lock collects is when you lock/unlock the door and how (keyboard, manually, with the app, etc.). When you install the SwitchBot app on your smartphone, you must give it access to Bluetooth, location, and notifications. The app says it won’t track or store your location information.

SwitchBot says it uses various security technologies and procedures, including TLS encryption, to protect data. It says it keeps data for as long as you use the product and/or as required by law. Any personal data that is no longer necessary is deleted at regular intervals.

SwitchBot says it doesn’t sell your personal data and only shares it with other companies when you authorize that transfer (ie to connect to Amazon Alexa), as well as companies it hires for support or security services.

You can ask SwitchBot to update, delete or disable personal information and to “opt out” of using your personal information for certain purposes.

Read the full privacy policy here.

Setup and installation was quick, under 5 minutes in total. This is one of the lock’s biggest selling points, but it wasn’t exactly easy either. There is some work to be done to make sure the latch will turn before you tape it to the door, and you will need to use a small screwdriver (included) to adjust the gap between the latches. It is cleverly attached in all directions, vertically or horizontally, so you can fit it around the 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 notice or warning.

The SwitchBot app is basic. There is no way to schedule to lock or unlock the door at a specific time of day, and the auto-lock function was very unstable. It only worked with both the “Lock after a set amount of time” and “Relock if the door has been unlocked but not opened” toggles on, and even then it was unreliable. This seems like a software bug that can be fixed. But that meant I had to get my phone out to lock the door (there are widgets for iOS and Android lock screens to make this faster), use the Apple Watch app, or use my key. However, when I added the keyboard, I could press a button to lock it.

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There are some useful notification options, including when the door is locked, if the door has been left unlocked, and if it has been left ajar after a certain amount of time. Notifications require the hub to work and really they should just sell this with the hub. That definitely makes it a better smart lock. With the hub, I was able to connect to Alexa and add the lock to an Alexa routine that automatically locked it every night at sunset.

It works, but it doesn't look like it should.

It works, but it doesn’t look like it should.

The SwitchBot lock is a good option for tenants who cannot change the door lock at all, or for those who cannot or will not remove any part of their existing lock. It needs to be held to the door frame with a heavy duty adhesive, which will probably take some paint with it if you ever remove it. Similar retrofit options from August, Wyze, and Bosma require removing the rear deadbolt, and they all cost over $100.

But its smart features are limited to controlling the lock locally with your phone, Apple Watch or existing key. When you add the Wi-Fi hub, you get out-of-home 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 – this becomes a much more useful proposition, but then you’re hitting $170, closer to the price of less ugly options with better smarts that don’t require all these extras (but do require you to remove some or all 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 lock is its versatility. You can even use two on one door to handle multi-point locking. Its ability to handle virtually any type of locking mechanism, including a key, means it may be the only smart solution that works for your door.

Photograph by Jennifer Pattison Tuohy/The Verge

Agree to continue: SwitchBot Lock

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 is impossible for us to read and analyze each and every one of these agreements. But we started counting exactly how many times you have to hit “agree” to use devices when we’re reviewing them since these are agreements most people don’t read and definitely can’t negotiate.

To set up the SwitchBot lock, you need to download and log into the SwitchBot app. You can use Apple, Google or Amazon to sign in or create a SwitchBot account. If you choose to create an account, you agree to SwitchBot’s Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

Finally, two optional deals.

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