Hands On With Locksmart Keyless Padlocks

Image: From supplied

The humble padlock has been a mainstay of security for a long time. While outwardly simple, these 2,500 year old inventions have been used to secure everything from loads on trading routes to gates into our backyards. But they've now been given the "smart" treat - replacing the lock-and-key with a mechanism that is activated via a secure app on your smartphone. Don and Bone sell a variety of different Smartlock devices. I've tested their travel lock for suitcases and the Locksmart Mini - which is pretty darn big for something with the "mini" tag.

Why bother with a smart lock?

When I first heard about these devices, my initial instinct was that they are a silly gimmick. After all, it's not that hard to pop a key in a lock and turn it. But there are benefits to creating a connected padlock.

There's no need to get a separate key cut for each person that needs to open the lock - and the lack of a key does add a potentially layer of security as traditional lock picks won't work on it. The software that operates these locks allows you to track who has been opening the padlock. Effectively, you're adding an administration tool over the use of the lock.

While a smart padlock is not for everyone, there are plenty of good applications for the technology.

Getting started

Dog and Bone provided me with the Locksmart Travel and Locksmart Mini for review.

In order to set the locks up, I needed to download the Locksmart app from the App Store. I tested it with an iPhone X and there is an Android version in the Google Play Store

Both devices required a firmware update before being usable. I guess this is a sign of the times. Connected devices need to be maintained so its a good thing that these products are being updated by the creators. However, I did note they iOS app was last updated over a year ago. The Android version was updated in June this year.

The firmware update process went perfectly on the Travel but I did hit a hiccup on the Mini. The blue LED stayed lit following the firmware update and stayed lit. However, I couldn't connect to the lock. I feared that the firmware update process had gone a awry and bricked the lock. But I left it alone overnight and it worked perfectly after that.

I'm still not sure what happened but all seems well now.

Features and functions

Although the iOS app hasn't been updated for a while, it worked perfectly well with FaceID.

The software also allows you to invite other users to use the connected locks. Access to the locks can be unlimited, limited to a set number of uses or on a schedule as well as one-time use. Once a user is invited to use a lock, they receive an SMS with instructions on setting the lock up in their version of the app.

Image: Anthony Caruana

In order to conserve battery life, both locks need to be switched on before unlocking. Thus is done by pressing a small button on the bottom of the device. In the Mini's case, this is under a rubber flap - the lock is weatherproof so it can be used outdoors - but it can be pressed without lifting the flap.

The Locksmart travel is powered by a single CR2032 battery that can be easily replaced. There is a small screw to undo but a battery swap should only take a minute of so. When the battery is running low, the app will send you an alert and there's also a battery meter in the app so you can keep track of the juice situation.

The Locksmart Mini has an inbuilt battery and is charged using a micro-USB cable. This could be a hassle. If the lock runs out of juice you may need to bring a battery pack out to charge it before if can be unlocked. Like the Travel, the Mini does have a battery meter and alerts from the app. Dog and Bone, who make the Locksmart, say the battery is good for two years or 3000 opens between charges. A full charge took about an hour.

Once the lock is activated, you use the app to open it.

As well as unlocking, the app lets you track the location your smartlocks - assuming they are close to your phone. With the travel lock, this can be useful as you can get a notification when your lock comes within Bluetooth range of your phone - handy when you're waiting for your bag to come off the luggage carousel.

Testing

Unfortunately, I didn't have a chance to try the Travel out in the field but I did test it out on a suitcase at home. All the unlocking, alerts and proximity features worked as promised.

The 3.2mm shackle fitted easily through the zips on smaller and larger cases I have.

Image: Anthony Caruana

I popped the Mini - which is more like the size of regular lock - into my back gate. It has a 7mm shackle and weighs 160g - it is quite hefty. It's weatherproof and made to work in temperatures between -20 to +70 degrees Celsius.

Image: Anthony Caruana

Again - it passed the "just works" test.

Conclusions and buying advice

Let's start with prices. The Locksmart Mini has a retail price of $109.95 - which is pretty expensive in my view and not great value. But JB HiFi has them on sale for $39 which, i think, makes the a far more attractive offer.

The Locksmart Travel will set you back $80 - if there's a discounted price out there in line with the Locksmart Mini I couldn't spot it.

Both devices worked as promised so the question become whether the price premium attracted by getting a connected lock over a traditional one remains. Depending on the brand you buy, a comparable traditional lock will cost between $20 and $50. But, if you need extra keys or need several locks keyed the same then your costs can jump.

I wouldn't recommend the Locksmart Mini for an area where you need lots of locks that are keyed similarly. But for a home where you have one or two locks and need them to be accessible to several people, then they are pretty useful.


Comments

    How long before a technical vulnerability makes these unlockable by anyone? How patchable are they?

      I received firmware updates when setting them up. Based on my experience, when you connect to the lock, if there's new firmware the app tells you and strongly tells you to update.

        That's reassuring, but I'm still struggling to get past by infosec/hacker paranoia. I (probably unreasonably) figure lock picking is a dying art vs. everyone's a script kiddie now thanks to the NSA/CIA.

        Still, whether you go smart or key lock, both vulnerable to bolt cutters. Someone with enough motivation is always going to defeat them.

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