The real power of Smart Door Locks lies within asking a Voice Assistant to unlock your door, all while being hands-free. But with this capability comes three major obstacles to tackle: response time, reliability, and most importantly—security. For today’s post, I’ll review the user experience of using a Smart Door Lock with Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant to illustrate how each of the big three Voice Assistants overcome these challenges.
For testing purposes, I’ll use an August Door Lock; and for each Voice Assistant, I’ll test these three commands: “is the door locked,” “lock the door,” and finally “unlock the door.” For new readers, I recommend starting at the beginning of this series to better acquaint yourself with how Voice Assistants work with door locks and understand what the three major challenges are in greater detail.
Can Alexa unlock doors?
Yes. Alexa has Smart Door Lock support. To get a Smart Door Lock working, like an August Door Lock, you need to have a specific hub that serves as a bridge between your home network and the Smart Door Lock’s Bluetooth connection.
Once I have the lock setup in the August App and add my new lock to the Alexa App, I can issue the below commands to Alexa. Note that the device you use to talk to Alexa doesn’t change the experience. For instance, whether you use an Echo Dot or the Alexa App, you’ll get the same responses from Alexa. With this in mind, let’s begin testing.
“Alexa, is the door unlocked?”
Once I use this command, Alexa responds with: “Checking… hang on.”
Then a few seconds later, Alexa responds with: “The Front Door is locked.”
This command locks the door and takes roughly 2 seconds in total. It’s pretty fast, just like a Smart Light command.
“Alexa, lock the door”
After saying this command, Alexa responds with: “Locking… hang on.”
Then a few seconds later, Alexa responds with: “The Front Door is locked.”
This command locks the door and takes roughly 7 seconds in total.
“Alexa, unlock the door”
Now we arrive at the most challenging command, as it’s an Unsecuring Action for your Smart Door Lock. When I give this command, Alexa responds with: “Please unlock manually. To enable unlock by voice, open the Alexa App and go to device settings.”
A bit of an unusual response, but not totally unexpected due to the nature of the unlock action itself. So expect to see this response the first time you have set up a Smart Door Lock with Alexa. Amazon is very careful about not letting just anyone unlock your Smart Door Lock.
Since Alexa is referring back to the Alexa App, let’s go see what those settings are.To find this setting screen in the Alexa App, follow these steps:
- Tap Devices
- Then on your Smart Door Lock
- Finally Tap the gear icon in the top right corner
In the Alexa App, there are two settings related to unlocking: “Unlock by App” and “Unlock by Voice.”
Unlock by App is pretty straightforward. You just enable the setting and you’re done. Enabling Unlock by App also isn’t a big deal, in my opinion, as you have to have the App open to use the unlock feature. Just make sure you have a security code or passcode setup on your Smartphone as an added security measure.
Unlocking by Voice is where the real Alexa magic is. To enable this command, Amazon needs to handle the security implications of using a Voice Assistant to perform an Unsecuring Action. Let’s see how Amazon solves this security problem of Unsecuring Actions:
And there we have it. In order to allow Alexa to work with the command “Unlock the door,” you must give Alexa a four-digit code each time you use the command.
Now we know how Amazon limits who can use this command. With Alexa, only people with this four-digit code can use the command “Unlock the door.” How secure is your code? Well, as long as no one can guess your code, they can’t yell into your window to get Alexa to open your door. With that in mind, stay away from the easy codes, like: 0000, 1111, or 1234.
Can Siri unlock doors?
Yes. Siri has Smart Door Lock support. And the better news is that unlike Alexa and Google Assistant, you don’t need a hub for Siri to be able to control your door locally.
But wait, you’re not totally off the hook regarding hubs. If you want to control your lock when you aren’t home, you’ll need either an iPad, Apple TV, or HomePod setup at home. Apple requires a Home Hub to issue commands when you aren’t home.
Once I link the August Door Lock with HomeKit in the Home App, I can control it using HomeKit and Siri. With that, let’s begin testing.
“Hey Siri, is the door locked?”
Once I give this command, Siri quickly responds with: “Your Front Door is locked,” and I see the same message on the Siri UI.
When given this command, Siri gives the status of the door—whether it’s locked or unlocked. For instance, after giving Siri this command, I’m told: “Your Front Door is locked.” In total, the exchange took roughly 5 seconds.
“Hey Siri, lock the door”’
When I give this command, Siri responds with exactly what I expect. The response is: “OK, the Front Door is locked,” and I see this message on the Siri UI.
Siri also says a few things that aren’t printed on the screen. For instance, a few seconds after I send the command, Siri responds with “I’m on it.” This is how Siri deals with the time problem. Siri gives you small updates over time to let you know something is still happening.
After a few more seconds pass, Siri both texts in the Siri UI and speaks the final message of: “OK, the Front Door is locked.” Overall, the entire exchange takes 20 seconds.
“Hey Siri, unlock the door”
As with before, remember that this command has security implications because it’s a Unsecuring Action. With this in mind, I expect Siri to add a layer of security to make sure I’m authorized to say this command.
But how exactly does Apple handle this security challenge? Interestingly enough, Apple relies on your iPhone login credentials. To unlock your door—or perform an Unsecuring Action—you first need to unlock your iPhone. If your iPhone is unlocked, you get this behavior. In short, Siri does exactly what you ask with no extra hoops to jump through. This is what you’ll see:
Siri also says a few things that aren’t on the screen. For instance, a few seconds after I send the command, Siri responds with “I’m on it.” Then after a few more seconds pass, Siri texts in the Siri UI and speaks the final message of: “OK, the Front Door is locked.” Apple adds security in a very subtle way that only Apple can achieve simply because the company owns the iPhone and its software.
When using HomePod, however, the experience is different and much less elegant. This is because Apple still relies on the same security device—your iPhone—in order to complete this command. So this means anytime you ask your HomePod to unlock the door, it will redirect you back to your phone. Although the iPhone experience is great, attempting this command with HomePod is really cumbersome, as you always need your phone with you.
Can Google unlock doors?
Yes. Google Assistant has Smart Door Lock support. To get a Smart Door Lock working, like with an August Door Lock, you first need to have a specific hub that serves as a bridge between your home network and the Smart Door Lock’s Bluetooth connection. Note that this requirement is the same for Alexa, but not with Siri.
Once I add my Smart Door Lock to the Google Home App, I can issue the following commands to Google Assistant via the App or with Google Home. The good news is I’m not able to find a difference in user experience between Google Assistant interfaces.
“Hey Google, is the door locked?”
When I ask this command via the Google Home App, Google Assistant responds quickly via voice, and I see this message:
Google Assistant responds with exactly what I expect: “Front Door is unlocked.” Additionally, the whole exchange took roughly 5 seconds.
“Hey Google, lock the door”
With this command, I discover some major concerns with Google Assistant’s Smart Door Lock control. Remember, the first challenge with Voice Assistants and Smart Door Locks [LINK] is the lengthy time duration it takes in order to complete your command. Google has an odd way to address this problem. For instance, when I ask Google Assistant to lock the door, this is the response I get:
As you can see in the screenshot, Google Assistant responds with: “OK, requesting to lock Front Door.” Only after physically checking the Smart Door Lock myself am I then able to verify if it did indeed lock.
This response is very concerning to me. Google avoids the challenge of Smart Door Locks being slow by ignoring it. Google Assistant doesn’t confirm if the door actually locked. Instead, the Voice Assistant sends the request and moves on, leaving the user guessing whether or not the request was successful. Imagine if your real-life assistant did this! Note that this is also a worse experience compared to Alexa and Siri, where both Voice Assistants confirm the status of your command with whether the door is locked or unlocked.
To be fair, there is a workaround to confirm this status. You can wait a few seconds and ask Google Assistant if the door is locked (see above command for more). This follow-up question isn’t ideal, though, as it means you need to further engage with Google Assistant in order to save your peace of mind that the door is in fact locked.
“Hey Google, unlock the door”
Now that it’s known that Google Assistant skips the first challenge, I’m left wondering how it will handle the second challenge of security. Let’s see how the Voice Assistant handles unlocking the door.
When given the above command, Google Assistant quickly asks the question: “Sure, can I have your security code?” So far so good, as a security code is required when you set up the Smart Door Lock in the Google Home App.
When I provide the security code, Google Assistant then responds very similarly to the previous command. Google Assistant says: “Sure, requesting to unlock Front Door;” I also see this in the Google Home App:
Turns out, for this unlock command, you’ll notice a similar problem that I uncovered for the “is the door locked” command. Google Assistant simply doesn’t confirm that the door is actually unlocked.
The good news, though, is Google Assistant does handle the challenge of Unsecuring Actions<LINK>. So this means your security isn’t compromised, as Google implements the same solution that Amazon does with requesting that you create a pin code that only you know.
Which Voice Assistant Unlocks Smart Doors Best?
Based on my testing experience above, here’s my recommendation:
- Are you away from home? Use Siri on iPhone.
- Are you at home? Use Alexa.
With my Smart Door Lock, I follow these recommendations: If I’m home, I use Alexa to control my Smart Door Lock; If I’m away, I use Siri.
As for which is better, the answer largely depends on what Voice Assistant enabled device you use. For instance, if you’re using Siri on iPhone, Apple gives you the most seamless experience. But on the other hand, Apple’s HomePod provides an annoying experience that requires your iPhone to unlock the door. On the other hand, if you’re already home, Alexa does the best in providing you the security measures you want while making the process as easy as possible to unlock your door.
But at this point, you might also be asking what about Google Assistant—how does it stack up with its competitors?
- The worst experience? Google Assistant offers the worst experience.
Google Assistant provides the worst experience due to mainly just one reason. Unlike Alexa and Siri, Google Assistant doesn’t confirm if your door is actually locked or unlocked. Without having this verbal confirmation, you’re left wondering if your door is in fact securely locked. This ultimately erases any peace of mind you should get with using a Voice Assistant with a Smart Door Lock.
Want to learn more about Smart Door Locks? Be sure to check out the entire series here or comment below with any questions you may have.