As often happens, the first product in a new product category is pretty good, but the second and third entries bring the wow. This is certainly the case with the category of keyless deadbolt locks and Yale's Real Living Touchscreen deadbolt. Schlage has a good lock, Kwikset's is better, and Yale's is fantastic.
Where the Kwikset and Schlage locks use rubber keypads, Yale deploys an illuminated capacitive touchscreen (they also have a less-expensive push-button model that we didn't evaluate). Each lock can operate on its own, but each is also available with either a Z-Wave or ZigBee plug-in radio, so that it can be integrated into a home-control system. We tested Yale's Z-Wave model in stand-alone mode and tried to integrate it into the Vivint home-control system we've been evaluating, without real success (more on that in a moment).
Yale's lock, like Kwikset's, features a motorized bolt that locks and unlocks either when the correct code is entered on the keypad or when it receives a command from a control device (such as a wireless alarm panel or a controller such as the Mi Casa Verde's Vera 2). Schlage's lock, in contrast, is not motorized. It engages a clutch after it receives the correct code, and the user must physically turn a knob to lock or unlock the door. While a motorized bolt will presumably consume batteries faster than a non-motorized model, it also delivers two major benefits: First and foremost, both the Kwikset and Yale locks can optionally lock themselves automatically. So if you forget to lock the door after you enter or exit - or just unlock the bolt and never open the door - the lock will throw the bolt automatically.
If you don't enable the auto-lock feature, but you do enroll the lock in a home-control system, you'll be able to determine the status of the deadbolt - locked or unlocked - and you'll have the power to set the bolt remotely. Second, if you unlock the door for someone remotely, you won't need to explain what he or she must do to open the door; more importantly, you won't need to depend on them to lock the door when they leave.
The process of installing the Yale lock was very similar to what we encountered with the Kwikset and Schlage products, except that Yale provides rubber gaskets for both its interior and exterior escutcheons. The gaskets are a nice touch, in that they not only prevent weather from penetrating the door, but they also prevent the escutcheons from marring your door's surfaces. Yale also uses a tapered bolt, which should make it easier to install in a misaligned door. The bolt ships with its backset set at 2.75 inches deep, but it can be shortened to 2.375 inches by pushing a very small button. That should have been simple, but it was the only aspect of the lock that didn't operate smooth as silk. We struggled with the adjustment for at least 10 minutes and were about to throw it back in the box when it suddenly slid into place.
After that, as with the other Z-Wave deadbolts we've tested, swapping this for an existing deadbolt took just a few minutes. Aside from a few extra screws, the only additional steps over installing a conventional deadbolt involve snaking a wire harness through the hole in the door to connect the exterior keypad to a circuit board on the interior side, plugging in the network module, and installing four AA batteries.
We did encounter one totally unexpected new feature the moment we installed the battery pack: a female voice cheerfully declared "Welcome, to Yale Real Living!" That prompted a hearty geek chuckle. Who'd have thought a deadbolt manufacturer would incorporate the concept of surprise and delight in their product's design? The voice is very helpful, too. Rather than staring at the lock wondering why it didn't open, the voice will inform you of your error with phrases such as, "Wrong number of digits" or Time expired". The voice will provide other information, too; but for whatever reason, the lock simply emits a musical tone if you enter an incorrect code. Do this between three and 10 times in a row (the limit is user definable) and the unit will shut down. If you don't like the noise, you can program the lock to operate in silent mode.
The lock's touchscreen panel is dark when the lock is idle. You must touch it with several fingers or the back of your hand or press the asterisk symbol to bring the numeric kepad to life. The lock recognizes one eight-digit master code and a maximum of 25 four- to eight-digit user codes. The user code limit increases to 250 codes when you install a ZigBee or Z-Wave network module and pair the lock with the appropriate controller.
Once it's enrolled into a home-control system, such as the Vivint system shown here, you can monitor the status of the Yale's deadbolt and lock or unlock it from anywhere you have Internet access.
As we mentioned before, we tried to pair Yale's lock with the Vivint home security-home control system we recently reviewed. The 2 Gig Go! control panel that Vivint uses enrolled the Yale device as a Z-Wave keypad door lock, but refused to group it along with the Kwikset deadbolts we'd previously installed (this panel currently doesnt recognize Sclage Z-Wave locks, either). Oddly enough, the Alarm.com monitoring service that Vivint uses correctly classifies both the Yale and Schlage devices as locks, but we weren't able to control either of them from the 2Gig panel through Alarm.com web interface. 2Gig tells us they'll update the 2Gig Go! to support both the Schlage and Yale locks, but that update may not be readly until the first quarter 2012.
As with the Kwikset and Schlage locks, you can always fall back to using a conventional key to unlock the deadbolt should the batteries fail. All three locks will report their battery status to your network, and all three have interior LEDs that provide a visual prompt. But Yale's lock is unique in that it will also report a low-battery condition on its exterior side. It's also unique in having an interior button that can deactivate both voice mode and the keypad, in case you don't want to be disturbed (although this won't prevent the key from opening the lock). The interior LED and the exterior keypad both inform the user when this "privacy mode" has been activated.
The Yale Real Living deadbolt features far sturdier construction than bothe the Schalge and Kwikset devices, it has many more features than either, and its capacitive touchscreen is truly bad-ass. But Yale expects you to pay dearly for all that geek nirvana: The Z-Wave model is street priced at $275, compared to around $250 street for the Kwikset product and $199 for the Schlage product (all three prices were obtained from Gokeyless.com on September 30, 2011. We encourage you to check prices elsewhere before making a purchase).
Yale has a great lock, but the price tag and the difficulty we had adjusting the barrel length deny it a Kick Ass award.
Editor's Note: This story was updated on September 30, 2011 to reflect more accurate street prices. --mb 9/30/2011