Cards, codes, fingerprints the new key to home security

Home owners are increasingly opting to go keyless not just for their vehicles, but their homes as well, as the popularity of digital locks has surged over the past three years.

With features such as keycard access, fingerprint scanners, password entry and even phone-app unlocking, digital locks are changing the game for an otherwise enduring invention.

Digital locks have been on the market for almost a decade.

But their popularity among home owners, particularly those staying in Housing Board flats, has exploded in the past year, according to Mr Ivan Lee, director and co-founder of An Digital Lock. The retailer's sales have increased by 25 to 30 per cent year on year over the past three years, he said.

Most users cite convenience as the main reason for opting for a digital lock over a traditional one, as they do not need to carry a set of keys around with them.

Neither do they have to worry about forgetting to lock their doors, as such a lock will automatically latch itself when the door is closed.

"I wanted to get a lock which would reduce the amount of hassle when I come home," said Mr Andy Wee, 33, who works in a tuition agency.

He installed a Samsung digital lock at his Design, Build and Sell Scheme (DBSS) apartment in Yishun last July.

"Many times when I return home, I would realise that I had left my keys at my workplace or in the car, and would have to go back to get them," Mr Wee said.

My Digital Lock founder Ronn Teo said his number of installations has jumped significantly this year, but declined to reveal figures.

Half of the digital locks are installed at HDB flats, particularly new Build-To-Order or DBSS units, he said. His firm's clientele comprises mostly young, just-married couples, with a "few people in their 40s".

The other installations are split evenly between condominiums and office spaces.

Both Samsung and Yale are popular choices here due to their strong brand name and brand association, said Mr Teo.

But brands such as Kaba, Evernet, Gateman, Mykey, Hyundai and Virdi have also been making headway, giving consumers a wealth of options in terms of design, functions and looks.

INSTALLING A DIGITAL LOCK

Installation of digital locks is generally quick, with qualified contractors typically able to finish the job in less than two hours.

The basic tier of locks start from $299, such as the Yale YDR3110, and function as add-ons to existing locks on doors. Such locks offer either PIN access or key card access, or both.

A more expensive digital lock replaces a door's existing lock and handle with its own design, and also comes with more functions, such as fingerprint sensors and manual key overrides.

These include popular models such as the Samsung P718 and Yale YDM 4109, which start at $899.

Another benefit of going digital are the additional security features these locks have. For instance, some models offer PIN codes that can be used only at certain times of the day. For instance, a user who hires contract cleaners may set a passcode for them which is valid only between the hours they are at the house.

Some locks also have emergency passcode functions. When it is entered, the door opens as usual with no apparent alarm, but an SMS will be sent to the home's owners to alert them that something is amiss.

Newer digital locks, such as the Yale YDD 424, are designed to be integrated with home automation systems through Wi-Fi.

This gives home owners access to additional features, such as the ability to keep track of the times a particular passcode has been keyed in.

This might be useful for parents who, for instance, can view a log on their smartphones of when their children come home and use their passcodes to open the door.

Prospective digital lock owners should note that these locks require the the mandatory installation of a door closer on the door frame, which allows the door to close automatically and gently.

Doing so prevents the door from slamming into the frame, which may, over time, damage the sensitive electronics inside the digital lock.

And, as such locks are battery- powered, home owners must be mindful of when the juice is running low, lest they find themselves locked out of their homes.

But a digital lock has sensors which will detect when its battery level is dipping, and will play a jingle every time the door is opened for about a week before its power runs out.

Authorised resellers here said they are facing competition from online marketplaces, such as Qoo10 or Taobao, where customers can expect to pay about $200 less for digital locks.

But they take the risk of not having local warranties for their locks, and will have to source for a contractor to install them.

Three popular digital locks

Samsung P718
$999

The Samsung P718 is one of the most popular digital locks in Singapore, according to its authorised resellers here. It is also one of the few full-fledged locks that offer four different types of access: fingerprint scanner, key card, passcode and a manual key override.

This lock replaces the door handle and keyhole, and one of its biggest draws is its push-pull function. Users simply have to unlock the door and push with one motion from the outside to open it, more convenient than reaching for a handle or doorknob.

Similarly, users just have to pull with one motion when opening from inside the house.

Users can also set double authentication, which requires someone who wants to enter to key in both the passcode and master code to gain access.

Kaba EF280
$799

One of the more popular budget digital locks in Singapore, the Kaba EF280 is an add-on digital lock to traditional doors.

It does not replace the physical lock found on the door, but is merely added on top of it to provide another way of opening the door.

It is a control panel with a fingerprint sensor and touch-capacitive keypad, and can store up to 50 unique fingerprints.

The Kaba EF280 locks automatically after five seconds, and also has a lock-out delay after several failed passcode attempts as a security feature.

Yale YDD 424
$1,299

One of the newest digital locks on the market, the Yale YDD 424 boasts the features of regular digital locks like fingerprint and passcode access, but its edge lies in its connectivity to home automation systems.

To make full use of the YDD 424, home owners should have a home automation system, like the Z-Wave.

Z-Wave, which works with products from more than 300 manufacturers including Yale, allows users to control lighting, fans and digital locks from a central controller like a smartphone.

With a system in place, users can check who has opened the lock using an app on their smartphones. They can also call up time logs of when specific users have accessed the locks, as well as receive notifications when the door is opened.

Instead of using a key card, the YDD 424 can be opened using a mobile phone that has been registered to it.

lesterh@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on November 18, 2015.
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