My favorite Apple Home Key-compatible smart lock was worth the wait

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Aqara U100 smart lock installed on door

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

Just last month, Aqara launched its very first Apple Home Key smart lock in the US, the Aqara U100 The launch came after Aqara had already sold many Home Key-compatible smart locks outside the US market, so it’s not a newcomer to the smart home world. But was the wait worth it? I tested it for six weeks, and the short answer is: Absolutely.

Aqara U100 box


Aqara U100 smart lock

The Aqara U100 smart lock is the first in the U.S. to combine Apple Home Key, keypad, fingerprint, NFC tags, and a physical key for unlocking options — all for $189.

Getting the Aqara U100 on my front door was reasonably straightforward, even though my specific review unit didn’t come with instructions. It took a few minutes to figure out which piece goes on before the other, but a deadbolt is a pretty straightforward mechanism, so it was easy. The entire process took less than 15 minutes.

Also: iPhone users, this smart lock was literally made for you

Once the U100 smart lock was on the door, I set it up with the Aqara app on my iPhone and used an Aqara M2 Hub to connect to it. 

Aqara Hub M2 in hand

I used the Aqara Hub M2 to set up the U100 lock.

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

Though an Aqara Hub isn’t necessary to use the basic features of the smart lock, you do need one to perform remote lock and unlock actions, view the current lock status and configure password settings from your phone, and create automations with other Aqara devices. 

Without a hub, the U100 smart lock can only connect to your phone via Bluetooth and be controlled as long as you’re within Bluetooth range. 

Aqara U100 smart lock on a door

The lock blends seamlessly alongside my door.

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

The Aqara U100 smart lock is unique in the U.S. as it’s the only one on the market to offer the following unlocking options in one:

  • Passcode unlock: The U100 lock features a keypad to enter 6-10 digit passcodes to open, and users can add one-time passcodes or ones that only work during a preset period, like for a babysitter every weekday from 3-6 p.m. The lock can have up to 75 passwords set up in the app. 
  • Fingerprint unlock: After setting up my U100 to open with my fingerprint, I’ve never had issues with it not recognizing it or failing to respond to it. Users can add up to 50 fingerprints in the app, and Aqara says its fingerprint reader features a 98.6% recognition rate.
  • Apple Home Key: I set up the U100 lock to unlock with my iPhone using the NFC-powered Apple Home Key. This adds a virtual key to your iPhone’s Wallet, and you can open your smart lock only by bringing your iPhone or Apple Watch close to it.
  • NFC tags: You can also program NFC tags to unlock the Aqara U100, which is perfect for anyone that isn’t an Apple user or to use as keycards for houseguests.
  • Mechanical keys: The U100 smart lock comes with two physical keys to use, and the keyhole is hidden behind a sliding panel on the face of the wave.

Though I didn’t find the Aqara mobile app very intuitive, I loved the different features available for the U100 lock. You can add other users and give them each a unique unlocking method. For example, I’ve always given myself a passcode and a fingerprint to know who entered and how when checking the lock’s event history. 

Aqara U100 smart lock

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

The app also lets you customize alert settings and choose the voice volume and language for any voice alerts during the locking operation. Thanks to a built-in gyroscope for motion detection, you can set the device to auto-lock when the door is closed (with no extra modules required).

That being said, it wasn’t all sunshine and automatically locked doors. I struggled at times with the app’s Beta features, especially when it came time to get the U100 to lock behind me or when I swiped it, and at one point had to go back inside to find the mechanical key because it wasn’t working for me. 

Though my experience was mostly positive, I found the app very slow and unreliable at giving me the lock status, even when my phone was within Bluetooth range. Sometimes it’d just give me the wrong status and say the door was locked when I could clearly see it wasn’t. 

Aqara U100 smart lock

The Aqara U100 smart lock has a hidden keyhole.

Maria Diaz/ZDNET

I still loved the Aqara U100 because of two things: the pros outweigh the cons, and it’s a new product with incoming firmware upgrades constantly improving its performance.

Considering how elaborate smart locks can get, I went into this review biased toward the simplicity of the Level Lock+ and the sleek design of the Yale Assure Lock SL. But all the additional unlocking features that make the Aqara U100 unique has turned me around. 

Being able to consistently (and flexibly) unlock my door with either my fingerprint or Apple Watch, and not one or the other, has added the exact amount of convenience to my life that I look for in all smart home devices.

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