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Otto may be the smallest smart lock out there — and the most expensive

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Otto smart lock Photo: Otto

If you want a smart lock, you have to be willing to stick a big, ugly hunk of metal on your door — it's pretty much unavoidable: be it upstarts like August and Latch or traditional lockmakers like Kwikset and Schlage. Every smart lock is huge.

But today, a startup called Otto is debuting its first product, the Otto Lock, and it's really, really small — about the size of a standard, non-smart lock. It's the first one that looks like something a less techy homeowner would actually want.

Unfortunately, it's also the most expensive smart lock you can buy.

Otto isn't necessarily smarter than any of its competitors, but it stands out for being by far the best looking. It's about the size of a standard lock, and yet it still has all the smart features you'd expect.

Otto lock Photo: Otto

The lock has no keyhole and instead relies primarily on your phone. It can unlock with a tap once your phone is in range (it's supposed to use sensors to make sure you don't accidentally unlock the door for someone outside your home), and you can set up guest access through a companion app, too. The device also rotates like a combination lock, allowing you to punch in a PIN in case your phone dies. And it can tell whether the door is actually shut or not, since the product replaces not just the your lock, but your deadbolt and the plate inside your door, too.

At launch, there won’t be support for any smart assistants, but Otto CEO Sam Jadallah says that support for Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant, and Apple’s HomeKit system will arrive later on. Wi-Fi is built into the lock, so that you can control it when outside the house; and while that might be a drain on the lock’s batteries, Jadallah says it should still run for three to four months at a time. It relies on a pair of CR123 batteries, and if those die, an internal battery is supposed to provide enough power for about a dozen extra unlocks.

On paper, the Otto lock sounds as good or better than most other smart lock options — there’s no built-in camera, nor an option to use a physical key, which could be a hangup for people who don’t want to go all-in on still-nascent tech — but it really does appear to have all the core smart lock components in a smaller, sleeker package than everyone else.

The big downside is: it costs $699, about triple what you’ll pay for other options. And while installation will come free at first, Otto eventually plans to require buyers to pay $150 to have someone come out and put the lock in their door — there won’t be an option to install it yourself. You’ll also have to be in one of the big US cities serviced by the installation company Otto has partnered with, otherwise you can’t get it installed.

Otto lock Photo: Otto

Jadallah says requiring an installer is part of ensuring “that people have a great experience.” He’s also expecting wealthier homeowners to be the ones who buy this lock. “In the areas we're looking at, where homes are above $250,000, people spend $5,000 to $10,000 on their front door. They spend an awful lot of money on their front door,” he says. “They want something that honors that.”

I think Jadallah is right that looks are critical here — a lot of people will be hesitant to put a hunk of technology on a part of their home that’s supposed to look simple and classic. But $699 (and later, $849) is a lot to spend on an unproven piece of technology. Smart locks are still new enough that we’re not sure how well their tech will age, nor how many problems will come up, be it security (Otto claims to use “among the most sophisticated and secure” encryption available) or basics like getting locked out because your batteries died.

There’s also the fact that people have multiple doors on their house. While this is designed to look beautiful on a front door, most homeowners I know walk in through their garage door — a door on which they might not be willing to spend quite so much money. And what’s the benefit of installing a beautiful smart lock on your front door if you rarely get a chance to use it?