For what seemed like the longest time, I was desperate to find a lock suitable for our apartment in Taiwan to round out the smart home ‘collection’. A couple of years ago, I finally managed to achieve this with the Nuki Smart Lock 2.0 (you can read the review HERE or watch the video HERE), which is essentially a retrofit device that fits over the top of the existing Eurocylinder lock and key. In the two and a bit years it has been in use, I’ve been fairly happy with it, but just recently it began to exhibit some strange behaviour, which seemed to be a warning sign to start looking elsewhere for a replacement.
In what couldn’t be better timing, Aqara luckily contacted me, asking if I’d like to test out their new A100 Zigbee smart lock. I was ready to say “Yes!”, but the issue of installing something like this was of major concern to me. Aqara was already aware of the requirements needed to install such a device and said they’d arrange for the installation with a local locksmith into the deal. It makes sense of course, as a badly fitted lock, wouldn’t really make for a good review!
So, with everything arranged, come the day of the installation, it all went very smoothly with both the installation and subsequent Smart Home integration (which happily, was left to me). As it stands, the A100 Zigbee, the company’s international version for the A100 series locks, is only available in a handful of countries in Asia (Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan etc), along with Russia, although there are tentative steps to get the lock into European and hopefully the US as well. That’s not for me to dwell on though, but if you want to know what makes this one of the best locks I’ve had the chance to test out, then read on.
PACKAGING | CONTENTS
As the A100 isn’t the kind of product you’re going to pick off the shelf as such, the packaging, whilst informative, is rather more functional than eyecatching. However, it protects everything really well, and given this came from Hong Kong to Taiwan via Japan, Vietnam, Mainland China, and The Philippines (I kid you not), the box held up admirably! Good to know, given the contents aren’t cheap.
As you can see from the box, this is aimed at international markets with Chinese for Asian markets where Chinese is used (Singapore, Malaysia etc), English for most other places (being it’s the Lingua Franca), and Russian for Russia (obviously).
The packaging states the A100 works with Apple HomeKit, as well as Aqara Home, and uses Bluetooth, although as the product name implies, Zigbee is used as well to some degree, which we’ll go into later. The one thing that’s not mentioned on the box is that the lock will also work with Google Assistant.
Before I go into the parts, a bit of info on the A100 series locks is in order;
All of the models – the A100, A100 Pro, and the A100 Zigbee – feature a variety of ways in which you can unlock the door, although the options vary slightly between models;
App unlock (remote unlock only for the A100 Zigbee)
Apple HomeKey (A100 Pro and Zigbee only)
There are in fact four models, although one of them – the A100 X – is only for installers that might be involved in contracts for new apartment builds, so the X model isn’t something you’ll be able to buy as such. That leaves three different models available to the public;
A100 – This is only sold in Mainland China, and doesn’t have HomeKey or Zigbee connectivity
A100 Pro – This is also sold in Mainland China, and it does use Apple HomeKey, but not Zigbee.
A100 Zigbee – This is the international model, sold outside of China, and uses both Apple HomeKey and Zigbee integration
We’ll come back to this information in more detail later in the review.
Swiftly onto the contents, and there’s a manual in Chinese, English, and Russian along with a cardboard ‘cutting guide’. The manual is only for setup once the lock has been physically installed, and doesn’t contain any information on fitting it into your door at all. The cutting guide is really the kind of thing you’d expect to see for professional installers, although, if nothing else, it’s still useful to give you a rough idea of where holes will need to be cut. More on that in a bit.
As for the rest of the contents, you get the main lock itself, which is a mortice type lock that contains a group of three deadbolts, as well as a latch bolt, and a night latch. There are pins and screws of all types, a couple of ’emergency’ keys, a one-sided Eurocylinder lock, and finally a strike plate.
The remaining parts are the outer sections of the lock; Aqara are known by now for their minimalist take on product design, and just like the Aqara Hub M2, these parts are unadorned, large slabs of metal with a textured matt black coating, with very little else that sticks out too much at all. It’s a really excellent example of clean and understated industrial design.
The outer section has slightly more to it than the inner section, mostly due to the touch screen containing the keypad, whilst the keypad is replaced with a battery compartment on the inner section.
Starting from the bottom of the inner section, there’s a night latch that can be manually turned to give you a bit of extra security on top of the triple deadbolts and the latch bolt. The latch bolt can only be disengaged with a physical key or by administrators, which I’ll go into later.
Besides the handle, there’s the battery compartment, which holds eight AA batteries. The lock actually functions on just four of these batteries, with the other four acting as a backup when the first four die. All told, you should be getting around 18 months of use from the entire set of eight batteries. If for any reason there’s an issue with these batteries, you’ll get a push notification to let you know there’s an issue that needs looking into.
The inside of the battery compartment cover contains the HomeKit code, and as there’s no other instance of the HomeKit code, it’s wise to make a note of it, even if you don’t think it’s likely you’ll lose the cover. Below the battery section are two buttons labelled Setting [sic] and Reset. The latter of these is obviously to reset the lock if required., whilst the former allows for initial set up and direct control of certain aspects of the lock, in combination with the app and the built-in voice prompt.
The outer section of the lock features, at the bottom, the Aqara branding, with a circular plastic disc housing the eurocylinder lock above it. If you need to use the key for whatever reason, you push the cover in at the bottom slightly to allow for the cover to pop out at the top, so you can pull it down and insert the key. I can’t really see myself using the key at all, given all the methods available to me, but it’s there all the same.
As previously mentioned, installing this lock, whilst fairly straightforward in many ways, really does require both the right tools and a good understanding of how it all lines up without screwing it all up, which I’m very capable of achieving! If you’ve fitted a lock like this before and have the right tools, that’s great, but I’m very happy to leave it to the pros, as seen above.
WHAT UNLOCK METHODS DOES THE A100 ZIGBEE OFFER?
Above that is the handle, which incorporates a fingerprint reader/sensor. This, in my opinion, is the way the vast majority of users will prefer when it comes to unlocking the door. As you have to hold the handle to open the door anyway, placing your thumb (if you have one) over the sensor as you turn the handle, is the logical and most natural way. Obviously, there will be some that will want to know what happens to the fingerprints (biometric data) that the lock records. According to Aqara and the app when you begin adding prints, all data is stored on the lock alone. No information is uploaded to any server, and all data can be removed from the lock at any time. Of course, if you still feel suspicious of giving up your thumbprint, which is entirely understandable, you still have other methods at your disposal.
The keypad allows you to enter a previously set up code of between 6 ~ 10 digits to unlock the door. More details on this later, but it’s useful for either guests, one-off visitors or infrequent family visits to your home.
If you’re an Apple HomeKit user or even simply own a compatible iPhone, you can use Apple HomeKey;