BrillLock, a door lock with fingerprint reader. Great idea, bad execution

BrillLock, a door lock with fingerprint reader. Great idea, bad execution

You know how much people love to unlock phones with their fingerprint, right? It’s fast, it works while wearing a face mask, and is generally regarded as being one of the great things about phones since its debut in Apple’s iPhone 5s. What if you could unlock a door the same way?

That’s BrillLock’s value proposition: unlock a door using your fingerprint. And it works, but not without a few problems.

The good

  • Fingerprint does lock and unlock the door
  • Laser-cut key for backup use
  • charges over Micro-USB
  • LED to confirm status (green for good, red for bad)
  • When locked, lever moves freely (can’t be forced)

The not-so-good

  • Difficulty in programming fingers (I’ll explain shortly)
  • A ‘yellow’ LED that’s meant to flash, but looks the same as the green one, making it difficult to see
  • Micro-USB for charging is on the outside handle
  • Erasing one fingerprint erases all of them

How it works

Once programmed, you grip the lever handle and put your fingerprint on the reader, on the inside of the handle. This causes the handle to wake up and a motor engages the square rod that goes through the door to the inside handle. With that engaged, when you press on the handle, it retracts the latch bolt from the door frame, and you can open the door.

The handle motor disengages the rod after a short time, so that pushing on the lever doesn’t do anything, essentially locking the door. This is pretty good: any downward force on the lever handle isn’t going to break the lock, making it more secure.

The keyway is covered by a metal cover that rotates out of the way to reveal the key slot. You have to pull it towards you with a fingernail before rotating it out of the way.

My experience

At first, it was difficult to tell the LEDs apart. You have to hold the programming button in about 3 seconds and watch for an LED to begin flashing.

The flashing LED is not obvious – it’s the same color as the green LED, and the green LED stayed on, so flashing just wasn’t apparent.

Then I put my finger on the sensor, the LED flashed green, and I repeated it a total of six times. It programmed my finger and worked.

So I went to program fingers of other people in my house. And where it flashed green and accepted my finger, it flashed red and wouldn’t accept theirs. At this point, running around and asking people to put their finger on the door lock was getting old and annoying them.

So why do I not love this thing?

The interface for programming is not easy. There are two problems. First, There’s meant to be a green LED, a yellow LED, and a red LED.

you have to be kidding me.

Green and Red work great. Yellow looks like green, and flashes while green is on solid, making it harder to see the Yellow.

The second difficulty is that there’s just too much going on in the instructions. There are 3 LED colors and slow-flash, fast-flash, and solid color. Trying to communicate all the different statuses for programming is too hard.

I did not go to University to major in “programming BrillLock” studies.

Note that BrillLock isn’t the only product to ever suffer from this kind of over-complicated UI. The 3rd generation iPod Shuffle from Apple was this complex. But it also didn’t lock me out of my home if I didn’t get it right.

Another annoyance is, once it’s mounted on the door, the micro-USB charge port is on the outside handle. Which means you have to have an outside outlet and cable that will reach it to recharge your door handle. This is not a sentence I ever thought I would have to write.

Should you get one?

If you live alone and have lots of patience, sure, this could work for you. If you have to impose on other people to try and make it work, and it doesn’t, that’s just disappointing. And even more so when you have to redo it if you need to erase a fingerprint when someone moves out. The BrillLock is $59 on kickstarter.com.

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