There has to be a point at which making a product “smart” ceases to enhance a device and just adds complexity. Not content with adding bluetooth connectivity, the Lattis Ellipse smart lock also features a solar panel. So can a bike lock have too much tech?? Let’s see!
Lattis Ellipse Solar Powered Smart Bike Lock Review
A solar powered, Bluetooth connected bike lock? Haven’t I heard of that before? ? Yes, yes you have! The Lattis Ellipse first saw the light of day under the name Skylock – when the project was looking for $50,000 of crowdfunding, and at the time looked a touch different to the product we have now
Lattis is a San Francisco-based company, where cycling is a big part of their city life. One of the primary features that company wanted to be able to facilitate was the sharing of bikes between groups of people, hence the inclusion of smart features so that anyone with a smart phone can be granted access to the bike from wherever you have it secured
To my mind, this makes more sense as a product for groups, perhaps work places which use a fleet of bikes, or households where people share their two wheeled steeds. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the Lattis Ellipse and see how I’ve been getting on with it for the last couple of months – without sharing my bike – BACKOFF ?!
Lattis Ellipse Smart Lock – Design
The moment you unbox the Lattis Ellipse, it looks like a premium product and worthy of the rather steep £200 asking price. You don’t normally get bike locks presented, usually they are just attached to cardboard branding, with a little plastic bag hold the mount and bolts
So what do you get in the Lattis Ellipse box? The lock, and a paper manual… and that is it
I’ll be honest, I don’t mind too much the lack of Micro USB cables. Personally I’ve too many AND this is a device with a solar panel for charging, so a USB cable isn’t even vital with this product, so from a eco perspective at least, I think I’m pro this.
BUT what I’m not vastly happy with, on a lock costing quite a bit, is the lack of bike mount in the box. Instead Lattis provide a link for you to Download the Ellipse mount and 3D print it at home, claiming that the benefit being you can then customize the mount to fit your needs.
When I first saw this, from a geeky perspective I thought that’s quite cool; I wonder what customisations are possible… and then I remembered that I don’t have a 3D printer, nor experience IN COMPUTER AIDED DESIGN OF COMPONENTS WHICH A COMPANY SHOULD BE INCLUDING IN THE BOX!!!
I do think the idea of releasing the files to allow them to be edited by the community is very good, just imagine if more more companies did this! However, expecting customers to print their own mounts feels, and looks, a little cheap
OK, so while there is little actually in the box, there is plenty more packed into the frame of the Ellipse Lattis as is indicated by all of the FCC labels on the side of the rubber covered lock
At the top of lock housing is the multi cell solar panel, which will be able to generate sufficient charge in twelve hours to power the lock for six months. Even one hour is enough to provide a weeks worth of charge, really negating the need for an included USB cable.
Solar panels can be a touch fragile, and the Lattis Ellipse is designed to be durable – enhanced by having the cell covered in an impact resistant, UV filtering, polycarbonate plastic. It might be strange to see UV filtering over solar panel, but this is actually an important part of solar panel design in order to ensure that sunlight does damage and reduce the efficiency of the solar cells over time
But if you did want to top up the charge, or found that somehow the lock had become discharged, there is an exposed USB port on the edge of the unit. Given that the Ellipse Lattis has an IPX 4 rating – essentially protected from splashes, I’d have preferred to see a rubber flap of some form protecting the USB port. After all, it’s a bike lock, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest there is a reasonable chance the lock will be left outside, and certainly in the UK, there is a change of rain…
The locking body is reinforced with a dual locking mechanism, meaning that if only one part of the forge steel shackle is cut, the lock will remain secure. Inside the lock, sensors will also be able to tell if the shackle has been inserted correctly, and will warn if the lock has an issue
Inside the unit we’ve an accelerometer, to go along with the BlueTooth radios, so that the Ellipse can also work as an alarm if someone tries to interfer with your machine. Not only that, but as on like products such as the SeeSense ICON and the Garmin 820, the Ellipse can also use the accelerometer as a to trigger a crash alert in the case of a cycling mishap, which can be triggered on and off at the bottom of the app
The Lattis Ellipse uses the Bluetooth communication to receive unlocking signals from your phone when in range
In addition to the BlueTooth unlock, if you have misplaced your phone there is a directional touch pad on one end of the Lattis Ellipse. The touch pad is actually hidden under the rubber, when you tap the end, LEDs under the surface illuminate, showing the touch sensitive areas
I’m pleased to say that the touch pad works well in all weathers, and also when the user is in gloves
As i have used the lock more, I’ve actually found that I’ll frequently use the concealed directional pad to unlock the Ellipse, as it is a little faster than faffing with my phone. Particularly when it is cold, so i don’t have to take off my gloves, unlock the phone, open the app, wait to connect, unlock the Ellipse, code my phone and then put my gloves back on – which can be a touch long winded. I wonder if Lattis could make an NFC version, as that would resolve a lot of issues.
Lattis Ellipse Specification
- Solar Panel
- 12hours of direct sunlight will provide charge for 6 months use
- 6 months used considered 5 unlock/lock events a day
- Note when the Lattis Ellipse runs out of battery YOU CANNOT UNLOCK THE DEVICE
- Battery life is expected at about 6yrs in this usage scenario
- USB charging – there is also a resettable fuse to prevent malicious attacks to the circuitry
- Shackle material: 4100 series chromology steel
- 3-axis accelerometer
- Capacitive touchpad as secondary unlock
- Shackle insertion detection
- IPX4 – so rated/splash proof
- (maybe not the best for a lock you might be leaving outside… you know, in the rain)
- Communications: Bluetooth Low Energy
- External Dimensions: 6.4” W x 7.8” H
- Internal Dimensions: 3.8” W x 5.4” H
- Weight: 1.13kg
Lattis Ellipse – Using the Device
The first thing to do on installing the app is check for a firmware update – Yes there are now firmware updates for bike locks!
When Lattis app is installed, you get to play with the real party trick on the Lattis Ellipse the key-less entry.
Clearly I’m a bear with a very simple mind, as I played with the Lattis app for a little while when I first installed it. There is something oddly satisfying about whirr as it Ellipse locks and unlocks.
In terms of the security of the wireless lock, Lattis hasn’t really provided much information about the encryption other than saying “Bank-Level encryption” – this is kind of inline with their security rating of the lock in general, which is basically “It’s strong steel – trust us”
So is there a risk of a someone stealing you bike using the app? I dont know. The app does a tracker built in showing where you left lock – this needs access from your phones GPS in order to set the GPS coordinates
The “Find my Ellipse” is useful when it comes to bike sharing, as you can easily tell your friend where the bike/lock is and provide them access to use both.
But if you have originally signed into the app with Facebook for example, there is no security on OPENING the app. So if you were to gain access to the someone else’s phone, the app can be used both to share access to the lock, and also the last location of the lock with no other hurdles. Which is something to think about in an product designed to protect your property
Staying with the protection theme, the locks crash detection and theft protection are toggled from bottom of the app, however they are mutually exclusive in that you cant have both enabled, as only one can be triggered by the accelerometer at a time
Lattis state that the furthest range they have been able to use the Ellipse theft feature is about 240m. Basically they are saying that this is maximum distance they’ve been able to get their BlueTooth connection to hold. In my experience you’ll more likely be looking at losing connection at around 10 meters from the lock. This is a touch surprising given that Lattis states their engineers installed an external aerial to boost the Bluetooth signal after attenuation from the steel frame
That sounds a touch negative in tone, but it doesn’t actually matter when yo look at the WHOLE picture of use for the lock… When people use an ordinary bike lock, the keys need to be indirect contact with that normal lock (duh), so the short range of the Lattis Ellipse isn’t really an issue when it comes to locking the bike. Though I’ll be honest, the range is a touch shorter than other smarter cycling devices with alarm features. For example my Garmin Fenix 5 will keep an ANT+ (not Bluetooth) connection with my Cycliq Fly12 from in the house, when the bike is locked up in the garage. The SeeSense Icon, a smaller product, does have a similar range in terms of keeping the BlueTooth theft alarm active.
So basically I’d consider the theft alarm only really of use for direct line of sight, and to suggest that someone might be interfering with the other kit actually mounted on your bike. Maybe if the Lattis Ellipse had been a dual channel device, with ANT+ as well, then the theft feature may have been of more use, but there are so many things which affect signal range.
In terms of day to day use, as mentioned, the Lattis Ellipse doesn’t come with a bike mount in the box, so I’ve actually been sticking mine in the side of my backpack to get to work. When it comes to throwing the lock around in bags, I didn’t see any discernable damage, or marks, to the unit over a few months.
The Ellipse seems to have been very well sized, as it slips into the side pocket of my work bag without trouble, but I also never encountered a bike rack that was too large for me to secure the bike lock too. It is worth while noting that some of the kickstarter backers commented of issues where the crash alarm would easily activate whilst the lock was in a bag. I didn’t have any issues with this, so it is likely that the sensitivity has been reduced some what since the initial release firmware
For me the biggest issue with the Lattis Ellipse is the actual looking hoop itself, you’ll see that the inside of the lock is roughened.
Whilst this might provide a good grip in the wet when you are actually locking your bike, it also left me very worried it was going to act as an abrasive against my bike frame, as such I was very careful when actually using the lock.
I found this aspect of the Lattis Ellipse a real shame, as if you look at the original pictures of the Skylock, you’ll see that the inside of the lock actually had a rubber insert around the inside which would have added more protection.
As it is, that rubber is now applied to the lock instead, frankly for the given price, I would have thought that both could have been covered
I never had a single issue with the battery running out on the lock, although I did charge the lock completely before I used it the first time.
I actually wondered what the effect of weather and temperature specifically could have on the battery life of the Lattis Ellipse. So over winter I dropped the lock in the snow, but with the solar pannel exposed to the sky for 5 hours.
On returning, there was no discernable change in battery charge – Although the app doesn’t actually have a numerical value on it, merely a graphic,
Lattis Ellipse Conclusion
I’m fond of the Lattis Ellipse. It’s a great idea, but in practice there are several aspects of the lock which are not sufficiently well implemented, especially given the nearly £200 asking price.
That said, none these are limitations of the hardware – although connection range may prove to be. With sufficient refinement of the firmware and the Ellipse app, Lattis may have a very strong product on their hands. BUT the price will still likely put off some potential customers. I’d probably been happier if Lattis had included a GSM connection inside the lock, with a years subscription, to give a true remote theft alarm for your bike. That would have justified the price.
The lock can be considered truely wireless in that you can leave your phone at home, and still use the digital touch pad to secure the lock. However then you have to question what benefit the Ellipse is providing over a regular lock with a mechanical combination lock.
There are several aspects of the Lattis Ellipse which I think could have been more carefully thought out:
- Perhaps a removable battery for one – as I’ve never bought a lock with the expectation of replacing it due to a dead battery in 6 yrs (estimation from Lattis)
- The removal of the rubber protection from the original SkyLock design is utterly ridiculous and suggests a lack of respect of users bikes and frame paintwork – this for me is the main reason the Lattis Ellipse isn’t in daily currently use. Heck, they could even sell a series of coloured rubber sleeves for the lock – I’d go for that, especially if it was available in yellow!
- Better broadcast comms, although this may be a limitation of BlueTooth.
- INCLUDE A BIKE MOUNT WITH YOUR £200 BIKE LOCK, RATHER THAN OFFER 3D PRINT DESIGNS – that one really bugged me
- It’s a bike lock which doesn’t have a SoldSecure rating – kind of like a car which doesn’t have a crash test rating
- Finally lack of password protection on the app if set up via FB
I think the two those issues are the limitations seem to be driven by cost cutting, which shouldn’t really be evident in a lock of this price – I’m talking again about the lack of mount or protective coating.
Throughout this review, I have determined I’m not really the target market, even when just using the commuter bike.
The Lattis Ellipse is going to much more traction where you have people sharing bikes, and being able to pass access between each other. Whether that is from a bike rental scheme, a company with a fleet of bikes, or just a household which tends to share the use of a bike, in those use cases the Lattice Ellipse Smart Lock is going to be an excellent bit of kit. But for me, I think I’ll opt for something simpler, oh and less likely to scratch my frame…
I really hate to have a bit of a downer on a product, but a company which wants to be serious about bike security needs to force a password unlock on their app, or at least on the location and sharing aspects of the app. personally I also think that Lattis should step up and get their lock assessed and accredit by SoldSecure or other such outfits. That one action is going to provide much more reassurance than broadcasting customers comments such as “Any thief that can break this lock deserves to have the bike”
The Lattis Ellipse is getting a 2* from me, and that’s largely as I like the solar power aspect!