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People Power Presence Security Pack review: Pricey accessories are a hard upsell for a free app

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I found a lot to like about People Power's free Presence app when I reviewed it back in November of 2014. Here's how it works: Take a spare Android or iOS device -- say, an old smartphone or an iPod Touch -- and stick it anywhere in your home where you'd like to use it as a security camera. Then, use your current everyday Android or iOS device to remotely monitor that video stream. It can track motion-related events, offer live video footage, and even store saved clips in the app. That way, you can approximate a DIY security camera with a device that you probably already have at home. The Presence Security Pack is an optional add-on that offers a more complete security and automation system.

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7.1

People Power Presence Security Pack

Pricing Not Available

The Good

People Power's Presence Security Pack is responsive and functional and has a ton of options for advanced automation rules.

The Bad

$299/£190/AU$405 is a lot to pay for seven sensors and a ZigBee hub made of flimsy-feeling plastic.

The Bottom Line

This Security Pack sensor kit does a great job of extending the functionality and usefulness of the Presence DIY home-monitoring app, but most will find the cost is too steep for what it delivers.

The app is roughly comparable to (although not quite as good as) fellow security camera apps, Manything and Salient Eye . One issue was that Presence had few third-party integrations, but nevertheless promoted the heck out of its limited-product online store, including the seriously overpriced Monster Central Power Control Kit .

Now, there's an alternative add-on in the form of People Power's own $299/£190/AU$405 Presence Security Pack. The bundle includes seven smart sensors and a wireless hub to tie them all together. (The sensors and hub use ZigBee wireless rather than Wi-Fi, so the hub needs to be wired into your home network.)

The hub and the sensors included all work very well, but -- even at a better per-sensor price than the Monster -- it's still a comparatively steep investment on what's essentially a free app that repurposes old smartphones, handhelds or tablets around your home. Yes, the sensors are good -- recommendable even -- but I'm not quite sure who will buy them, when a quick online search returns several results for less.

People Power packs on more security features (pictures)

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What's in the box?

For your $299, you'll get three door/window sensors, a motion sensor, a temperature sensor, a touch/tamper sensor, a water sensor and a wireless hub to tie them all together. (The sensors and the hub use the ZigBee wireless standard.) Since you're dealing with seven different devices presumably to be planted all over your house, I actually like that these sensors are small and borderline utilitarian-looking with bland white finishes.

But, while they'll blend in well with traditionally light-colored interior doors and door/window frames, the plastic feels cheap -- as if it wouldn't be sturdy enough to endure over time. I have similar complaints with many sensors of this sort, but it does make this kit's particularly high price stand out even more.

The Presence app in action. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The hub comes with a power adapter and an Ethernet cable for quick access to your local network. Start out by connecting the hub to your router (which will bridge all of the ZigBee-enabled sensors to communicate with your Wi-Fi mobile devices) and then download the Presence app on your Android or iOS device of choice.

Beyond basics

The Presence app acts as your main point of interaction with the sensors included in People Power's Security Pack. Fortunately, the set-up is very straightforward -- simply follow the instructions in the app to pair each sensor with the hub. This consists of pulling the tab out of every sensor one at a time, then waiting a few seconds until the app automatically recognizes them. You'll then have the opportunity to give each sensor a custom name and actually start using the app as your home-security and automation access point.

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Inside the Presence app. CNET

Keep in mind that this is all a supplement to People Power's core software, the security camera portion of People Power's free Presence app . Its rules section, which approximates the "If this, then that" style of the smart-home automation service IFTTT, is especially robust. While Presence still doesn't have a dedicated IFTTT channel or any other major third-party integrations, you can switch among various modes, including Home (which auto-disarms motion-related alerts), Away, Vacation and Sleep; opt in and out of the Presence camera's motion detection; view your live video feed 24-7; create a ton of custom alerts; and view activity logs that track all of the action.

The Presence iOS app makes home security smart (pictures)

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So, how'd it do?

I took the complete Presence Security Pack to my condo and set up all seven sensors (as well as a secondary iOS device to act as my "camera"). The three door/window sensors ended up on the front door, the back door and a kitchen window. I placed the motion sensor on a bookcase near the entryway, the temperature sensor on a side table in the living room, the tamper sensor on a candle (I wanted to make sure no one would steal it, OK?), and the water sensor in my dog's water bowl.

Time to fill up the dog's water bowl. Screenshot by Megan Wollerton/CNET

The Presence app automatically generated a bunch of rules for each sensor, such as, "If I go into 'Away' mode and my 'Back door' is open, then notify me on my phone " and "If my 'Temperature sensor' goes above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, then notify me on my phone. " I also created one of my own that said, "If my 'Water sensor' dries up, then notify me on my phone."

Everything was extremely responsive. I received notifications when activity took place and had a lot of control over the settings in case I wanted to make tweaks.

The question is, how does the competition compare now that People Power offers a bunch of hardware components?

Manything , an iOS-specific app with an IFTTT channel, does roughly the same thing as the Presence app, but it doesn't offer any Manything-branded devices. Salient Eye is another app that transforms camera-equipped Android phones and tablets into security devices with arm and disarm features and a loud siren that's ready to scare off intruders. But it is limited to the software realm just like Manything (aside from Manything's IFTTT channel, which allows you to bring in third-party products). I still like both better in terms of in-app functionality, but People Power is definitely taking a fresh approach to DIY home security.

Conclusion

There's a lot to love about People Power's Presence Security Pack. The devices are easy to set up and use, they perform well, and they offer a fine array of features -- particularly if you want to set "If this, then that"-style rules within the app (actual IFTTT integration and other major third party partnerships are noticeably absent).

Even so, $299/£190/AU$405 is pretty darn expensive for seven sensors and a requisite hub. The price is particularly perplexing when you remember that People Power's core service is an app that converts spare Android and iOS devices into security cameras for free. If you opted for this no-charge alternative to a security camera, would you also likely splurge on a bunch of pricey sensors? That's a significant disconnect that might make the Presence Security Pack a tough sell (even to the most loyal Presence app users), but these smart sensors are still worthy of your consideration.

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7.1

People Power Presence Security Pack

Pricing Not Available

Score Breakdown

Features 7Usability 7Design 6Performance 9