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Presence (iOS) review: Presence brings free home security to iOS users

People Power's free Presence iOS app turns your out-dated iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch into a live-streaming, motion-detecting security camera.

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Megan Wollerton
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Megan Wollerton

Senior Writer/Editor

Megan Wollerton has covered technology for CNET since 2013. Before that, she wrote for NBC's Dvice.com (now SyFy). Megan has a master's degree from the University of Louisville and a bachelor's degree from Connecticut College, both in international relations. She is a board member of the Louisville chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. When Megan isn't writing, she's planning far-flung adventures.

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5 min read

People Power knows that you probably have a nice assortment of outdated (but still decently functional) iOS devices at home. And if they're just taking up space anyway, you might as well find a clever way to repurpose them.

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7.5

Presence (iOS)

The Good

The Presence app gives iOS users a free way to monitor their homes.

The Bad

Presence isn't compatible with Android devices, it doesn't have an IFTTT channel, and it's constantly trying to sell you its optional fee-based cloud storage upgrades and third-party products.

The Bottom Line

The free Presence app is a great way to experiment with home security -- just don't let its prominently-featured online store trick you into spending hundreds on accessories.

So it developed Presence, an app designed to quickly convert your backup iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch into a quasi-security-camera.

Similar to the free Manything iOS app , Presence gives you the chance to set a spare device as your stay-at-home "camera" and the newer device as your on-the-go access point. That way, you can view live streaming, receive email notifications and push alerts, set rules, and have a better overall idea of what's going on at home. Presence is a solid way to ease into DIY security, but Manything's IFTTT channel and comparatively streamlined interface has a slight edge.

The Presence iOS app makes home security smart (pictures)

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Presence works on iOS 6.1 or newer and is optimized for iPhone 5. Still, it will work on the iPhone 3GS and newer, iPad 2 and newer and iPod Touch 4G and 5G. I tried Presence out on an iPhone 5, an iPad 2 and a first-generation iPad Mini -- both as cameras and as on-the-go viewers.

It's similar to Manything in many ways -- here's a quick side-by-side comparison:

Belkin NetCam HD+Dropcam ProPiperPresenceManything
Price $130.00$199.00$199.00FreeFree
Color WhiteBlackWhiteN/AN/A
Field of view (diagonal) 95 degrees130 degrees180 degreesiPhone, iPad and iPod Touch specs iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch specs
Video quality 1,280x7201,920x1,0801,920x1,080iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch specsiPhone, iPad and iPod Touch specs
Cloud storage Yes, $10/month or $100/year for 14 daysYes, $10/month or $99/year for 7 days or $30/month or $299/year for 30 daysYes, saves up to 1,000 clips at no extra cost Yes, 50MB free, $2 for a 7-day pass, $5/month or $50/year for 5GB storage Yes, 12 hours free, $5/month for 7 days, or $15/month for 30 days
Local storage No, but you can download clips from the Web appNoNoNoNo
Glass lens YesYes Yes iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch specsiPhone, iPad and iPod Touch specs
Night vision YesYesNoUses device flashlight, if available on modelUses device flashlight, if available on model
Mobile app Yes, Android and iOS Yes, Android and iOSYes, Android and iOSYes, Android and iOSYes, but iOS onlyYes, but iOS only
Web app YesYesYesYesYes
Bluetooth NoYesNoNoNo
2-way audio YesYesYesNoNo
Motion and sound alerts Motion only, and limited to email alerts unless you subscribe to Cloud+.YesYesMotion onlyMotion only
Protocol or third-party integration NoNoYes, Z-WaveSome third-party integrations available through the Presence online storeYes, IFTTT

Presence and Manything are both limited by the devices you use and the last OS you downloaded, including whether or not a flashlight is an included feature (if not, night vision won't work). That means that you'll have the same resolution, field of view and so on -- areas that can make or break traditional Wi-Fi camera comparisons that simply aren't applicable here.

Still, the apps differ in a few key ways.

Presence doesn't have an IFTTT channel, but it does offer in-app rules. These came preloaded in the app and duplicated whenever I added a new device. One rule says, "If I come home, then make my iPad disable motion detection."

That rule sets up automatic Home and Away modes, a hands-free way to have the camera record motion-related security events when you're out of the house and stop when you return (so you aren't constantly triggering it yourself).

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The Presence app. Screenshots by Megan Wollerton/CNET

Another rule reads, "If my iPad gets unplugged from power, then notify me on my phone." You can also add your own recipes, such as, "If the time is 6:30 pm on weekdays, then disable motion detection." These were handy and added customization and depth to this free app.

Still, I really wished Presence had an IFTTT channel. Using Manything's IFTTT channel, I was able to set the recipe, "If Manything detects motion, then flash Belkin WeMo Switch." And that's just one of several potential product integrations.

Unlike Manything, Presence has an online store where it sells device stands and other accessories that play well with the app. The $199 Blue Line PowerCost Wi-Fi Bridge and Sensor is a particularly interesting product. This gizmo is supposed to hook onto your home's electric meter so you can see energy data and use those stats to better understand your consumption and, hopefully, to lower your monthly bill. You have to buy this device and subscribe to Presence Pro Energy, an optional service available within the Presence app; it costs an additional $5 per month or $50 per year.

Presence has a 50MB cap on free cloud storage and then offers an optional 5GB storage option for a fee. Manything's cloud storage service is based on time rather than storage amount. So instead, it provides 12 hours of free storage and charges $5 per month for 7 days or $15/month for 30 days. These are only slight differences, though, since both have free options with optional fee-based upgrades and neither one can accommodate local storage.

A little Presence gif action, courtesy of Tyler Lizenby. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Presence worked well overall. The rules kicked in as expected, the video feed was clear enough to make out what was going on, the motion sensor sent me emails and push alerts based on my custom settings, and the saved clips were easy to browse and review.

I did experience a significant limitation when I used the iPad 2 or the iPad Mini as my camera, though. Since these devices don't have built-in flashes, they also don't have the same flashlight capabilities as my iPhone 5. That means that they weren't set up for low-light or night vision viewing. Of course, that has nothing to do with the Presence app itself, but you could create an IFTTT work-around in the Manything app, such as, "If Manything detects motion, turn on Philips Hue LEDs (or some other light source)." That's not an option with Presence, so I preferred using my flashlight-equipped iPhone 5 as the camera.

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Not great, but you can still see what's going on in day and night mode. Screenshots by Megan Wollerton/CNET

Presence and Manything don't have the lock on reusing old mobile devices, though. We've actually seen a couple of other examples recently.

Rico , by MindHelix, is a brightly colored, dog-shaped hub packed full of security and environmental sensors, but it can also act as a case for spare Android and iOS devices. It even claims to be able to fit the larger Note 3 and iPhone 6 Plus. Simply stick your old smartphone inside Rico to transform it into a Presence-and-Manything-style home security camera complete with motion, temperature, smoke, carbon monoxide and humidity sensing capabilities. That puts Rico in the realm of all-in-one security devices like Piper and Canary , at half the price.

There's also Bemo . Bemo takes your out-dated Android or iOS device and turns it into a thermostat display. It comes with a separate accessory for connecting the thermostat wires to the correct ports, just like any other thermostat, but then you can mount your smartphone over the adapter accessory and voila -- instant touchscreen thermostat display.

I really like this push to add functionality to older bits of technology, but I do think you run the risk of spending more money than if you just bought a regular security camera in the first place. Presence, for example, lures you in with its free security camera, but then advertises its online store full of things that can work alongside its free app. Rico's sensor-hub costs $99 (converted, that's about £60 in the UK and AU$110 in Australia), but your mobile device is doing most of the work.

As long as you keep that in mind, you can't really go wrong with Presence. It provides a lot of the same features as standard DIY security cameras without any of the expense. I particularly like its rules section and that you can use it to automatically set Home and Away modes. But, if you're looking for ways to integrate your Belkin WeMo products or other IFTTT-compatible devices, Manything is definitely the way to go.

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7.5

Presence (iOS)

Score Breakdown

Setup 7.5Features 8Interface 7Performance 7.5
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