SmartThings Presence Sensor Device--Working Well for Anyone?

Continuing the discussion from Introduce Yourself!:

@camanokid ,

Welcome to the forums! I pulled out the presence sensor question because I’m sure it will generate a lot of comments. :wink:

One my favorite sayings is “all home automation is local.” Which means what works at my house might not work at yours and certainly what I would like to see work at my house might not be what you would like to see work at yours.

The smart things Zigbee presence sensor works very well for some people, not at all for others, and somewhere in the middle for still others.

It’s using a different technology than a phone presence sensor, which can be good or bad depending on the exact set up at your house.


The most obvious difference, is range. Because the phone is using a combination of GPS and Wi-Fi, it has a minimum range of 500 feet. The zigbee device is just making a very short range connection directly to your smart things hub. Its maximum range is about 50 feet.


Either the phone or the zigbee device might drop off the network for one reason or another. When this happens smart things will assume that you left the house. If the phone or Zigbee device then reconnect on their own, smart things will assume that you returned to the house. This is the biggest problem for the people who have this problem, because it makes presence detection unreliable.

However, many people never have this problem. It’s more typical to have this problem with the phone then with the zigbee device (as long as you leave the zigbee device at least 10 feet away from your WiFi router).


One of the nice things about the zigbee device is that it’s really straightforward. Either the device can connect to the hub, or it can’t. Really the main issue it runs into is issues of local interference. But if it works for you, you’ll probably be able to tell right away. It’s easy to map out where it connects and where it doesn’t because the range is so short anyway.

In my neighborhood, perhaps because of the big DSL box on one side of the street, it’s much better at detecting when I come from the east then when I come from the west. But it’s consistent in that every time so I know it’s going to happen.

You can improve the range of the Zigbee device by using a repeater which will about double the range. So many people put a repeater in the garage, so that as they drive up, the connection is made with the smart things hub a few seconds faster.


For someone who doesn’t have a smart phone, my suggestion would be just to get the zigbee device and try it. That’s exactly the situation it’s intended for. If it works for you you’ll know it right away. If it doesn’t work for you you can return it.

The phone is often trickier to fine-tune anyway. And you may not be able to tell if it’s working the way you want it to immediately.

If it turns out the Zigbee device does not work for you, there are some other options you can try without a smart phone, but the easiest thing is just to try the zigbee device first.


I am quadriparetic, in a wheelchair with limited hand function. I have health aides who come in and out. Many don’t have smart phones, and I wouldn’t necessarily want to give them The app anyway. The Zigbee device works very well for me in this situation. I give it to an aide who would have a key anyway, so there’s no trust issue. I have been very happy with it for that purpose.

On the other hand, I haven’t been able to make one work for me because of the timing issue. My doorlock is self locking. And the 50 foot range means all too often I get to the door and it has already relocked itself.

The problem with the phone is even worse because of what I call the “bus stop problem.” It can take the driver several minutes to lower the wheelchair lift and get me off the bus. In that time, inevitably the door has relocked. That’s actually a good thing, because I don’t really want it to unlock until I’m close enough to see it.

So at my House, presence detection is working for one person and not for another, no matter which method we try. “All home automation is local.” Your experience may be very different but that’s why I think it’s worth trying the zigbee device to see how it goes. It’s certainly the easiest way of solving the use case you describe if it does work. :blush:


When I first got mine it was not a pleasant experience. The device is mounted on the sun visor of my truck. The truck is parked in the garage, directly below the room that has the hub; it is literally 12 feet away from it. But there is a layer of sheet rock, plywood sub-floor, and carpet to go through, but didn’t think that would be a deal breaker. It was.

It wasn’t until I put an original, USB powered, SmartThings motion sensor in the garage that it started working reliably with no false alarms.



Yep, the original motion sensor works as a zigbee repeater when it’s plugged in, it can make a big difference. And Sheetrock is often a problem.

But your current configuration is working well for you? The aide who’s using ours is happy with it, but the timing is off for my own use.

Mine is working great! I have my hub in my living room about 10 feet from the front door. The house knows when I’m home when I park in the street. I do have a motion sensor repeater close to the front door as well. The only time they don’t work great is when the battery drops bellow about 15%. Replace the battery and everything is excellent!

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I think what’s causing the fail in my situation is the automatic relock, which I need for other reasons. 50 feet in the wheelchair means if one of my neighbour’s stops to say hello, or I have a little extra trouble with the gate, the door has relocked by the time I get there.

What I really want for myself is a “near” field 10 foot range. I have a friend looking into an iBeacon option to see if we can use IFTTT as a “man in the middle” protocol, similar to how I use Siri for voice control. We’ll see. :blush:

Yes… but timing isn’t something you can count on. Mine sends me a notification when I leave and return. Many times I get the away notification when I am a quarter mile down the road, other times a half mile or more. Same when returning, where I often have to sit in front of my garage door for a moment or two to get the notification letting me know the alarm is off and it is safe to open the garage door.

I suppose you could modify the SmartApp to schedule a couple of unlock sequences, or to simply delay the initial unlock action, but scheduled actions aren’t exactly SmartThings forte at this point, so reliability might be a concern.

I don’t expect strict scheduling from any mesh network, I’d just like to reduce the range. If it didn’t trigger until I was inside the gate, that would be good enough.

I have a one touch hack for the lock now using IFTTT, which is good for that.

This topic has actually got me thinking maybe I should just divorce the door unlocking from everything else the present sensor triggers. Just for me, not for anybody else. That would solve both the bus stop problem with the phone and the problem with the zigbee present sensor. I could use a zigbee presence sensor on my chair for things like lights coming on where it doesn’t really matter if it happens a few minutes before I get to the door. And just keep using the IFTTT hack for the door itself.

My friend found an iBeacon hack that uses if this then that, but it ends up with the same one touch requirement as the one I’m already using.

Hi all!

I’ve got a different problem with the presence sensor… I’ve even talked to support about it. It eats batteries like mad!

They don’t last 2 months! I mean, I usually have it at the office and only use it once every week when the cleaning service needs it to go home (I am lucky enough to live near the office).

From support they sent me a new one (which I still have to return, either that or I’ll end up probably paying for it too, since I want to have 2 anyways)

The only reliable presence device I’ve had is the smartphone using the life360 app! But I don’t want my daughter to have a phone… at least for now… come on, she’s only 6! lol!

Any ideas?


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I’ve honestly had zero problems with my presence sensors. In fact the phone works well too. The only ‘annoyance’ might be that it isn’t spot on the money (which you’re not going to find with a range based device). I want when I start walking up to the door for the lights to come on and the door to unlock, but I want the AC or Heat to turn on at least five to ten minutes before I am to arrive at my front door. Tricky stuff this is.

I’m afraid with the sensors, this is going to need to take some tweaking, sometimes more than others. But I can say with confidence I’ve never had any issues with it just not working.

I would suggest getting your daughter a phone. Like it or not she lives in the digital age and either YOU will set the boundaries for her with technology, or her friends at school who aren’t raised or disciplined by you will set the standards for her.

I would get her an android phone, and then install the app ‘Kids Place - Parent Control’, which allows you to set specific apps she can use, like texting and calling, but only to specific numbers, (you can block those out for now if you want), and specific games or apps you want her to use, and lock out the rest of the phone with an admin password.

The Life360 app can be added to that phone and you can restrict access to it as well but allow it to run every day. I think you’re set, but the key point here is that if you don’t set the boundaries and expectations for your children then someone else will. Just blinding them from something will only cause them to be curious and seek it out in the future, which may or may not be a dangerous road.

I don’t have a daughter yet, but my wife and I are expecting our first child right now (don’t know the sex of the baby yet), but this is something I also fear. I mean, how, as a parent, do you protect your child without isolating them from good things? A smartphone is something they WILL have access to, whether I like it or not, I’d just prefer it to be on my terms and not some teenager who’s parents let them smoke dope and drink unsupervised.


The decision of when to get your kid a phone is a very personal one, but the main issue with a 6 year old is that it’s going to get lost or stolen. And there’s no real reason for most kids that age to have one, they’re not going to be someplace unattended. Not to mention most elementary schools don’t allow kids to bring them to school anyway (because of the lost or stolen aspect–their staff have better things to do with time than look for missing phones), which sort of defeats the purpose from a presence sensor aspect.

That said, there are lots of kid tracker devices that are similar to the medical tracker I use. One-button panic buttons with GPS about the size of 3 dominos stacked together. Some have geofences and will text when the person goes in or out of range. Include a text to IFTTT and combine that with the SmartThings channel and it’s school-allowed and age-appropriate.

The one I use is about the cheapest possible and doesn’t have a text feature. But Amber GPS is a very popular kid’s model, i have a friend who has one for both their kids. The boy is on the autism spectrum which is why they first got it for him (it’s snapped into a beltline pocket on the back of his pants). But they liked it so much they added one for their neurotypical daughter.

It can text multiple people when the kid is crossing a geofence, so easy to add IFTTT. And you can set up 20 different geofences areas per locator, a nice feature.

Not cheap, but not outrageous: about $200 for the device and another $18/month for up to 300 texts.

There are competing brands out there as well, this is a pretty big market precisely because smart phones don’t quite meet the use case for most kids 9 and under. :blush:

Anyway, for someone without a smartphone for whatever reason, this is yet another presence detector option.


I wish there was a way to power the presence sensor better. I’ve resorted to a simulated presence sensor that’s refreshed by IFTTTT via Automatic (which works awesome, but has limitations).

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I totally agree to getting her an android… that’s the best way… BUT! SHE’S ONLY 6! LOL!!! No way her mom’s gonna let me get her one!

I’ll have to live with buying cheap batteries for the sensor for now then… as for the cleaning company, I’ll ask them to install life360 and add them to a new circle… I suppose that’ll work… right?

Buy her an iPhone and she will cherish the moment forever and specially if its against momma’s wishes. :slight_smile:

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@danielccm Same problem, I am on my second one (a replacement for the first one) and after a few weeks we are at 50 % battery life . I don’t expect it to last more than 3 months at this rate…

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Damn! Sorry to hear @dfairbro1 but on the other hand allow me to be happy! @ least I’m not the only one! lol! @SmartThings1 any ideas on how to solve this?

For me, SmartSense Presence sensor is working well, no problem at all.

But for mobile presence, I’m still can’t use it at all. After more than one month of using Smartthings, my mobile phone never get leave home, even I’m 100 miles away.

Battery life for the zigbee sensor for me looks to be about a year, but I know some people have reported the same type of burn rate you’ve seen.

There are multiple reasons a device could run through batteries too fast. The most common:

  1. bad battery, but this is pretty rare

  2. used battery sold as new. I’d say this is more common than an actual bad battery but typical only with batteries bought on eBay or other cutrate outlets

  3. bad unit, specifically one that doesn’t sleep as much as it should. This happens more often that a bad battery, but still rare. If you have this problem it will show right away.

  4. excessive software polling/refresh. This prevents the device from sleeping, so can run through batteries fast. If this is the problem, you should see the poll commands in the activity logs. This is almost always caused by a custom smartapp where the interval has been set very low.

BTW, some people get the same effect by requesting battery status every 5 minutes, which ironically runs down the battery super fast! Battery status should generally be requested no oftener than once a day for regular use, although there are some troubleshooting situations where you would do it more often.

If it was my unit, I’d do things in this order:

  1. check for excessive polling
  2. change the battery and check again in 3 days
  3. return the unit

But support should be able to help. Make sure they help you check the activity logs too, since this issue comes from custom code it may not be the top of their list. But showing you how to check the logs would be a valid support call since the logs themselves are a standard feature.
Good luck!

Hey @JDRoberts ! Thanks! Those points are awesome! BUT… there’s one tiny little detail: My specific Presence Sensor RARELY is at home (where the hub is right now)… instead… it lies most of the week in a drawer in my desk waiting for the cleaning person to come and pick it up! lol!

So unless the polling eats it like crazy during the 2 hours that the device is actually within range…

I’ll take a look at the logs anyways! So thanks for the thoughts!

I’m not sure if this is true, but it always feels like the battery drains faster when I’m away from home. I feel it especially when I go on vacation.

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