Thursday, December 13, 2007

First Look: SPOT Satellite Personal Messenger

The first of my holiday presents to myself arrived (or rather, was picked up) this evening at my local REI.

This little gadget has gotten a fair amount of notice in the motorcycle touring world. I've been scouring the net for reviews ever since it came out in the beginning of November.

From the manufacturer:

"SPOT. The World’s First Satellite Messenger.
With the SPOT Satellite Messenger, you and your loved one have peace of mind knowing help is always within reach. SPOT is the only device of its kind, using the GPS satellite network to acquire its coordinates, and then sending its location – with a link to Google Maps™ – and a pre-programmed message via a commercial satellite network. And unlike Personal Locator Beacons, SPOT does more than just call for help. Tracking your progress, checking in with loved ones, and non-emergency assistance are also available, all at the push of a button. And because it uses 100% satellite technology, SPOT works around the world – even where cell phones don't."

As a solo tourer, I know that my family worries about me all the time when I'm thousands of miles from home in the middle of nowhere. While cell coverage in the sticks improves every year, I still often find myself in places with no signal.

Because it uses a satellite network, the SPOT works where cell phones don't. With the press of a button, I can automagically notify my family and closest friends not only that I'm ok, but my exact coordinates.

Another button lets them know that I need help. Yet another button (to be pressed only in emergencies) calls 911, summoning Search and Rescue to my exact location.

SPOT also has a tracking function. When I enable it, people that I've given login information to can watch my progress on a map updated every 10 minutes.

Conventional PLBs (Personal Locator Beacons) are more powerful and hardened, but basically exist just for emergencies. They can cost $500 and up. Satellite phones are also expensive and make no sense for me to carry around for day to day use.

The SPOTs extra communication features and economical entry cost ($150 for the unit, $150/year for service) are an acceptable trade-off for beacon power to me. SPOT is waterproof.

The packaging was attractive, lithium batteries were included, and online account set up was super easy. I set the unit outside on my patio in clear view of the sky and pressed the "I'm OK" button. A few minutes later I had an email in my inbox with a link to my coordinates in Google Maps.

I'll do more extensive testing of the non-emergency features this month and report back with a more comprehensive review.

So far, I'm happy. Now, off to educate my parents....


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the write-up...very useful.

rob said...

I got one over the holidays and it works great, exactly as advertised. The web site is real easy to use but I have some issues with it. You cannot download your tracks and anybody who you want to view your track needs your full login info. Once in they can do anything they like to your account and see your credit card info etc.

Becca said...

That is correct, as I said in my review "people that I've given login information to can watch my progress on a map updated every 10 minutes."

They can see your address and stuff, but cannot see your credit card financial information. As it is now, you should only give login info to someone you really trust.

Furthermore, as a solo female traveler, I NEVER give out my nighttime location until I have left it. I don't feel safe allowing anonymous people to see where I'll be staying for several hours.

There is a thread on where the someone on the Spot development team has been interacting with users. They have recieved many requests for a "guest login" and they are working on it.

Dave said...

My wife actually got me one of these after my last run to Albuquerque. There is very little cell phone reception in the desert so she didn't hear from me for almost 8 hours, and she is used to gas stop check-ins via sms. So far, it has been a very reliable little device.