The Bottom Line
- Communicates via satellite, covering most of the globe.
- Waterproof, durable, long battery life.
- Companion website well-designed, thorough, easy to use.
- Annual service plan ($99.99 for one year) required in addition to initial hardware cost.
- Message content and types must be pre-set before departure. Can't be changed in the field.
- Price: $150 - $199
- "Talks back" to satellites to send messages from around the globe.
- Check in - OK feature sends a pre-set message and your location to others.
- Batteries: 3 AAA.
- 3.7 x 2.6 x1 inches.
- 5.2 ounces.
- Service plans: $99.99 for one year, $199.98 for two years.
- Facebook and Twitter update direct links "coming soon."
- SPOT "Assist" roadside and marine plans available at extra annual cost.
Guide Review - SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger
The SPOT Satellite Messenger is waterproof (it passed my immersion test), durably built, and does a few vital functions very well. Its key feature, setting it apart from other portable GPS devices on the market, is the ability to communicate via satellite. This makes it a useful and dependable stay-in-touch and emergency device around much of the globe.
Beyond emergency contact, the SPOT can offer peace of mind to friends and family. For example, a press of one button initiates a "check-in/OK" custom message that can be texted and/or e-mailed to a pre-set list, including a link to your position (as determined by its built-in GPS) on Google Maps. Another option for check-in is a "track progress" feature that sends your coordinates to your personal SPOT account every 10 minutes. This near-real-time sharing can take place on your SPOT map page, which can be set to public or private. Both of these features worked as advertised in my off-road cycling tests.
For a true emergency, SPOT users have two options. A "Help" button (wisely covered with an attached cap that snaps clear with a thumbnail) notifies your pre-arranged personal contacts that you need help, along with your coordinates. The message is sent every five minutes for one hour or until cancelled. The second emergency option, "SOS/911" is one you hope you never need, but you're glad is there. The SOS/911 button (also covered to prevent accidental engagement) sends a distress message and your coordinates to the GEOS Search & Rescue system that will contact appropriate authorities, including, for example, local police, mountain search & rescue teams, or the Coast Guard.
The current SPOT Satellite Messenger is a second-generation product. I reviewed the original version and liked the concept, but faulted the device on usability and control features. Credit to SPOT, they have done a lot of work on every aspect of the device, making it more compact (it's now 1 x 2.6 x 3.7 inches), and significantly improving button layout and usability, as well as improving the Web interface and features. I had no difficulty walking through the online setup process, and understanding and setting up the fairly detailed emergency contact layers.
I tested the SPOT primarily on road and mountain bike rides, and found that it accurately tracked my position and reported same to my personal SPOT page and map without a problem. My "check-in/OK" messages went to the e-mail addresses I had set up without fail, and provided a convenient link to location in Google Maps, in addition to my pre-set message.
The SPOT runs on three, AAA lithium batteries, and the batteries are said to last three months in the powered-on state, and up to six days with SOS or Track Progress activated. Best to carry a spare set of batteries for a long trip, and/or turn on the SPOT just for check-ins or an emergency to assure long battery life.
SPOT is also collaborating with DeLorme to provide a custom device paired to a full-featured handheld GPS.