Garmin dropped a big surprise this morning: a new addition to its popular inReach line, the inReach Mini. This new device is noteworthy for two reasons:
The inReach Mini weighs just 3.5 oz (100 grams) and measures 4″ x 2″ x 1″ (5 cm x 10 cm x 2.5 cm), making it about half the weight and size of Garmin’s two existing inReach devices, the inReach SE+ and inReach Explorer+. Its more comparable to the SPOT Gen3 than the other inReach units.
The Mini retains the essential inReach function: two-way satellite messaging, i.e. it can send and receive text and emergency messages anywhere in the world, using the Iridium satellite network.
To achieve its weight and size, some secondary features had to be sacrificed, like navigation and battery life; the new virtual keyboard is even more painstakingly slow. When paired to a smartphone via the Earthmate app, however, most functionality is fully regained.
The Mini also has functionality that not even the larger SE+ and Explorer+ have, such as compatibility with other Garmin devices like the Fenix 5 GPS watch.
Preview: Garmin inReach Mini
Due to its size and weight, I would expect the inReach Mini to gain traction with user groups that would never consider the SE+/Explorer+. I’m specifically thinking of trail runners and cyclists. Many long-distance and ultralight backpackers will gravitate to this device as well — they’ve been asking Garmin for a Mini-like device for a while now.
I would have thought that such a noteworthy product would be launched at a press or industry event, but I don’t think that was the case here. Garmin did not show it at the last Consumer Electronic Show or Outdoor Retailer, both in January, nor did it seed the Mini for testing with major outdoor media outlets like Outside and GearJunkie. The Mini appears to have launched with just a press release.
According to the Garmin website, the Mini will be available in “5 to 8 weeks,” or mid-June to early-July.
Key product specs
- MSRP: $350
- Weight: 3.5 oz (100 g)
- Size: 2.0″ x 3.9″ x 1.0″ (5.2 x 9.9 x 2.6 cm)
- Service plan required ($12 to $100 per month)
- Connects via Bluetooth with free Earthmate smartphone app and with some Garmin devices
As a standalone device
When used independently of other devices, the inReach Mini can:
- Send an SOS message;
- Send preset messages (set beforehand in the inReach online portal);
- Send custom messages, using a painfully slow virtual keyboard;
- Receive messages;
- Send and receive messages with other inReach devices;
- Broadcast its location to an online map, at 2- or 10-minute intervals; and,
- Request a weather forecast for a current or future location.
The Mini can also store 500 waypoints and 20 routes. The 0.9″ x 0.9″ display does not have a grid map (like the SE+) or color topo map (like the Explorer+).
The functionality and user-friendliness of the inReach Mini greatly improve when it’s paired via Bluetooth to a smartphone using the free Earthmate app. Menus can be more quickly navigated; custom messages can be typed much faster; and your entire contact list can be accessed.
Equally important, Earthmate gives your phone the functionality of a conventional handheld GPS device. View your location (retrieved by the GPS chip in the Mini or in your phone) on a color topo map, create and navigate to waypoints, and record tracks. Multiple map and imagery layers can be downloaded to Earthmate, as detailed here.
Unlike earlier inReach devices, the Mini is also compatible with other Garmin devices, notably the Garmin Fenix 5. Especially on runs, I appreciate being notified by my Suunto Ambit3 watch of incoming phone calls and text messages without needing to stop. Now, this same functionality is possible with messages sent via satellite.
inReach Mini service plans
The inReach Mini requires a service plan. Garmin offers four personal plans for all its inReach devices, ranging from $12 to $100 per month. The more expensive plans include higher (or no) caps on text messages, tracking, and weather forecasts.
The plans are available as an annual contract ($12 to $80 per month) or month-to-month ($15 to $100 per month, plus a $25 annual fee).
Relative to the inReach SE+/Explorer+, the Mini has a shorter battery life. It is spec’d at:
- 20 days at the 30-minute interval power save mode
- 50 hours at 10-minute tracking with 2-minute logging
- 30 hours at the 10-minute tracking with 1-second logging
In comparison, the SE+/Explorer+ spec at 30 days, 100 hours, and 75 hours, respectively.
On longer trips, the shorter battery life is easily negated with a portable battery charger like the Anker PowerCore 10000. The Mini’s battery capacity (mAh) is not specified in the press materials, so I’m uncertain how many times it could be recharged with a, say, 10k mAh portable battery.
Questions about the inReach Mini? Leave a comment.
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