Today Garmin released the second generation of its smallest and lightest satellite messenger. The inReach Mini 2 offers incremental improvements over the original inReach Mini, while maintaining the same size, weight, and form factor. Upgrades include:
- Longer lasting battery in tracking mode;
- Quicker GPS acquisition by using four satellite networks;
- An automatic track-back feature, helping to return the user to their point of origin;
- New user interface based on the Garmin watches; and,
- Electronic compass display heading even when stationary.
The Mini 2 is also compatible with the Garmin Explore Mobile app. I’m uncertain how this app differs from Earthmate, which is the messaging app for the original Mini.
Should I upgrade to the Mini 2?
I own an inReach Mini, used it for several years, and have no intention of upgrading to the Mini 2 because I don’t see $400 of value in these improvements (or even $250, if I was able to sell my used Mini for $150).
- I don’t use the Mini for tracking, because this feature costs extra and because I can record a more accurate track with my GPS watch or my phone (using the CalTopo or Gaia app). When I turn on the Mini only periodically to check messages, the battery lasts weeks.
- I’m satisfied with the GPS acquisition time of my Mini.
- I’d never use the track-back feature, because I carry with me both paper and digital maps, and I know how to read them.
- The interface on the Mini is acceptable, albeit far from perfect. And,
- A keychain compass weighs a half-ounce and costs $5, though usually I’m carrying a more functional baseplate compass anyway.
Should I buy the Mini 2?
If you don’t already own the Mini or any satellite messenger, a stronger case can be made for the Mini 2. It’s:
- Incrementally better than the original Mini;
- The smallest and lightest satellite messenger on the market; and,
- Functional as a standalone unit (i.e. if it’s not tethered to your phone) because of its display and virtual keyboard, though it’s not very user-friendly in this configuration.
One alternative option is to buy an original Mini on closeout or used second-hand. This gets you 90 percent of the functionality for the same weight and size, but at a lower entry price. My concern with buying an original Mini now is that Garmin may eventually make it technologically obsolete — or, less aggressively, simply stop making improvements to it (e.g. fixing bugs and security issues in Earthmate).
What could Garmin have done to really wow me?
With the Mini 2, Garmin made several nice improvements over the original device.
Unfortunately, it did nothing to enhance the inReach messaging experiencing, which is the core feature of the Mini and which is inferior to rival products like the Zoleo Satellite Communicator and the Somewear Global Hotspot. Last year I switched to the Zoleo for this sole reason, and this year I will be expanding its use in my guiding program.
Zoleo and Somewear offer “seamless messaging” across wifi, cell, and satellite. By being able to send and receive messages in their apps wherever I am — e.g. deep in the backcountry with only satellite service, on a mountaintop or ridge with cell service, or in a cafe with wifi — my conversations remain continuous and followable, and I can take advantage of less expensive connectivity options when available. In contrast, Garmin forces me to divide my conversations: in the backcountry I must use the Earthmate app (or Explore Mobile, with the Mini 2), and in the frontcountry and in town I use my usual email and texting apps.
The Zoleo also includes a dedicated email address and phone number so that anyone can easily reach me. My wife, my parents, the family of a client, and my guides in the field can just text or email me, like they would anyone else. To initiate a conversation with an inReach user, in contrast, a person must follow these convoluted instructions.
Questions about the inReach Mini 2, other satellite communicators, or which to buy? Leave a comment.
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