Garmin announced two new inReach devices shortly after the New Year, immediately prior to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES):
Last week I was able to inspect them first-hand and discuss them with representatives at Outdoor Retailer (OR). The original manufacturer of the inReach, DeLorme, was purchased by Garmin a year ago. So the inReach+ models, which are the third-generation of inReach, are the first overseen by Garmin.
Functionality & specs
To understand the inReach SE+ and Explorer+, it helps to temporarily forget what you know about the current inReach devices, which I have written about here and here. The history can be helpful, but can also cause confusion.
Both new devices are two-way text messengers. Using just the unit, or paired with a smartphone via the Earthmate app, you can send and receive text messages. This assumes you have an active service plan and sufficient satellite reception.
They share a similar build to the popular Garmin GPSMAP 64. Weight of 7.5 oz, full-color 2.3-inch screen (1.4” x 2.9”), water-resistance rated to IPX7, and battery life up to 100 hours with 10-minute tracking. The control buttons on the Garmin 64 and the inReach+ are arranged differently.
Topographic map data — specifically, DeLorme’s TOPO North America — is pre-loaded onto the Explorer+. The SE+ is not preloaded with any mapping data, but it does have a simple grid map (i.e. no features or contour lines, just its location plus any imported or created routes, waypoints, and breadcrumbs).
The Explorer+ has 2 GB of internal memory for additional map data. However, only certain data is compatible. USGS quads cannot be loaded onto the Explorer+, for example. For navigating Europe, you can load Open Street Maps; the built-in memory is sufficient for about six countries. Syncing of data requires a hard connection with a mini-USB/USB cable.
Routes and waypoints can be imported to both devices through your online inReach account (formerly the DeLorme Explore portal). In the field, you can create waypoints and breadcrumb tracks, and navigate to saved features.
Additional data tiles — e.g. Landsat, USGS quads — can be accessed through the Earthmate app. The inReach antenna can be used to pinpoint current location, rather than relying on the phone.
To use the Explorer+ topographic maps and the SE+ grid map, the devices must be activated initially but do not need an active service subscription. In this sense, they could be considered GPS units with inReach functionality.
The Explorer+ has a digital compass, barometer, and accelerometer, which makes it a more powerful standalone GPS device. For example, it does not need to be moving to know the direction in which it is pointing.
The SE+ retails for $400; the Explorer+, for $450. I almost feel that the price differential was kept intentionally small to encourage Explorer+ purchases. The $80 difference between the current inReach SE and Explorer probably deters more purchases of the premium product.
inReach+ versus current inReach: What’s the difference?
The new inReach+ and current inReach units have most things in common, like:
- Satellite text messaging;
- Earthmate app connectivity;
- User interface;
- Long-lasting battery life; and,
- Service plan options and cost.
There are also a few obvious differences. The inReach+ units:
- Cost more, by $70 to $100 at retail;
- Weigh about a half-ounce (15 g) more;
- Feature a bigger screen, though the size and resolution is hardly on par with even entry-level smartphones; and,
- Better protect the S.O.S. button.
The new inReach SE+ is more similar to the current inReach Explorer than to the current SE. The current SE has no mapping functionality. The inReach SE+ has basic features: a feature-less grid map, and the ability to import and create waypoints, routes, and breadcrumbs. It’s like an old-school GPS unit, before they were spec’d with decent screens and maps.
The new inReach Explorer+ is best compared to a conventional handheld GPS unit, but with inReach functionality.
Should I upgrade?
It’s not a simple answer, and largely depends on your current and anticipated use, as well as your budget. If you only use the inReach for text messaging, and if you have another GPS solution (e.g. GaiaGPS app) or don’t need one, then the current inReach SE will remain adequate. But if you would appreciate having a combined inReach/GPS, then the Explorer+ would be worth a look.
If you own a current Explorer, the Explorer+ offers only one benefit: it can be used as a GPS even without an active service subscription. If you can avoid paying for months when you hardly use the service (but sometimes want a GPS), an upgrade may actually make financial sense.
What questions do you have about the inReach SE+ and Explorer+? These are new and high-tech devices, and will take some discussion to fully grasp their nuances.
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