Preview: SPOT Gen4 || Updated 1-way messenger

The SPOT Gen4 was officially released today. This fourth-generation device remains a one-way messenger, and both its hardware and software has been updated from its predecessor, the Gen3 (my review), which was released more than six years ago.

Functionality

Like the Gen3, the Gen4 can send outgoing messages only, limited to:

  • SOS,
  • Help,
  • Check in/OKAY, and,
  • Custom, which must be pre-programmed in the user’s online account.

The Gen4 is also capable of location tracking, in frequencies of 5, 10, 30, and 60 minutes (all included with the basic subscription), plus a 2.5-minute interval with a service upgrade.

Changes

A few improvements have been made to both the Gen4 hardware and software.

The device now has IP68 rating for dust and water. SPOT also describes it as having a “sleek new look, with improved grip and secure design features that snap in place.” I have not handled the device in-person so I can’t verify this; I don’t recall the Gen3 unit feeling flimsy, so their starting point was already high.

Location tracking can be motion-activated (instead of just running continuously), thus conserving battery life. And no longer must the tracking be reset after 24 hours, which was an annoying quirk.

Specs and service

  • 5 oz with lithium batteries
  • 3.48” x 2.66” x .93”
  • $150 MSRP
  • Service plans start at $12 per month (with annual contract) or at $15 per month (on a month-to-month plan)

Assessment

Without seeing this device in-person and using it in the field, my evaluation should be taken with a grain of salt. But don’t dismiss it — I’ve been using satellite messengers since 2008 and I’ve stayed atop the category.

I appreciate the improvements in the Gen4, but overall I feel like this device misses the mark. SPOT’s one-way messaging was groundbreaking in 2008 when the first-generation device was unveiled, and it was still acceptably high-tech in 2014 when the Gen3 was released.

But in 2020, I struggle with offering a compelling reason to buy it. I think most consumers would be happier with a:

  • Personal locator beacon (PLB) like the ACR Electronics rescueME ($290), which offers SOS messaging only (no “I’m okay” check-ins) but which will be more economical in the long-term; or a,
  • Two-way satellite messenger like the Garmin inReach Mini (my preview), ZOLEO (my review), or Somewhere Global Hotspot (review forthcoming), which are a bit more expensive to own and operate but which are capable of two-way messaging, which is vastly more helpful and useful for both those in the field and at home.

Is there any case for the Gen4 still? Yes, I can think of two. First, consumers who want the option to check-in regularly but who don’t need or want those back home to check in with them. Second, consumers who want the option to check-in regularly but who can’t afford to the marginal extra cost for two-way messaging.

These audiences seem small to me, and I’m waiting for SPOT to develop a Gen4-sized unit that offers two-way messaging like its SPOT X device (my review).

Leave a comment

  • What questions do you have about the Gen4?
  • What is your initial take on it?

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Posted in on August 3, 2020
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17 Comments

  1. William Kapes on August 12, 2020 at 6:37 pm

    I’ve got the gen3 and I’m waiting for my annual contract to run out and I’m going to replace it with a 2 way communicator. The array of available messages are just too small and its not that much more expensive for the newer two way devices.

    • Joseph Buettner aka Nitrojoe on August 13, 2020 at 12:31 pm

      I used Spot in 2008 when I thru hiked the PCT and it worked great to let family members know my location. In 2017 while hiking the Sierra High Route with my three adult children on day three we had a big problem. One developed High Altitude Sickness and the other broke her right angle. I had my old Spot and I couldn’t correspond accurately to family members what was going on with only pre set messages. We headed back no SOS was needed . I sent SPOT messages but family members really didn’t know what was going on for three days. They knew something happened but what. After that hike I purchased the Delorme in Reach Explorer a two way messagenger which is now owned by Garmin.

    • Ben P on August 18, 2020 at 10:15 pm

      That was what I did last year. Ditched the spot for an InReach. The basic Garmin plan is identical in price and similar in functionality, with an added 10 text messages and an unlimited number of presets, of which you can set several. You lose out on tracking, sort of (you can still send your location for $0.10/point, so one point for your camp location is $0.10/night), but that’s about the only downside other than the higher buy-in and an extra 3oz.

  2. Sean on August 23, 2020 at 1:50 pm

    I started with a spot 2nd & 3rd gen but quickly switched to the Delorme 2-way (and still have it, it’s a beast).

    I think SPOT might be useful too for like… endurance races and stuff where you have to prove you ran the course or whatever. The way marathon runners get chipped.

    I’d still prefer it over nothing but you’re right, it feels more and more niche as time goes on. If nothing else it needs some kind of confirmation system to show that you transmitted correctly. The “message successful” light on the Gen 3 was basically just a best guess. I know that’s limited due to technology but still… *shrugs*.

  3. Larry R on August 26, 2020 at 10:43 am

    I’ve had my Gen 3 for a while, and while I’d certainly like the 2-way feature, the price did not justify it for me. My primary use is to keep friends and family aware of my location during multi-day bike rides, and knowing the SOS feature is there is reassuring, even though I’ve never had to use it. Even the most economical Spot X and Inreach plans are far more expensive than the basic Spot plan I’m on, and if you’re willing to negotiate, you can get a CONSIDERABLE discount at renewal time (It can’t hurt to ask). Different users use these products for different reasons, but for my usage, I was looking for beacon + SOS, and the Gen 3 fits perfectly. I don’t see what the point of the Gen 4 is.

  4. Jose on August 27, 2020 at 8:29 am

    I am CHEAP and mountain bike solo often in places with no cell service, 30 miles with a broken leg could be an issue. SPOT gen 3 does the job for me, the 5 min tracking and predefined messages (all good, delayed but ok, need someone to come to me, SOS) are enough. Sure, I would use the tiny Delorme, but ‘plans’ are just way too much. I thought Garmin would gave figured out that charging 1/3 of what they charge would get 8x the subscriptions, but that day hasn’t come yet. Even SPOT tries every year to charge extra $25 ‘network fee’ and increase their annual fee, but a phone call to set for non-renewal always gets them below $100 for another year.

  5. Ryan Lowdermilk on September 16, 2020 at 3:53 pm

    I just bought the SPOT Gen 4. This is my first device of this kind. As many have said here, in the end I only “needed” SOS and Check-in/OK. Especially, once I considered the service plans of competing devices InReach, Zoleo, BivyStick, etc. it was just cost prohibited for how often I would use the device. My son and I might hike 3-5 times year and of those hikes maybe 40% of them have zero cell coverage.

    I could see me changing my mind if they got some of these service plans in check. But I get it. I’m a very small target demo. I imagine most are doing 10-20 trips and want the full 2 way option.

  6. Richard on September 24, 2020 at 5:01 pm

    Looks to me like the Gen 3 in a new case. Nothing to see here. Move along.

  7. Don Abernathey on September 25, 2020 at 11:11 am

    I too started with SPOT in 2008. I too switched to the InReach Mini (Feb 2020). But I am wondering if I made the right choice. The Gen3 SPOT had far superior battery life (because you can swap in a spare set of lithiums), much less funky button pushing for checking and tracking (no need to clear unit to delete old tracks). And no need to carry a cell phone to make things easier.
    My family just wants to know that I’m ok, and SPOT did that. In the 8 months I’ve used the Mini, I’ve had exactly one instance where 2-way was necessary and that was to inform me where camp had moved to.
    So far, the one InReach feature I really like is the ability to ping another InReach device – works without the other user needing to do anything (but currently only works from the shared map page which requires internet access).
    I’ll give InReach more time, (already spent my $300 plus a 1year recreation plan). But I’m not sure that 2 way is all that important. Nice to have – yes. But do I use it? – not so far.
    Btw, I hope with Gen4 they didn’t get rid of the sleep mode, shakey/wakey and 24 hr auto off – all features I really liked ànd wish the InReach mini supported.

  8. Ed on November 25, 2020 at 7:17 pm

    Regarding the new SPOT Gen 4 … did they upgrade the GPS electronics or just using the same electronics as the Gen 3 unit? My biggest frustration with the Gen 3 was that despite indicating a good GPS capture and check in message sent the message was never actually sent as my recipients never got it.

  9. Leonidas on February 7, 2021 at 1:08 pm

    What are your thoughts on using the Spot Gen 4 as an FKT tracking device only? Cheaper initially than the others and $15 a month with the ability to hibernate isn’t bad for something I may need 1-2 times a year.

    • Andrew Skurka on February 7, 2021 at 2:10 pm

      Do you have a GPS watch? I think that’d be better, since you’re already wearing it and since it gives you more regular tracking intervals.

      • Leonidas on February 7, 2021 at 3:41 pm

        I do, the Garmin Instinct. I wasn’t sure if that was going to work originally but I did some more research today and it sounds like it will work for verification purposes.
        Appreciate the response!

  10. James on February 23, 2021 at 12:15 pm

    Can this or other devices automatically transmit your position at intervals so another party can track your progress in real time?

  11. Ryan Lowdermilk on February 23, 2021 at 12:35 pm

    Yes – the default interval is every :10 minutes, I believe. It can also be set to every 2.5, 5, 10, 30 and 60 minutes.

    Although it works very well (I own one) I would temper expectations. There will be times where an interval fails to communicate. This is usually because the person carrying the beacon does not have line of sight to the satellites. Typically, because of tree cover, etc.

    However, I recently used my new Spot Gen4 on a 3 day hike and it was reliable. It was able to show my wife where I was throughout the day.

    Last thing I would say, if you have someone on the other end watching you, make sure you set expectations. I tell my wife that if you haven’t seen a “ping” from me in over 18 hours, it may be time to contact local authorities.

  12. James Bishop on February 26, 2021 at 2:24 pm

    What would you put for your custom messages on this device?

    • Andrew Skurka on February 26, 2021 at 2:46 pm

      It is slightly situational, but on most trips I used it as a way to inform my contacts that I was delayed but not in need of help. This message could be conveyed just as easily by using the okay message even if you are beyond your expected exit time and date, but it was more specific and I didn’t know how to use it better.

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