SPOT revolutionized backcountry communication in the late-2000’s with its original device, the SPOT Personal Tracker (my review), which retailed for $170 (plus an annual service plan) and which could send three one-way messages: Okay, Help, and SOS.
The Tracker was less expensive to own and operate than a satellite phone. It was more functional than a PLB. And it worked deep in the backcountry, beyond the reliable range of cell phones. To this day, it remains the only piece of outdoor gear that my mother has encouraged me to purchase.
The Tracker was followed up in short order with the:
- Satellite GPS Messenger, which was essentially a Gen2;
- Connect, which could send 40-character messages when connected to a smartphone; and, finally,
- Gen3 Satellite GPS Messenger, which was released in 2013.
But since SPOT’s last product release five years ago, Garmin entered the market and grabbed significant market share with its inReach devices (the SE+ and Explorer+, and the Mini), which provide an enormously valuable service that the Gen3 and earlier iterations did not: two-way messaging.
With SPOT’s one-way communication, you could only hope that your messages were transmitted properly to family, friends, or an emergency response team. With the inReach’s two-way service, receipt of messages is confirmed, and messages can be sent back to you in the field.
Preview: SPOT X
Last month SPOT finally released a product that competes directly with the inReach. The SPOT X is a two-way text messenger that retails for $250, weighs 7 oz, and features a 2.7-inch dot matrix screen and physical QWERTY keyboard. It looks like an orange Blackberry with an oversized antenna.
I have been given a SPOT X to use on trips later this month and in July, and will post a more in-depth review afterwards.
Like all SPOT and inReach products, the SPOT X requires a service plan. When the X was first announced, SPOT offered two types of plans (Weekender, for $20 per month; and Adventurer, for $30 per month), but they subsequently changed their offerings to three: Basic, Advanced, and Unlimited. Each is available in a 1- and 12-month commitment, with the 1-month terms costing more per month.
The plans all provide unlimited check-in and SOS messages, but vary in the included number of custom messages (20, 100, and unlimited) and frequency of the best tracking intervals (10, 5, and 2.5 minutes).
All plans incur a $20 activation fee.
Pros and cons of the SPOT X
With the disclaimer that I have played with it for only a few minutes, there are a few things that I find immediately attractive about the SPOT X:
- $250 MSRP, making it $100 to $200 less than the inReach devices;
- Efficient text messaging as a standalone device; and,
- A dedicated US phone number, allowing for easy messaging from any cell phone.
But I don’t think it’s necessarily a clear winner over the inReach devices:
- Similar weight as a standalone inReach SE+/Explorer+, and twice the weight of the Mini;
- Similar navigation functionality as a standalone Mini, but no on-board mapping like with the SE+/Explorer+;
- Does not include a powerful mapping app like Earthmate; and,
- No weather forecasting, although I wonder if someone will soon launch a WX2InReach-like service.
With more certainty, I can say that the SPOX gives consumers another option, and that is an inherently good thing.
Questions about the SPOT X? Leave a comment. I’ll answer it here, or include it in my review.
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