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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Looking forward to a more detailed review. Question. Can the Spot X be synced to a computer to allow waypoints to be downloaded and also sync/store contact info from Microsoft Outlook?
(I like the QWERTY keyboard on the Spot X over the Garmin, as well as not having to link a smartphone.)
Looks like it still operates on the Globalstar Network vs. InReach using Iridium? Unfortunately this makes it unusable for Alaska. Globalstar is quite unreliable in AK. Too bad, it’s an interesting product.
Yes, it’s on Globalstar. SPOT is a wholly owned subsidiary of Globalstar.
In fact, anywhere above ~66º N a Spot device becomes unreliable.
Iridium is more reliable and far reaching I believe right? That alone could be a deal killer for me. Love my inReach. At first glance, if I had no device, I’d still buy an inReach.
The fact that Spot X is cheaper by a $100 at the outset seems like a huge win, until you figure the cost of the plan into it. As a weekend warrior, there are months where I don’t really use my InReach at all. I can park it for $4/month. No such luck with Spot X.
Exactly. I was actually really excited at the idea of not needing my cell to send InReach texts with the SpotX, plus a physical keyboard, and was getting all excited then I saw the service plan and wrote it off.
Hopefully Garmin does something similar. This hits my sweet spot as a device I’d like and if we had Iridium network plus a more flexible service plan I’d buy it in a heartbeat.
While Garmin has come out with new InReach+ devices, the Delorme devices are still available new and supported. I just purchased the Delorme InReach Explorer for $199 minus a 10% discount at Cabela’s online. I made the decision to drop my old SPOT2 as they wanted over $170 for an annual service of which I only need a few months of service. Yea, this year I ended spending an additional $110 for an active device, but next year I’ll save $110 using the Delorme InReach Explorer over my old SPOT 2. Even without any future saving, moving up to the InReach is well worth it.
The DeLorme devices are “supported” in that Garmin will sell you service for them. But if your unit poops out, you’re SOL, because my understand is that they are no longer repairing them. I’m still using a DeLorme unit, too, but I’ve read comments on this blog and direct emails from people who have had this experience.
I guess if you send a lot of text messages the SPOT X yearly cost would be cheaper than an inReach. The other plus is better tracking intervals with the SPOT plans. Since I’m on the money-is-no-object plan for work I was wondering if the performance of the SPOT X is as good as Garmin’s product? My messages and waypoints seem to go out usually under 5 minutes after sending with my inReach.
The lack of weather forecast would be a dealbreaker for me. That feature has come in very handy many times with my inReach.
I used one over the weekend. Found the keyboard to be unbelievably frustrating and the screen not being backlit made it difficult to read in late afternoon light. The interface was also weird. The orig inReach more intuitive and I love getting to use my phone’s touchscreen.
I’m wondering if I’ll take more to the keyboard. I know Blackberry users swore by them, so maybe it just takes some getting used to.
3 Globalstar satellites vs. 66 Iridium satellites can make a big difference in particular in terrestrial applications
GlobalStar as ~48 active satellites, just FYI. Because this device can use “simplex”, the coverage is much better than with their phones (for “duplex” aka phone call, the satellite needs you AND a ground-station in view; for this and similar products, the satellite can store-and-forward.)
Looking forward to your review. I believe most of us will continue bringing our cell phones for the camera options. Does the new SPOT link to cell phones. Are charging ports compatible so we limit the number of cables we carry. Happy Trails!
If this offered a month to month service, it’d be a clear winner for me.
i’m a weekend warrior, 4-5 days at most per trip, and i do a lot of backcountry fishing (overnight, 2-3 night trips), so something like this for communication while out of cell coverage would be a huge benefit for me and my worry-prone family.
I believe the Spot X DOES have month to month options available. I just spoke to Spot customer service (also on website: https://www.findmespot.com/spotx/lander.php) and they said they offer what they call “Flex charge” for the Spot X. This allows month to month (1 month min service) starting at $14.95/month and does require a $24.95 annual fee as well. This seems comparable to the inReach month to month option unless I am missing what others consider to be month to month. That’s entirely possible. I also note when comparing the two basic monthly subscriptions that Spot offers 20 text messages vs. inReach’s 10; a small win for Spot. Customer service also mentioned that they MAY offer Flex charge in the future for other devices which could be terrific for those like me with older Spot devices (Gen2). We’ll see…
I too am excited to learn more about your experience with the Spot X.
Looking hard at SPOT X but it seems to have problems with battery life according to some testers. I spoke to customer service a couple of days ago and they said that they had just shipped a firmware upgrade with more in the pike. It seems this is a immature product so far and I’m looking forward to 411 on field function.
Please test the two way messaging thoroughly. Some reports indicate that SpotX only allows one message to be sent every 20 minutes and that there are significant delays in delivering messages.