Review: Somewear Global Hotspot || 4.0 oz with seamless messaging

For years Garmin has dominated the satellite messaging category with its family of inReach devices. But competitors have emerged, thankfully, and it’s helping to keep prices down, drive product innovation, and perhaps improve customer service.

For nearly three weeks this spring I used the Somewear Global Hotspot ($280, 4 oz/113 grams), one of these newer devices, while guiding trips in southern Utah, giving me an opportunity to test its reliability and features, and to better understand how it compares to other units like the inReach Mini, Zoleo, Spot X, Spot Gen4.

When paired with the Somewear Mobile App, the Hotspot is a two-way satellite messenger. The app also transmits over cell and wifi, making for a seamless messaging experience when bouncing in and out of the backcountry.

Review: Somewear Global Hotspot

At its core, the Somewear Global Hotspot is a two-way satellite messenger, capable of both sending and receiving texts in areas without cell service.

The device uses the Iridium network, which has truly global coverage. A subscription is required. I found the messaging experience to be remarkably zippy — when I had good signal strength (conveniently displayed by the app in the upper-right corner), messages were sent and received with a short delay, usually seconds, sometimes a few minutes. It felt significantly faster than my inReach Mini, which I was using simultaneously for inReach-to-inReach conversations with other guides who were in the field.

Three types of messages can be sent with the Hotspot:

  1. SOS, using a dedicated physical button on the device;
  2. Location tracking, using the power button on the device;
  3. Custom, by pairing your smartphone to the device with the Somewear Mobile App.

The Somewear Mobile App also transmits texts over cell service or WiFi, making for a seamless messaging experience (and also saving money, because this data is run through your phone provider, not against your Somewhere service plan). When bouncing back and forth between civilization and the wilderness, as you might do on a thru-hike and as I do while guiding, text conversations do not get disjointed when the connection changes.

As a standalone unit, the Somewhere is physically appealing, being palm-sized and only 4.0 oz (113 grams). The original unit (and my review unit) was dark blue/light blue; it was updated to black/blue in spring 2021, but otherwise is the same as the original.

An emergency message can be sent using the dedicated button, which is protected well by a cap. Tracking can be initiated by rapidly pressing the on/off button three times.

To type, send, receive, and read text messages, the device must be paired with a smartphone.

The device gives little indication about its operations. It doesn’t beep or vibrate, and it has just one external white-only LED light with three blinking patterns (for on, pairing, and tracking modes).

The Mobile App has some weather and mapping features. But, honestly, I recommend that you get this data from elsewhere. The weather forecasts are pulled from Dark Sky, which is an Apple product that poorly predicts mountain weather. And for your mapping, I highly recommend instead the Gaia GPS or CalTopo apps. Somewear partnered with onX Backcountry, which I’m less familiar with and which I don’t see compelling reasons to use over Gaia or CalTopo.

As a standalone unit, the Hotspot has limited functionality. It can send SOS messages, but nothing more — it lacks a display or other physical buttons. The single LED is white-only and has two blinking patterns (“on” and “pairing”).

The Hotspot against the competition

How does the Somewear Global Hotspot compare to other satellite messengers?

Somewear Hotspot versus Spot Gen4 and Spot X

The SPOT Gen4 is a one-way device, capable of only sending messages. Its technology was groundbreaking in 2008 when it was released but is now obsolete.

The SPOT X is a two-way messenger with a physical keyboard. But it’s heavier and clunkier than the Somewear Hotspot, and does not offer seamless messaging.

Conclusion: The Somewear Hotspot is a clear winner over both SPOT devices.

Somewear Hotspot versus Garmin inReach, specifically the Mini

The Mini is marginally smaller and lighter (by a half-ounce, or 15 grams), and as a standalone device it has more functionality — like the Somewear, it can send an SOS message; but messages can also be read and typed out (albeit painfully slowly) using its small screen and virtual keyboard.

The Somewear device has one physical advantage. When it’s laid flat on the ground, as it’s designed to, its antenna points at the sky. It doesn’t need to be propped up with a rock or piece of gear, as with the Mini.

Somewear offers seamless messaging; the inReach does not. This is a major omission by inReach, which is vulnerable to disjointed text conversations when you come back into cell/wifi range (or get back out of it).

The Hotspot is less expensive — $280 retail versus $350 for the Mini. Though the real cost of these devices are in the subscription plans (for Somewear, go here; for inReach, go here). The plans are not directly comparable, but overall the Somewear is less expensive to operate, in addition to being less expensive to buy. For example:

  • For $15 per month, the Somewear includes 20 messages, whereas the inReach includes only 10;
  • And the unlimited plan costs $50 per month for Somewear and $65 for the inReach.

Conclusion: If you expect to regularly carry the device but not a smartphone, which is the case with very few people, the inReach is the better option. Otherwise, the Somewear is more attractive: its seamless messaging and cost-savings more than offset the 0.5-ounce weight penalty and its slightly larger size.

Somewear Hotspot versus Zoleo

The Somewear has a single advantage over the Zoleo: it’s 1.3 ounces lighter, and also smaller.

Both offer seamless messaging, over satellite, wifi, and cell.

Otherwise, Zoleo has more going for it:

  • $200 retail price, versus $280
  • 900-character limit when the recipient also has the Zoleo app (versus the more standard 160-ish);
  • Dedicated phone number and email address, making it extremely easy for a Zoleo owner to be contacted;
  • The device has an “Okay” message button, plus multiple lights with different colors and blinking patterns; and,
  • More economical service plans, like $35 per month for 250 messages, versus 75 messages for $30 with the Somewear.

Conclusion: If size and weight is a big priority, go with the Hotspot (or maybe the Mini). But if you’re willing to carry a heftier device for more functionality and to save some money, the Zoleo is the better pick.

Questions about the Somewear Global Hotspot, or have an experience with it? Leave a comment.

17 Comments

  1. Rob Davidson on May 28, 2021 at 11:03 am

    I have been using the Zoleo for about six weeks now, hiking and biking, as my cellular service around my small town ends in some directions seven miles out. Former SpotX owner for 2.5 years. The Zoleo is a clear winner especially with the EIN number, now has tracking for an additional fee. Only con, has a check in button, but no preset messages. Not a game changer for me. I like the Garmin line but the older Delorme tech is really showing it’s age.

  2. Patrick Voosen on May 28, 2021 at 4:16 pm

    Is there any reason why you left off the bivystick? That seems to be the top competitor for the inreach mini. I would also be interested in a review of the SatPaq. It seems less capable then it’s competitor’s but it offers true pay as you go messaging which I think many people are looking for.

    • Andrew Skurka on May 28, 2021 at 9:00 pm

      I know of the bivy stick and I’ve seen one in person once, but I don’t know much about it.

  3. Denise on May 28, 2021 at 6:54 pm

    I just looked up Zoleo, since it seems like a good option (1.3 ounces heavier doesn’t seem too onerous). They are actually selling it for $150 right now. Would be great if you could add a comparative photo, as you do with the mini. I’ve been using one of the older InReach devices (nothing mini about it) and am thinking about upgrading. Thanks for the advice.

    • Andrew Skurka on May 28, 2021 at 8:58 pm

      Unfortunately I don’t own a zoleo so I can’t do a size comparison photo. But that review has a size comparison photo against the inreach explorer and spot gen3.

  4. Eric Thomson on May 29, 2021 at 1:49 am

    There’s one thing that bugs me with the inReach mini. If I’m in a hut or somewhere with a bad GPS signal, the battery drains rapidly because it wastes power trying to find a signal.

    Does this happen with the Zoleo or Somewear devices too?

    Is the battery life better overall with the screenless devices?

    • Andrew Skurka on May 29, 2021 at 1:27 pm

      I haven’t seen any scientific analyses of battery life for these devices, like those that you will find for smartphones.

      Since the somewear, zoleo, and inreach are all using the iridium network, my guess is that battery consumption is probably similar between the devices, was perhaps some variability depending on software and the antennas. But battery size will probably be the biggest driver of battery life.

  5. Jason Corbett on May 29, 2021 at 1:16 pm

    Wow. Neither the Somewear or the Zoleo are available in Europe. Am I missing something?

    • Andrew Skurka on June 1, 2021 at 1:25 pm

      The Somewear is available direct-only, and I’m uncertain if they ship to Europe. Uncertain about the Zoleo. I’m sure that both companies are trying to expand their dealer network and international distribution.

  6. Greg Topf on May 29, 2021 at 2:41 pm

    Hey All,
    I just pulled the trigger last week on the Zoleo and am taking it into the field next week. It was down to the Somewear vs. the Zoleo. I elected to go with Zoleo for the reasons mentioned in the review, plus it has a 2-year warranty vs. 9 months for the Somewear. Most of my backcountry time is spent in waterways and the fact that the Somewear floats almost made me disregard all of the rest, but especially after reading the review I am feeling good about going with the preponderance of favorables for the Zoleo. Thanks Skurka.

  7. Ben on May 29, 2021 at 6:58 pm

    Hi,
    The unit in your review is blue, but the current one on Somewear website is black. Any significant changes other the color? Thanks!

    • Andrew Skurka on May 31, 2021 at 5:51 pm

      I noticed this too, but I don’t think that there’s any functional or under the hood differences between the device that I was using and the new color scheme.

  8. Phil on May 31, 2021 at 2:10 pm

    Thanks for the great review. I’m on the fence between all of these units, but the Somewear certainly makes the most financial sense due to the low data plan costs. For the occasional user, it’s significantly less expensive than either the ZOLEO or the InReach.
    The key is that Somewear doesn’t charge a fee to suspend your account, so infrequent use (a few months a year) becomes much more economical.

    • Andrew Skurka on May 31, 2021 at 5:50 pm

      The device that makes the most financial sense is a PLB. Buy it once, use it for emergencies only. Let me not work for you if your family wants the option of communicating with you, but for many people it’s a viable solution and it generally is under discussed.

      • David Skau on May 31, 2021 at 8:27 pm

        PLB’s are the lowest cost for sure, but definitely not apples to apples with the two way satellite messengers on this thread.

        The ability to message what an emergency is, or with messages other than a true emergency, and to receive messages has real value.For example, friends of mine were backpacking in an area when a wildfire started up nearby. They didn’t so much need rescue as intel on where the fire was and how to get around it – there was still time for them to respond, and the area rescue teams were largely overwhelmed with those in the immediate path of the fire – but the ability to not only send out an SOS, but also to receive messages was key.

        That makes the question of what option makes the most financial sense a bit harder to give a blanket answer to – it will likely depend on the user.

  9. David Skau on May 31, 2021 at 5:25 pm

    The other benefit of Somewear vs Zoleo besides weight is plan flexibility and cost. Zoleo charges you $4 even when your plan is paused. Somewear you only pay for months you want service. There’s also an ultralight annual plan that works out to about $8/mo, which is quite a bit cheaper than any of the other options I’ve seen.

  10. Eric on June 1, 2021 at 2:00 pm

    Thanks for the write-up Andrew and thank you everyone else for the comments. I got the Somewear after reading this. I began to feel that the additional initial cost of the Somewear Hotspot would eventually break even with the Zoleo’s inflexible plan, somewhere after the 4th month of use. I wasn’t aware of Satellite Hotspots so this was exciting. I was between the Somewear and Zoleo and the review here and follow-up comments were invaluable in contributing to my decision. Ultimately, the subscription details for the Somewear are what won me over. The waterproof rating was also a factor as I have made mistakes in that regard. The weight difference seemed negligible to me and with where I’m at as $100 could save weight more effectively in other departments. As David mention, the $4 subscription pause with Zoleo was off-putting and seemed a little ridiculous to me. But the fine print that mentions it is unable to be paused during the first 3 months on top of the $20 activation fee bothered me. To me, it reads like I am committed to immediately spending another $80 right off the bat for the most inexpensive plan and the activation fee. I only need to get out a few messages and appreciate the tracking offered by Somewear while Zoleo charges $6 on top of any plan for that. The cheapest plan by Somewear is an annual contract but at $8 I can hardly complain. I can literally get a year’s worth of service with the Somewear considering the amount of messaging I need to do for less money than the cheapest activation with Zoleo. With all this in mind, I began to notice that the additional initial cost of the Somewear Hotspot would eventually break even with the Zoleo’s inflexible plan, somewhere after the 4th month of use.

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