Review: SPOT X Satellite Messenger || I’ll keep my inReach, thanks

The SPOT X retails for $250, weighs 6.7 oz, and features a 2.7-inch dot matrix illuminated screen and physical QWERTY keyboard. It looks like an orange Blackberry with an over-sized antenna.

Exactly one week after Garmin announced the inReach Mini in May, SPOT released its first new device in five years and its first device with two-way satellite messaging.

The SPOT X retails for $250, weighs 6.7 oz, and features a 2.7-inch dot matrix illuminated screen and physical QWERTY keyboard. It looks like an orange Blackberry with an over-sized antenna.

I used the SPOT X for over a month this summer while guiding trips in the Colorado Rockies and High Sierra. The unit was loaned to me by Backbone Media, the professionalism and helpfulness of which was greatly appreciated but (unfortunately, for them and SPOT) did not affect my overall conclusion.

Review: SPOT X

To break into the two-way messaging market, the SPOT X needed to be somehow better than the category leading inReach units. In some respects, it is:

  • It’s simpler, designed to be fully functional as a standalone device.
  • Each unit has a dedicated mobile U.S. phone number, which makes sending messages to it easier from standard mobile phones or other two-way satellite messengers.
  • It has twice the battery life of the inReach SE+ and Explorer+, at least when in 10-minute tracking mode. And,
  • It’s less expensive to own and operate, costing less for the unit and for comparable service plans.

Since it’s initial launch, SPOT has released several firmware updates to eliminate coding bugs and improve the user-interface. SPOT is listening to customers and seems to be invested in the X.

But currently the SPOT X still falls short:

  • The keyboard and control pad generally suck, lacking touch-sensitivity and responsiveness.
  • It’s twice as heavy as the inReach Mini.
  • No smartphone connectivity, which could allow allow sharing of contacts, wireless setting syncs, and use of the phone’s keyboard and touchscreen.
  • Navigation features are minimal, and it has no weather reporting. And,
  • The online portal needs to be aesthetically refreshed and more user-friendly.

Barring significant improvements to the SPOT X and its platform, the two-way satellite messenger that I recommend for most users remains the Garmin inReach Mini, which is slightly more expensive but which is more pleasant to use, more featured, and lighter weight. That said, I can think of two scenarios in which the SPOT X would be the better device:

  1. If your budget does not include an extra $50 to buy the Mini; or,
  2. If you don’t have a smartphone or don’t carry one into the backcountry, in which case messages can be more efficiently sent with the SPOT X.

The SPOT X (right) competes directly with Garmin inReach devices like the (left to right) SE, Explorer+, and Mini.

Key product specs

  • 6.7 oz (verified)
  • 2.7-inch dot matrix display
  • Integrated physical QWERTY keyboard
  • Optional illumination of the display and keyboard
  • Non-replaceable lithium battery, chargeable via USB
  • Resistant to impact, dust, and water (IP67)
  • $250 MSRP
  • More information

The screen and keyboard can be illuminated, for easy nighttime use.

The damn keyboard

The SPOT X has a major, perhaps irrecoverable, flaw: its physical keyboard. Even if the SPOT X was perfect in every other way, the keyboard makes me not want to use it.

In fairness, the “virtual keyboards” on the inReach units are annoyingly tedious. But at least there’s a workaround: using the Earthmate app on my smartphone.

The keyboard has three problems:

  • The keys are small and flat-topped, so it’s difficult to feel individual keys and to press a single key without also pressing adjacent keys.
  • The lowermost three keys — ALT, SPACE, and uppercase — do not work properly, requiring excessive force and/or crackling when pressed. And,
  • The Select button should be taller than the surrounding directional keys so that it’s easier to press.

The physical keyboard has problems. The keys are small and flat-topped, and the lowest column of keys are not responsive or smooth.

If you can get beyond the keyboard, here’s the rest of what you need to know…

What does the SPOT X do?

The SPOT X has four capabilities:

1. Messaging

The SPOT X can both send and receive text messages and short emails. This makes it fundamentally different than other SPOT devices like the Gen3, which can only send messages. Messages can be predefined, custom, or posted to social media (Facebook, Twitter, or both).

Each SPOT X has a personal U.S. mobile number, which makes sending messages to the device much easier. The process of sending messages to an inReach device is less straightforward.

2. Tracking

The SPOT X can broadcast its location at 2.5-, 5-, 10-, 30-, and 60-minute intervals. The more basic service plans do not include the 2.5- and/or 5-minute intervals.

3. Emergency

If life or limb are in danger, the SPOT X can send an S.O.S message directly to the GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Center (IERCC), which will notify the appropriate emergency responders. More info.

4. Navigation

The SPOT X has a digital compass; and can create and go-to waypoints. (Waypoints can be created more efficiently in the online portal, but still only one at a time.) It does not support maps, neither a simple grid map nor image-based maps (e.g. USGS 7.5-minute tiles, or proprietary data).

The navigation capabilities of the SPOT X are comparable to those of a standalone inReach Mini. However, the Mini is designed to be paired with Earthmate, a navigation app that gives a smartphone similar (or even greater) functionality to a conventional handheld GPS unit.

The SPOX X has rudiumentary navigation capabilities. It has a digital compass, and can create and go-to waypoints.

What does the SPOT X not do?

Compared to existing two-way messaging devices, what functionality and features are lacking in the SPOT X?

1. Phone connectivity

The SPOX is a standalone unit, and cannot be connected with or controlled by a phone. This would be useful:

  • Contacts could be shared with the SPOT X, instead of needing to enter them beforehand in the online portal.
  • The phone’s touchscreen could be used to navigate the user-interface and to type messages, which would be preferable to the crappy keyboard on the SPOT X.
  • Settings on the SPOT X (e.g. recipient list for check-in and predefined messages, predefined message text, social media passwords, etc.) could be updated without a hard-wire sync to a computer with the SPOT X Device Updater software.

2. Weather

Before I leave for a trip, I always check the backcountry weather forecast. But on longer trips, receiving an updated forecast can be extremely helpful. Unlike the inReach, the SPOT X cannot pull down a forecast for a current or user-specified location.

Cost of ownership

The long-term cost of a SPOT X has two components: its initial purchase price, and its service plan.

Initial purchase

The SPOT X retails for $250, which is $50 to $100 less than competing units.


In addition to the initial purchase price, a service plan is required to use the SPOT X. Initially, SPOT offered only two annual plans, but they subsequently created a third tier, and made each plan available as an annual or month-to-month subscription.

  • Basic ($12/$15 per month)
  • Advanced ($20/$30 per month)
  • Unlimited ($30/$40 per month)

The annual plans are charged a one-time $20 activation fee. The month-to-month plans are charged $25 annually.

The plans all provide unlimited check-in and SOS messages, but vary in the included number of included custom messages and frequency of the shortest tracking intervals (10, 5, or 2.5 minutes).

SPOT vs Garmin subscription costs

The service plans for the SPOT X and the inReach devices do not match up perfectly. But overall SPOT charges less for service. For example:

  • For $15 per month, SPOT includes 20 custom messages, while Garmin’s plan includes only 10.
  • For $30 per month, SPOT includes 100 custom messages, while Garmin charges $35 for only 40.
  • SPOT charges $.25 per overage, whereas Garmin charges $1.00.

Due to the lower retail price and the lower subscription plans, the SPOT X should be more attractive to those who are on a tight budget and willing to overlook its other shortcomings.

Have questions about the SPOT X, or an experience with it? Leave a comment.

Disclosure. I strive to offer field-tested and trustworthy information, insights, and advice. I have no financial affiliations with or interests in any brands or products, and I do not publish sponsored content

This website is supported by affiliate marketing, whereby for referral traffic I receive a small commission from select vendors like Amazon or REI, at no cost to the reader. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Posted in , , on October 23, 2018


  1. Sean W on October 23, 2018 at 2:45 pm

    As for the weather, if you bribe/donate to the guy who runs WX2InReach, he might be nice enough to consider expanding his WX2InReach weather system to the Spot. It’d require coding since he strips data from the location sharing URL that you send from Delorme and chews it for a weather forecast. Before Delorme/Garmin introduced weather forecasts, this system was the only way to get weather reports.

    It’s a nice alternative even with the InReach weather report. And if you program the request to one of your frequent (free) pre programmed messages, it only costs 1 text to get your weather report.

    • Andre Nieuwenhuizen on February 27, 2020 at 8:52 am

      The claim that the SpotX is water resistant 1 m for 30 minutes is an absolute joke. This unit is not water resistant at 6″ for 1 minute. I am not sure how they can make any claim about water resistance when the plug at the bottom of the unit does not seal the charging socket. Their claim with regard to water resistance is not covered by their warranty.

  2. JayC on October 23, 2018 at 5:22 pm

    I don’t know if it matters for most of your audience, but I believe the inreach uses the Iridium network, vs the Globalstar one for the Spot devices. In the northern half of Alaska the spot trackers have a pretty mixed history, but the inreach seem to work pretty well everywhere.

    The coverage map for the globalstar network is here:

    nice review!

    • Dan S on August 21, 2020 at 1:09 pm

      I don’t know whether it’s true, but when I was shopping I was also told by a sales rep that the Spot network is poor in the entire southern hemisphere, and the Inreach worked fine down there.

  3. Brandon on October 24, 2018 at 5:37 am

    I feel the same. I was able to snag an older Delorme inReach for my AT thru-hike this year and was very happy with the functionality. Although the Garmin plans are more expensive per month, the fact that you aren’t locked in for a full year makes them cheaper if you only plan to use it for a season or a thru-hike as I did.

    • Sam on February 14, 2019 at 1:40 pm

      SPOT X has month-to-month plans as well and you get more messages for less! I tried the Inreach but it was too antiquated for me. I prefer the SPOT X user platform as well.

  4. Matthew on October 24, 2018 at 8:03 am

    One thing I like about the Spot service options is two of their upgrade options: Spot Save Our Vehicle (S.O.V.) and GEOS Member Benefit. SOV is like AAA, but cheaper. I could use that all year around for my commute or family trips even when I’m not in the wilderness. GEOS member benefit is search and rescue cost insurance for peace of mind should you ever need a rescue. I don’t believe Garmin offers either type of plan. Each is only another $25/$30 per year.

    I haven’t bought a satellite communicator yet, but the cost and extra service options have kept the Spot X on my wishlist over the Garmin so far. Though the weight and phone linkability of the InReach Mini are very attractive.

  5. Bob S. on October 24, 2018 at 4:33 pm

    I don’t know if not being able to afford an extra $50 for a Garmin Mini is a valid argument because most people who could afford a trip to someplace where there is no cell coverage could probably come up with a little extra scratch for a better device even if it meant skipping a couple trips to Starbucks. Most importantly, why skimp on equipment that could save your live.

    As far as not having a smartphone goes you could always buy a cheap prepaid phone and not activate it. I bought a discontinued Motorola Razr M for $35 that works great with both Gaia and my inReach.

    • bill reid on June 11, 2020 at 10:31 pm

      Less than a hour up the road from my place you can be out of cell service.
      This past weekend my buddy found this out, luckily while he was walking out find cell service he ran into a guy with an InReach who texted me.

  6. Marc on October 26, 2018 at 2:38 pm

    Regarding the pricing scheme for InReach, there are other options with more messages included available from protegear

  7. 205guy on November 1, 2018 at 6:28 pm

    I think you’re dismissing this new device a bit too easily. With the keyboard and 2-way messaging, this new spot could replace a cellphone in your backpack. For now, I use a Garmin hiking GPS and a cell phone. A cell phone provides limited comms in some areas, can be used for photos (though I have a dedicated waterproof camera for that), and has entertainment (music for me) but that’s not indispensible. I take the cell phone in the backpack anyway because I have it in the car, and because I don’t want to leave it in the car at the trailhead–but it’s mostly dead-weight for me.

    Currently, I don’t have any sat-comms, neither inReach or Spot–so I’ve been following your reviews. Let’s say I want to finally shell out to get 2-way texting and emergency with a satellite device. The big inReach would need to wait for when I need to replace my GPS in a few years. The mini inReach is very tempting, giving me all the functionality in a smaller cheaper package when paired with my phone. But with this Spot and its keyboard (usability issues to be determined), I could leave the phone at home and have texting and emergency on the road and on the trail–so one less device (and a fragile one at that) to carry.

    • Andrew Skurka on November 1, 2018 at 7:39 pm

      The simplicity of the device is not lost on me. For someone who does not own or carry a smartphone while backpacking, it would make more sense than the inReach devices. But that’s a very small market.

      Let me suggest to you this combination:

      1. Smartphone
      2. GaiaGPS app on your smartphone
      3. Garmin inReach Mini

      Leave your Garmin GPS unit at home. Actually, sell it, because your smartphone with GaiaGPS is just as good, and in many respects even better. GarminGPS is awesome: it offers many more imagery layers than a normal GPS unit, it takes advantage of your awesome smartphone screen (bright and high-res, easy typing, pinch and swipe), and even the premium subscription is much less than a basic GPS unit.

    • 205guy on November 1, 2018 at 9:23 pm

      Actually, I suggested that even if you *do* own or carry a smartphone on the trail, you could leave it at home if you got the Spot X.

      But that’s a good alternate suggestion, to ditch the dedicated GPS and use the phone. What I really want is really good GPS, large screen, topo maps, and if possible aerial imagery. When I looked into GPS apps a few years ago, I was disappointed that you couldn’t use the GPS with the phone in airplane mode to save batteries. And the large-screen GPS units (Garmin Oregon) didn’t have as good performance as the good old 64st that I ended up choosing.

      Now that GPS in airplane mode is possible, I should evaluate the apps again. Does anyone know the battery life of a typical smart-phone in airplane mode with the GPS app running? With a waterproof case and a good holster, it should be possible to keep the phone safe and accessible.

  8. Karl Wilcox on November 5, 2018 at 10:48 am

    Why does anyone need or want these gadgets? I remember navigating in the 1980’s by map and compass in the Norwegian arctic on skis without any landmarks whatsoever. Every couple of days, I had to locate one of the small self-service huts in a complete white out. I did it for 2 weeks with a map and compass. I never missed a hut (although I did ski off a cliff in a whiteout while following a compass bearing). Last time I did a Norwegian ski tour, a Norwegian friend brought along one of these small computers. It was an amazing device. No thought required; no skill; no brain; just do as told. We never got lost or confused (how dull was that?). I was impressed by how helpful the device could be in white-out conditions on skis. I was even more impressed by the corresponding lack of human skill required to navigate. The tour was comparatively easy; I never had that ‘on the edge’ total brain concentration that map and compass require. But the sense of achievement was reduced accordingly. I got bored.

    • Andrew Skurka on November 6, 2018 at 5:47 pm

      I understand your general sentiment, but I think it’s wrongly directed at the product category into which the SPOT X falls. The SPOT X is a satellite messenger, and can really save your a$$ if you get into trouble; more likely, it just calms the worries of those at home and gives them an opportunity to communicate with you if something goes wrong on their end. I think for a lot of people, myself included, I get much less push back from my wife if she knows that she can get hold of me.

      As far as navigation by GPS, I totally understand what you are saying. I think of route-finding is an art, and nav-by-GPS really takes the fun out of it. I still prefer to nav with map and compass for functional reasons (no batteries, more durable, fast) but I think GPS is good back-up for instances when you get really twisted around (“Where the f– am I?”) and when the conditions alone demand all of your bandwidth (e.g. white out and very cold-and-wet conditions).

    • Carlos Rivera on June 13, 2021 at 4:04 pm

      I completely understand where you’re coming from Karl, the only thing is that some people want peace of mind remember that guy you had to cut his own arm off to get out he probably would’ve liked to have one of these devices on him at that point.

    • Ivor biggen on May 5, 2022 at 12:32 am

      Did you use modern clothing when you went to Norway or the old way seal skin did you use a torch or a stick covered in whale oil. Bet you had a modern bed heating ect. Just because you like a compass don’t knock modern technology

  9. Karl Wilcox on November 6, 2018 at 6:50 pm

    I take your point regarding the wife’s peace of mind. I just take my wife with me. I am not sure, however, that it always gives her much ‘peace of mind’.

    For possible rescue when either solo tripping or alpine climbing, I carry a ‘Fast Find’ unit (its called a ‘Personal Location Beacon’). It does not rob me of the joys of navigation plus it has a 10 year battery life and no subscription fee. I paid 135.00 dollars for it retail. You do have to register the Fast Find every 5 years with Basically, in order to activate a rescue, you pull a lever and the device sends your precise GPS co-ordinates to the local Sherrif/law inforcement. This is a device commonly used by boaters. It fits easily in the palm of the hand. I store it in the fridge to improve battery life. Eventually, you do have to replace the battery (not real cheap). I started using it when working as a climbing guide at Red Rocks and the High Sierra; almost used it once when a client went unconscious at a hanging belay— revived her with Gatorade (she turned out to be borderline type II diabetic). Gatorade is a key rescue tool when guiding! I think the Fast Find is under appreciated among wilderness travelers; especially, given that you already pay for the NOAA subscription with your tax dollars. In essence, it is a ‘free’ government rescue network.

    • Ann on November 22, 2018 at 11:35 am

      I would love to just get a PLB to give my husband ‘peace of mind’. Unfortunately they are not legal everywhere (and I guess they wouldn’t work for this reason) including half of my week-end-hiking/climbing-area. If the inreach wasn’t so damn expensive, I would already have bought one.

      • Andrew Skurka on November 22, 2018 at 1:30 pm

        Not legal? Have never heard of that being the case anywhere.

        If you are okay with *a* inReach, some of the older models are reasonably priced, e.g. first-gen DeLorme SE or Explorer.

        • Ann on November 24, 2018 at 4:31 am

          Yup, some countries in Europe (and Japan as far as I know) only allow them on ships or not at all for civilists, I can’t even register one in Germany. I read that the work-around used to be a registration in the UK but they don’t seen to do this for foreigners anymore. Maybe in preparation for Brexit…

  10. Matt on November 24, 2018 at 1:51 pm

    I’ve seen talk of a hidden “Network Maintenance Fee” added to Spot’s service plans, but I can’t find much info. Anybody have any experience with that as it relates to the Spot X?

    • Jonah on September 27, 2019 at 7:26 am

      I’ve had a regular SPOT gen 3 tracker for 4 years now and have a standard annual service plan. The renewals are a single lump sum and I’ve never had a line item or unexpected charge later such that the amount I paid was different than what the invoice said it would be. I have heard this network maintenance charge mentioned but I just haven’t seen it personally.

  11. Art on November 29, 2018 at 2:30 pm

    I’m interested in the battery life value for my iPhone 6+ in the field with its use with the InReach. Smartphone done seem to have enough battery life unless your carrying a solar charger (more weight, susceptible to weather functionality). I’m talking about 1-2 weeks in the wild. Comment about having overview, I use OnX mapping and can download a very large area to my smartphone & avoid battery use for gps. Real time overhead is great with map & compass. Hard to tell the vegetation planning a route with just topography maps & can save turning back to reroute

    • Andrew Skurka on November 29, 2018 at 3:42 pm

      I’m on Android so I can’t give you specific battery life numbers.

      But you can significantly extend battery life by shutting down nearly everything on the phone, i.e. put it in airplane mode, and battery-saver mode if iPhone’s have that, and turn off wi-fi, bluetooth, and location tracking until you need them.

      I don’t think any phone will last 1-2 weeks in the wild if you use it regularly. The solution is a portable battery pack like the Anker PowerCore 10,000 (my pick) so that you can recharge it as needed, along with your sat comm device, GPS watch, and maybe your headlamp.

    • Rob Davidson on January 16, 2020 at 5:03 pm

      The iPhone 6 series, especially the 6 had serious clocking and battery issues; art over functionality. My 6 when exposed to 40 deg F or lower would die and quickly. I got mad and left iOs for awhile, returned to with the 10R and been a very happy hiker. Gaia Premium runs better on iOS.

  12. Art on November 30, 2018 at 7:11 am

    Thanks, I do have a battery pack but have not field tested it yet for the amount of charges I can get out of it. Going to test it this week through charges instead of my home power source. I’ll reply to the tread to provide my test results so it might help others. I appreciate the feed back on shutting things down on the phone

  13. Rob Davidson on December 4, 2018 at 8:25 pm

    I had to learn the hard way this summer about the limits of a PLB and family stress. I plunged down a late spring National Recreation Trail that was badly damaged by the winter snows and I believe a bad storm or small microbursts. it was supposed to be a long day and half trip, but I had to opt for a second night out. i had food, water, shelter and chagrin…still slept well. Given the conditions I had struggled through all the prime day, i was not going to try 2200″ climb and five miles in the dark of unknown trail.
    With no way to communicate that I was in good shape, just going to be late, a SAR mission was launched. I ran into the lead Deputy about 1.5 miles from the trailhead. Both my BFF hiking partner and LEO daughter met me at the trailhead. The SAR folks liked Spot 3’s and the new Spot X.
    I was placed under house arrest by those two from soloing until I had the Spot X.
    I have really wrung it out, gone through 4 updates, and the product has grown. Andrew’s review is the best I have read. I like having the SpotX, leave the cellular phone in the car and use a small LG 4×6 tablet with GAIA Pro or Avenza. I like the smaller investment also because in a few years, the price and scalability of satellite phones for service everywhere all the time is just around the corner.

  14. Anonymous on February 22, 2019 at 8:58 am

    One commenter on a gearjunkie “review” mentioned, that with the Spot X, “Globalstar system would only accept ONE [outgoing] message every twenty to thirty minutes and any message sent before the system reset itself would be discarded without notice”, could somebody shed some more light on this?

  15. Zachary on May 22, 2019 at 5:37 pm

    Thank you for conducting this review.

    You brought up a lot of good points. I just two things to add for what they are worth.

    1. I actually prefer the physical buttons over a touch screen. Mainly because touchscreens are a nightmare when they are wet. And sometimes getting the screen on a smart phone dry is very difficult.

    2. My main gripe with my SpotX is that it has no ability to display signal strength. This boggles my mind. I have used plenty of satellite communications gear over the last 10 years, both military and civilian…and they ALL had an indicator of your current signal strength.

    In my estimation this is not only annoying, it renders the device nearly useless. How long am I supposed to hold this thing over my head before I decide I must be in a dead zone and move to another spot.

    Any good commo guy knows that the magic waves which make these things work aren’t our friends. I can’t tell you how many times I had no signal on a satellite phone and turned around and got a connection, or just changed antenna angle slightly, or walked ten feet to my left.

    You get the idea. in my opinion this feature is a MUST. Finding out my SpotX didn’t have it was enough for me to call the manufacturer and complain, and then complain to customer support, and then complain on here.

    This thing is supposed to save you when you are deep trouble. The last thing I need in a time like that is to be in the dark as to whether or not the entire side of the hill I am on is a deadzone…as I despairingly wave it above my head.

    • Jonah on September 27, 2019 at 8:32 am

      The devices don’t continuously measure signal strength since there’s no real reason for that and it would consume power unnecessarily to try.

      Anyway, they do give you an implicit indication. All of them tell you GPS received strength some way (at least a go/no-go indication of GPS). If the device can receive GPS signals then likely it will see Iridium or Globalstar satellites. With a two-way device the user additionally can infer things are working when you get an acknowledgement or reply back.

      Beyond that there’s nothing added trying to present this data to the user. There’s not really a range of signal-to-noise measurements that could usefully represent a series of bars. If the packet communication is going to work it will just as well with 5 as it will with 1. So all you really need is yes or no, green or red, or some other binary indication and GPS reception status is just fine for that.

  16. Zak Brewington on September 29, 2019 at 8:36 am

    All my friends have the garmin inreaches. Was curious if the spot x that I have will link up to the garmin so we can track each other and see where everyone is located while we are out?

  17. Ryan A. on January 16, 2020 at 1:24 pm


    Have you had any opportunities to use the Spot X since they launched the Spot X app? The newer models have bluetooth capabilities and can connect to the app from what I understand. I was curious if you know how they compare to the inReach devices now that they have the additional functionality (and since there have been firmware updates since the original release to work out some of the initial bugs).

    • Andrew Skurka on January 16, 2020 at 1:39 pm

      I have not used it since the review.

  18. David on May 4, 2020 at 7:06 pm

    In a hilarious reversal of roles, I am the child worrying about the parent on his motorcycle. He has owned and ridden motorcycles his whole life, and recently traded an 1800cc hog for an Africa Twin, and this year alone has probably been out on that bike more times than the last 5 combined.
    Living at the foot of the Canadian Rockies, there is ample road- and trail-way with absolutely no cellular coverage for him to explore, and he doesn’t always do it with other riders. Nor does he necessarily always bring his phone. Being in his 60’s now, I honestly do worry about him, and am definitely toying with the idea of a GPS device as a birthday gift for him.
    Reading this review has more or less lead me to the conclusion that for a person who intentionally leaves his phone at home when he’s on self-guided adventures whether they be on bike or in car, in the prairies or in the mountains as he does not want to ‘feel like a belled cat,’ the SPOT Gen 3 device is the better way to go. He would not be excited at the prospect of needing his smart phone to use the app in order to effectively use the device, nor would he really care to use text or email capabilities unless in dire circumstances – which is where the S.O.S feature comes in. He absolutely would not benefit from a device capable of displaying maps, simply because he is old school and defaults to his days in the Forestry and uses hardcopy maps.
    Does anybody else out there simply look for a binary-style “I’m ok / I”m not ok and need help” style of device, or is the world so used to the constant need for connection that these will fall by the wayside to make room for fancy, connected devices? I personally own an ACR ResQLink for the very simple reason that when I’m out in the wilderness, I’m out there to enjoy and revel in the knowledge that I can’t check my texts or my instagram.

    Anyhow, thank-you for your non-biased review!

    • Steven on June 22, 2020 at 11:46 pm

      I get you!
      I don’t want to text in the backcountry and check on family asking how I am doing. That’s why I still like the SPOT Gen3, set-and-forget with a great battery life. I know there is an SOS button just in case.
      I used an inReach Mini and I found myself always checking on new messages and it’s another device to take care of and charge.
      Just keep the antenne up on the SPOT and you’re good to go.

  19. Moto MacGyver on May 25, 2020 at 9:34 pm

    I’ve used the Spot Connect for about 5+ years and really wish they had just improved on it to include 2-way comms. It has Bluetooth to my phone and an app that’s half decent. Although the Bluetooth connection is not overly reliable, it indicates when it’s not connected so I can easily re-connect. Really, all they had to do was add a small LCD screen and a few buttons and it would compete with the Garmin inReach Mini. I have a very secure cradle on a RAM mount for it for my motorbike. But sadly, they’ve discontinued it although they still support it (for now). However, their “new offering” is a an oversized outdated Blackberry design. Talk about not keeping up with the competition! But I’ve always longed for 2-way comms. Fortunately I’ve never had to “push the button”, but one-way communication has always been a concern to me. Firstly, I’d want confirmation the message was received and secondly, how long it might be before someone might reach me. I’d also want to be able to communicate with someone while I’m injured (for obvious reasons), or comfort those concerned about me. Despite the overpriced cost of the Garmin Mini and its associated plans, Spot is likely to lose me as a customer to Garmin this year or next. In my view, Spot went backwards instead of forwards. Yes, it’s good to include 2-way comms, but not at the cost of a poorly thought out device that can’t even connect to a phone. It’s like someone in a control position at Spot is one of those who just refuses to give up their “trusty” Blackberry and has fousted that style on the customers. While Spot is behind on design, they definitely have better plans. Even include movement alert on the upper two flex plans. . . . Come on Spot, get with the times! . . . Come on Garmin, make your devices and especially your plans more affordable!

  20. Tom Hayes on July 4, 2020 at 2:26 pm

    What is the comparison of the accuracy of track sent back home between the mini, spot X and gen3? My gen3 track (set on 10 minutes) is barely in the ballpark of where I was and almost always has at least one point several miles off. Looks like the X and mini both have antennas which should help? I do virtually all my hiking in Montana where iridium or globalstar should not be a factor.

  21. Andrew B on July 15, 2020 at 7:48 pm

    I recently purchased a Spot X for offshore use… and I just returned it after several days of dragged out calls to Spot.
    1) Spot X did not update every 10 minutes as advertised.
    2) When it did update my location, it did not map the location.
    3) The “check in” feature repeatedly reported my same location from an hour before.
    4) The digital compass did not function. North jumped around by 90 degrees.
    5) The unit repeatedly lost GPS signal on open water, with no obstructions and clear skies.
    6) The solar charging unit did not function at all.
    The Spot X associate told me, “Don’t worry, the SOS feature will work if you need it.”
    Yeah, right.
    Try again, Spot. And next time, hire better industrial designers and telecommunications engineers!

  22. James on July 21, 2020 at 2:22 am

    I have the Spot X (New version that connects to phone) and I called them to return the device today. I went out this weekend to test things out in the WA State wilderness and it failed miserably. I had tracking set to 5 minutes starting at 11am on Sat morning and when I got home on Sunday afternoon the tracking was nonexistent in the online user portal. While out I tried sending messages to two separate people, the first person with and without the position information and he never received any messages (attempted 4 times) and the second person finally received the message after about the 3rd or 4th attempt but it took at least 30 minutes to accomplish. A friend with an InReach device had way more success in sending and reviving messages in the same terrain. If the device requires a one acre open field for it to successfully send and receive messages then it simply won’t cut it in the NW. I worry about the SOS and being able to communicate when a simple test like I performed failed so miserably. The device and plan is surely cheaper but I don’t think I can trust it if there was a real emergency.

  23. Roy on September 22, 2020 at 6:50 am

    Good review. I own a SpotX and have been on multiple trips with others who have an InReach. The InReach users are repeatedly more satisfied than I am. As mentioned, the keyboard functionality is pretty weak/frustrating as you smash keys to get characters to show up. Texts go through roughly 75% of the time, and that’s only after I force them through. My battery life is not very good, even with a low refresh rate. What put me over the edge was the last trip I went on, where I had inadvertently left the device suspended. I sent a few text messages and got no response. Not even a “your device is suspended” automated response. So the device looks like it’s working perfectly when in all actuality, the message is sent to the Spot network, evaluated to make sure you’ve paid, and if you haven’t…the message goes in the trash. It would be immensely helpful (not to mention safer) if they would notify you that the message didn’t go through.

    Then what REALLY put me over the edge was talking to their “customer service”. Wow…that was an experience (heavy sarcasm)! They admitted that it would be a really good idea if there was a “message not sent” feature…and that MAYBE if they got enough suggestions on their suggestion board, they’d provide this “upgrade”. Then they admitted that it sounded like my device might be faulty. If I would *just* pay to reactivate it, their tech team would help me troubleshoot it. There was definitely an air of “we really don’t care if you like our product, have suggestions, or had difficulties with it…not our problem”. Customer service alone steers me to the InReach.

  24. Bob Hathaway on November 17, 2020 at 11:22 pm

    My wife bought me a SpotX for my birthday. I couldn’t get the buttons to move the cursor up and down on some menus, and down on others. Couldn’t even get to the setup menu to get authorization code to setup and get new firmware. Oh yeah, while I was on hold for support, I found there was a note in the box that a firmware update was required for the device to work right, but, couldn’t do that because I couldn’t even activate. Support said it was probably a software (firmware) issue and it probably was, but I really didn’t want to risk paying for a year’s service and wait for another. Sending back in the morning.

    • Bob Hathaway on April 7, 2021 at 10:51 pm

      Sent Spotx back. Bought inReach mini! Love it!

  25. Hugues Recamier on February 16, 2021 at 3:40 pm
  26. Marc on April 7, 2021 at 3:21 pm


    It’s worth nothing the following from Garmin’s website:

    “Enrolment in the Freedom plan is subject to a $49.95 CAD annual fee. A Freedom plan’s minimum term is 30 days. New 30-day minimum applies to a changed Freedom plan. No charge applies to changing a Freedom plan. Service can be suspended a month at a time at no charge. User retains access to inReach data stored on the Garmin Explore™ website while account is suspended. Selected plan auto-renews monthly unless user changes account selections in the Garmin Explore™ website.”

    I’m not positive, but does this mean, we’d have to keep ‘suspending’ our accounts, each and every month, in order to avoid a recurring monthly fee – IF – I only travel for 1 month out of a year?

    Garmin: Each year, your ‘monthly’ subscription plan, yearly fee is $50 Cdn.

    Spot: Each year, your ‘monthly’ subscription plan, yearly fee is $25 Cdn. Unless you cancel the Spot plan entirely. When you re-sign up, it would be $20 Activation + $25 yearly subscription fee = $45 Cdn.

    Although, if I’m truly out in the boonies and don’t have a cell signal – I think I’d really appreciate having access to Weather, which apparently the Spot devices don’t have.
    So, I’d say that in itself is worth quite a bit.

    I understand the difference in initial GPS outlay is notably different, yet I always consider that a sunk cost and usually just focus on the ongoing monthly and/or yearly expenses.
    So, ongoing costs are notably higher with Garmin – yet, depends on how important Weather reports are to you and/or frequency of going out of cell service.

  27. Greg on May 11, 2021 at 8:10 pm

    So basically you don’t like the keypad. And now that Spot X has BT connectivity it is the clear winner. What a biased blog.

    • Andrew Skurka on May 13, 2021 at 5:38 pm

      When this product was reviewed, there was no BT connectivity or the promise of it, so I reviewed what I had, including its crappy keyboard.

      Even with BT connectivity, I’d strongly disagree that it’s the “clear winner” in this space, and I wonder what kind of bias you’re bringing into this conversation. For starters, the SPOT network is not global, making it a definitely-not-best option if you live or play in any of these dark spots (like the Brooks Range, where I’ll be in June again). Second, there are numerous devices (inReach Mini, Somewear Global Hotspot, ZOLEO) that offer worldwide service, less weight and small size, and/or a seamless messaging experience across sat, cell, and wifi.

      I really want SPOT to be a player in the satellite messaging category, because competition drives innovation. But in my mind the SPOT X is not even in the running here.

    • Rob Davidson on May 13, 2021 at 5:51 pm

      I was an early SPOTX adopter. Just sold it after 32 months. And a lot of use. Nothing in Andrew’s review was off base. I upgraded to a Zoleo over Garmin InReach models as the Zoleo has the singular redeeming feature of the SPOTX, an EIN number, like a cellular phone, so any SMS capable device can ping me with a text message. With Globestar’s pitiful app and firmware implementation that I have experienced, the SPOTX is headed to history. I still recommend the SPOT to friends that don’t want full on messaging.

  28. Greg on May 31, 2021 at 5:17 pm

    Hello Andrew,
    Just came across the article. My use is mainly going to be backwoods trails for my dunebuggy in Michigan. Especially in the upper peninsula, which if you’re not familiar is no cell phone and few people outside of the cities. I’m usually by myself. I was looking into cb or ham radio, a friend suggested looking into the satellite two ways. What would be your suggestion? Its looking like Too many complaints about Spot. So inreach or zoleo. Any help would be appreciated.

    • Andrew Skurka on May 31, 2021 at 5:49 pm

      Since the weight in size of the device is relatively unimportant, I would probably go with the zoleo. Less expensive to own and operate than the inreach, and a better messaging platform.

  29. Richard Hobson on August 4, 2021 at 10:09 am

    I have a Garmin inReach and ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT. I travel to destinations all around the world and it not only let’s my family know where I am, I can communicate with them easily. Have been countless places with no cell service and my inReach has ALWAYS functioned flawlessly. Deep back woods, canyons, and out at sea it works great

  30. Frank Potter on March 15, 2022 at 1:06 pm

    I think any tracking device should be considered a must have. I think there are all good. Go with what you can afford. Just way too many needless searches and missing people than there needs to be. I’ve been a SPOT device user for many years using them when on extended sailing trips up the west coast of Canada and the US/Alaska. I also have used them for my backpacking, over-landing and thru-hiking adventures. I currently have the latest bluetooth enabled SPOT X. They must have worked out the tactile issues with the keys and scrolling because it’s effortless even with my fat fingers. So far, I really like the comfort in having a stand alone capability as the device has a much longer battery life than any phone. Having it’s own phone number for text is a real bonus. Generally I have found the functional capabilities to perform well on all the models I’ve owned where ever I have been so far. This includes sending out tracking or OK messages from less than the ideal open space they suggest. Sometimes in an heavily treed area or anchorages enclosed on most side by high mountains it takes longer to get a message out. As for what area of this good earth it works in I can only attest on first hand knowledge that it works well on extended hiking and overland trips throughout North America, Mexico, Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Iceland, Malta, South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. The point I’d like to make is they are all pretty similar but what is important for you and those who care about you it just get one. Even if it’s just for the basic tracking and SOS if needed.

  31. Karl Wilcox on March 15, 2022 at 1:32 pm

    A tracking device is not a ‘must have’. Tracking devices too often function as surrogates for all kinds of necessary wilderness skills and/or judgement. The ‘rescue’ capabilities of these devices are much touted, but while that is true, there is a definite downside to these devices’ rescue potential: I speak, of course, of the ‘fake rescue’ situation which, as a professional mountain guide, I have seen too many times. Benighted hikers call Search and Rescue because they can’t follow a trail in the dark; a man who merely got exhausted on Mt. Williamson contacts Search and Rescue because, as he put it, ‘I got tired’; this list goes on. Tracking devices can function as short-cuts to hard-won navigation skills, but they invite persons to undertake trips that they are not qualified to do– because the device can always ‘save them’ if they get into trouble.

    • Rob Davidson on May 30, 2022 at 8:35 am

      And I have a personal experience of having an unplanned overnight when I was in good shape, with food and shelter, but the trail was blown out and too dangerous to night hike out of a 1400′ canyon. My contact waited until the next morning to call SAR-SO, twelves hours after my drop dead time, and I met them a mile from the trailhead. Everyone could have slept better and a small county Sheriff and SAR would have not wasted half a day mobilized if I had been able to send a simple “I am ok”, or texted my not lost just late. I have used a PLB to active a mountain rescue of another hike. Last summer I helped a FS LEO catch a pair of vandal climbers trundle a nesting cliff face with a Zoleo that would have taken more than a day to make a report. Much of what you write is spot on about abuse of the technology.

  32. Brad Anderson on May 29, 2022 at 12:13 pm

    I just spent 2 weeks in alaska in the mountains by sand point. There were 20 of us in the group. 18 had in reach, i had a Spot X. The only one with constant problems was me. anything and everything from no service to device not connecting via blue tooth. It was an awful experience. The in reach, they could even just hang it in the tent but i would have to go out into the rain and get in a wide open spot to connect. I’ve already cancelled my membership since returning.

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