Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Easy one-handed (and gloved, if not mittened) SOS operation. Two-way messaging is awesome. Smartphone interface works well. Pairs automatically on startup. Overall very intuitive and easy to use.
Cons: Expensive. Clunky ergonomics and design. Largest of the devices we tested. Not as effective as a PLB in life-threatening situations.
Best Uses: Any activity or expedition during which satellite messaging and tracking is useful or crucial; absolutely needs clear view to the sky in order to function properly. Water resistant.
The InReach SE Satellite Messenger wins our Editors' Choice award because it was by far the most reliable and easy-to-use satellite messenger we tested. It's also the only device we tested that allows your to reliably receive messages. The new "Freedom" plans let you send unlimited messages for a month for $65 without an annual contract. We thought we would recommend the new inReach Explorer over the SE. However, we don't find the added features of the Explorer justify an $80 price premium.
The DeLorme can be used as a stand alone device a'la SPOT, or it can be paired with your smartphone, which is where it really shines. It's expensive: $300 for the device and then $15-300 a year depending on what data plan you choose. But you really get what you pay for; less expensive options were far less reliable and much less feature rich in our tests. If you just want an SOS device, consider the ACR ResQlink 406 Personal Locator Beacon, which likely performs better in SOS send mode and does not require a data plan. View our complete Personal Locator Beacon Review to see how these devices compare in side-by-side tests.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The InReach Explorer vs. The InReach SE
The inReach Explorer, $380, has all of the capabilities of the inReach SE, plus built-in navigation capabilities. You can create or view routes (including distance and bearing information), use the built-in digital compass, and access your elevation, speed, and moving average using the barometric altimeter and accelerometer sensors. In addition, you're able to mark important locations with waypoints and navigate a route to your waypoint or back to where you started. The Explorer also lets you view key trip statistics and detailed track logging, as well as plan your route and waypoints ahead of time; you can even share your experiences with your friends and family using a special portal.
Check out the quote below from DeLorme in regards to the new InReach Explorer; you'll also find a side-by-side comparison, with the InReach Explorer shown on the left and the InReach SE pictured on the right.
"Since your last review in 2011 we have launched the inReach Explorer – a more robust, GPS navigation model of the inReach SE. The SE is still being manufactured, sold and supported – but the Explorer offers several features that the SE does not have. These features include route planning, navigation, waypoints, high-detail "breadcrumb" tracking, and a digital compass. The price point is $379 retail."
All that said, in the field, we never used the new features. We feel you should save $80 and get the SE.
Like the SPOT 3, the InReach operates on a commercial satellite network and requires a subscription to function. Setting it up was not significantly different from the Spot 3, but the DeLorme website is generally easier to navigate and the user account space is more intuitive. Contrary to the Spot Connect Satellite Messenger, the InReach paired with our phone immediately the first time, and automatically every time after that.
Even without the smartphone pairing, the InReach can still send 160 character messages to your contacts. Instead of just sending an "OK" message as with the SPOT, you can communicate with your contacts. Basically, if you like the "OK message" feature of the Spot 2, then you'll love being able to send messages with the InReach.
Both the DeLorme and the Spot 2 allow tracking and shared maps (the DeLorme allows you to adjust the tracking interval via the Eartmate app but the shortest interval possible is only 10 minutes). It's a small thing, but the DeLorme shared-map url is cool and personalized - check it out
Also, the DeLorme page allows you to view waypoints across a custom date range, whereas the SPOT system only allows you to choose up to the last 30 days.
As a Paired Device
This is where the DeLorme really leaves the SPOT 3 in the dust. The features are many and the two standouts are the ability to send and receive(!) custom messages via your phone to any contacts you choose, and being able to view your location on downloadable DeLorme maps. The free Earthmate app is simple and intuitive to use – each time I opened the app in a new location it prompted me to download the maps for that area, and it's also simple to download maps in advance for the region you plan to travel in (much smarter, since downloading 200mb of maps once you're already "there" is easier said than done). The map function shows your location, and also the most basic functions of a GPS: heading, elevation, speed and coordinates.
The InReach's successful message-send rate was 85 percent (instead of 70 percent in the case of the SPOT 3), which provided a small reassurance that if I did need the SOS function, it was more likely to work than the SPOT 3. In addition to that, not only could we watch the message successfully depart via smartphone, we could also receive messages in reply.
The InReach operates on the Iridium network, which is global, whereas Globalstar (which supports SPOT), is not. I was not able to find reliable reports on the coverage of Iridium vs. Globalstar for the areas in which they overlap, but satellite phone retailers and reviewers almost unanimously favor Iridium.
The InReach is not cheap to operate. To buy the unit and use it with the average subscription plan over the next three years will run between $950 and $1200. Obviously, the cost of this service is nothing compared to the value of having it possibly save your life, but the ACR ResQlink performs the basic SOS function better at a three-year cost of $360 (taking into consideration the five-year $150 battery life). The SPOT costs $550 over three years. Therefore, the InReach is best indicated for those who want messaging and are happy to pay for it.
DeLorme Flotation Case
— Chris McNamara
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Most recent review: July 9, 2015
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