Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Compact and lightweight ergonomic design, improvement over Spot 2, good value.
Cons: No two-way communication, no smartphone interface, low 0.4 watt transmission power, Globalstar satellite constellation is arguably less effective than Iridium or COSPAS/SARSAT.
Best Uses: Any activity or expedition during which simple pre-defined satellite message sending or tracking would be fun. Absolutely needs clear view of the sky to function properly. Water resistant.
The Spot 3 Satellite Messenger is probably the best selling and least expensive of the devices we tested. It wins our Best Buy award not only because it is one of the least expensive devices, it also has one of the least expensive plans. While it worked in our tests and the SPOT web site says it has aided in over 2,000 rescues, we found it to be not nearly as reliable or feature-rich as the DeLorme Inreach SE Satellite Messenger which won our Editors' Choice award. See our complete Personal Locator Beacon Review to see how this device compared to others in side-by-side use.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
How the SPOT 3 is different than the SPOT 2
The Spot 3 replaces the earlier model, the Spot 2, which we reviewed in Jan 2013. Comparing the two, the Spot 3 adds several significant improvements:
All of these are much welcome improvements over the SPOT 2.
When you receive your Spot 3 the instructions make it clear that you will need to buy a subscription for it to work. The setup process was relatively painless. Create an account, pay, and activate. You have several service options, see the specs for details.
Over the course of our testing, the Spot successfully completed about 70 percent of the message-send attempts, at best. Globalstar's satellite network is rumored to be improved since 2011, but the Spot 3 consistently took longer to send messages than the InReach, which operates on the Iridium network. Whether this was a question of device functionality (the InReach transmits at 1.6 instead of 0.4 watts for the SPOT 3) or satellite coverage, we don't know.
You might have already seen your friend's SPOT messages on Facebook, checking in. Our newsfeed frequently features notices from friends who landed their paraglider okay, or checked in while ski-touring or BASE jumping. However, the SPOT 3 only allows one pre-defined message, which is usually some form of "I'm fine." The InReach, in contrast, allows you to send three different custom pre-defined messages and has text message capabilities, which is a big advantage if two-way communication is useful to you.
The tracking function allows you to create shared map pages on which your friends and family can track your progress. This is a fun and useful feature that could be just as valuable as the messaging ability to many users. The tracking function worked adequately in our tests.
In your hand the SPOT 3 is small, light, and much sleeker than the other devices we tested. The buttons themselves blink red or green depending on whether or not what you're doing is working, and there is a simple satellite coverage indicator light.
In addition to the SOS function, the SPOT 3 also features a "Spot Assist" button that notifies your contacts that you are in a non-life-threatening situation but need help. You can also subscribe to the SPOT Assist program that will sent your message to land- or marine-based assistance services. This would in theory be used in an "out of gas in the desert" situation instead of an "arm crushed under rock in desert" situation. This could be a nice feature in a situation where your phone doesn't work and it's not life-and-death but you could really use a hand. That said, the InReach's two-way text message system blows the doors off of Spot Assist.
One final note: we've been to the Arctic and to Sub-Saharan Africa four times in the past few years, and the SPOT 3 would not have worked in any of those places. Be sure to check the Spot web site to see if you will have coverage where you intend to use it.
— Chris McNamara
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Most recent review: October 19, 2014
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