Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Compact and lightweight ergonomic design.
Cons: Message-send performance was sub-par. No smartphone interface. SOS access and cover flap require bare fingernails or a tool. 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 sky to function properly. Water resistant.
The Spot 2 has been replaced by the Spot 3. You can maybe find the 2 online for a good deal for a little longer.
There is now a 3rd generation of Spot we have not tested yet. It may have addressed the issues we had with the Spot below. Stay tuned for the review.
The Spot 2 is probably the best selling and least expensive of the devices we tested. While it worked in our tests and Spot web site says it has aided in over 2000 rescues, it was not nearly as reliable or feature-rich as the DeLorme Inreach Satellite Messenger. See our complete Emergency Electronics Review to see how this device compared to others in side-by-side use.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
Originally, we were on the verge of purchasing our own Spot 2 based on the fact that this is what most of our friends have and use. Then we were intrigued by the number of failed messages that people were reporting. We frequently heard friends say that their messages didn’t send, which struck us as an odd quirk for a product which is meant to increase personal safety by sending messages. Thus began our research for this entire review of satellite messengers and personal locator beacons.
When you receive your Spot 2 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.
With that out of the way, we were ready to start using the Spot 2. At the time, we was shipwrecked on Guana Cay in the Bahamas… ok not exactly shipwrecked or in any sort of SOS situation, so we decided to send a simple message to ourselves and contacts through the “message” button. One minute later, nothing. five minutes later, nada. So we pressed it again. Another ten minutes went by with no messages. The light blinked green, I supposedly had satellites in view, but it took another 45 minutes for one message to show up. 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 2 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 2) 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 2 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, which is a big advantage if pre-defined messages are useful to you.
The tracking function requires an additional subscription, and it 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 2 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. The SOS button is protected by a small plastic clip-on cover, which requires an un-gloved two-hand approach to release and access the button beneath. If you can’t get your fingernail under the edge of the cover, you’ll have to use a tool of some kind.
In addition to the SOS function, the SPOT 2 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 2 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.
— Matt Gerdes
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Most recent review: March 4, 2014
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