Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Small, light.
Cons: Pairing problems are persistent and standalone functionality is SOS only.
The SPOT Connect did not fare well in our initial tests. However, we just got a firmware update and the device seems to be working more effectively. Check back soon as we may update the text below.
In our initial tests, we received our Connect, paid the $99 subscription fee, got it all registered, went to pair it with our iPhone, and the frustrations began. Reading online user reviews, we see many people who have similar experiences. And yet there are also reports of the device working flawlessly. Based on our tests, we can't recommend the Connect. We had better success using the Spot 3 Satellite Messenger and much better success using the DeLorme InReach SE Satellite Messenger. See our Personal Locator Beacon Review to see how they all performed in side-by-side tests.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
Ease of use
First of all, the Connect is small and matte black. It has no instructions visible on its exterior and they are difficult to find inside your pack. It has only a power button, and a shielded SOS button. It has a great sleek look, but in our opinion, this design is a major drawback in an emergency messaging device. At the very least, any beacon or satellite messenger should have clear and simple operating instructions written on the outside of the device (as most other devices we tested did, including the Spot 3). It should be bright and easy to find in the bottom of your backpack or in a low-light situation. And, most importantly, it should inspire confidence by performing all of the non-SOS functions (which are the only ways the device can be used in non-emergency situations) that it purports to be capable of without any problems.
Like the DeLorme InReach SE, the Connect's strengths lie in its smartphone pairing capabilities and an enhanced functionality via your smartphone. The main feature is being able to type custom messages (41 characters short, anyway) to your contacts (and no, you cannot receive messages like you can with the InReach; this is a one-way communicator). The SPOT Connect App for iOS and Android is not badly done, except for the fact that the app functions are all totally inaccessible unless you manage to pair your device. In our tests, amongst five different phones (3 iOS and 2 Android), the Connect failed to pair successfully 90 percent of the time, and when it did finally pair on our iPhone, the SPOT app could not find the device most of the time. Once the device was found, each time you turn off the Connect or your smartphone you will have to re-pair them, again suffering from the same low rate of success. We experienced no similar pairing issues with competing devices. For example, the Delorme InTouch had no difficulty pairing with our five smartphone devices in all the environments we tested in.
Given our very poor experience with pairing the Spot Connect across multiple devices, we researched user reviews to see if others ran into the same problems. What we found was an amazing split between people who love the Spot Connect, and those for whom it failed miserably. As of Feb. 1, 2013, out of 34 user reviews on Amazon, a disturbing 11 reviews are 1-star, citing severe issues with pairing and basic operation. Yet, 13 reviews are glowing 5-star, citing no issues at all. REI has nearly identical user reviews: 38 total reviews with about half glowing and half saying the device does not work at all. When we see this kind of love/hate split in user reviews, it is usually indicative of a serious reliability flaw in a product. When it works, people love it, but when it (frequently) does not work, those users are very dissatisfied. We're left concluding from our tests, and what we see on user reviews, that the Spot Connect suffers from this significant reliability flaw. And, when it comes to an emergency electronic device, reliability issues are simply not acceptable, as they create risk of failure at the moment you most need the device.
The SPOT 3 Satellite Messenger, $150, 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. The Spot 2 Satellite Messenger is also currently available. The 2 has a shorter battery life, less tracking options, and no USB power input; however, it is cheaper.
— Matt Gerdes
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Most recent review: March 26, 2014
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