Bivystick Blue Review
Cons: No on-device message viewing or composition, USB-C charging
Compare to Similar Products
|Price||$365 List||Check Price at Backcountry|
Compare at 3 sellers
|$350 List||$304.95 at REI|
Compare at 2 sellers
|Pros||Compact, great network, on-device basic controls||Small, two-way texting||Small, affordable subscription options, proven satellite and dispatch networks, simple||Reasonable initial purchase price, no paid subscription, uses proven global network, compact||Light, compact, inexpensive, flexible service plan|
|Cons||No on-device message viewing or composition, USB-C charging||Complicated to compare costs, texting on device is very slow||Only supports SOS on the device itself||No non-emergency messaging||Limited coverage, use requires fiddly aiming of the device|
|Bottom Line||A small, light, and full-function two-way messenger that competes closely with the top of the heap||Emergency and routine text communications from the backcountry, in a tiny package||Compact, simple, two-way satellite communications using proven technology and relatively affordable subscription options||This device provides a compact and affordable “help me” button in your pocket||Affordable, innovative wilderness satellite communications for the occasional user that limits travel to just within the United States|
|Rating Categories||Bivystick Blue||Garmin inReach Mini||Somewear Global Hot...||Ocean Signal rescue...||Higher Ground SatPaq|
|SOS Emergency Messaging (30%)|
|Non Emergency Messaging (25%)|
|Signal Coverage (20%)|
|Ease Of Use (15%)|
|Specs||Bivystick Blue||Garmin inReach Mini||Somewear Global Hot...||Ocean Signal rescue...||Higher Ground SatPaq|
|2-way Messaging Available via Cellular/Wifi?||No||No||Yes||No||Yes|
|Custom Messaging Viewable and Composable on Device?||No||Yes||No||No||No|
|Passive Tracking (turn on and forget about it - viewers at home can watch your progress on the web)||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Weight w/ Batteries (ounces)||3.6||3.5||4.1||4||4.4|
|Battery Life (hours)||Up to 120||Up to 50||Up to 1000 messages||24||Rechargable lithium ion will last 4-5 months in storage, 150-200 messages when using|
|Waterproof Rating||IP67||IPX7 (splashes & weather proof, nonsubmersible)||IPX7||Up to 15 meters||None|
|Pairs with Smartphone?||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes|
|Dimensions (inches)||1.9 x .9 x 4.5||3.9 x 2 x 1||3 x 3.6 x .8||3 x 2 x 1.3||4.2 x 2.7 x 0.6|
|Cubic Inches (LxWxH)||7.7||7.8||8.6||6.8||6.8|
Our Analysis and Test Results
Bivystick Blue is a next-generation product from this category newcomer. Bivystick originally responded to the growing demand for satellite communicators with impressive speed. To offer a second-round, mature product with significant and multiple upgrades is impressive and appreciated. Everything we didn't like about the original has been addressed with the Blue version. It isn't perfect yet (no product is quite there, though the potential exists…), but it is much better than the previous version.
When you have an emergency in the wilderness, no matter your experience or other preparedness, you will want someone to know about it. It is ideal if you can communicate nuanced information about your emergency situation directly to emergency services and savvy personnel. With a functional smartphone and the Bivystick Blue, you can do all this. Even without your smartphone, you can hit the "y'all come" button directly on the device. The SOS service of the Bivystick Blue is as good as anything on the market.
Just like every other private sector service in our review, Bivystick Blue sends your SOS message via satellite signal to GEOS Inc. GEOS is a for-profit service that monitors remote professionals and recreationists for emergency situations. They take information (location, identification, and perhaps some more info you provide at the time of emergency) from your Bivystick communications and relay it to local emergency services in your location.
You can activate this emergency messaging from the tethered phone app or from the device itself. If you perform the communications using the phone app, you can participate in two-way text messaging with the emergency services through GEOS. This is fast becoming the wilderness risk management "standard" among professionals and thoughtful recreationists.
Wilderness travel doesn't just complicate emergency communications. More and more, we and our loved ones at home are expecting and craving two-way communications while we are beyond a cell signal. Lament or celebrate this as you may, but it is a current reality. With the expanding technological possibilities, so increases the expectations. The Bivystick Blue enables different degrees of contact.
Through the device alone, even if your tethered smartphone should be lost, dead, or intentionally left at home, you can send a simple "I'm OK" message. This goes a long way. You cannot elaborate in any way, nor can you view responses or conduct more nuanced correspondence without a phone and the associate app. When you and the app are all set up, you can use the Bivystick Blue to text much as you would at home, emojis and all. Pictures and other correspondence that requires data signal (emojis are coded as text, behind the scenes) do not work with the Bivystick or any of the tested devices.
We wish you could correspond, in and out of cell, satellite, and wifi signal, with one unbroken text chain in the Bivy app (or that your phone's native text app or a third-party app like "WhatsApp" could collate a conversation conducted with one person through both cell signal and satellite signal). This may seem basic and an unnecessary luxury, but real-world usage verifies the value of unbroken communications. Think of international travel, or long expeditions, or thru-hiking. All of these involve varying degrees of connectivity. Other products do it, and it seems as though the Bivy App could be readily configured to allow this. We predict that all satellite communications will eventually allow some version of uninterrupted text conversation.
Bivystick contracts with Iridium for satellite communications. The Iridium network covers the entire world, within the limitations of any satellite communication network. Satellite communications are inherently compromised by steep and confined terrain, buildings, and thick tree cover. No device or network is immune to this. Your expectations of satellite coverage and promptness must be aligned. No satellite communications cover every inch of Earth, and none work as quickly as your cell phone in 4g coverage.
Of the available options, the Iridium network employed by Bivystick Blue is as good as it gets. It truly works worldwide (we've used other devices on the Iridium Network all over. We haven't yet used the Bivystick Blue all over. No one is currently going "all over," right?)
Ease of Use
Setting up and using the Bivystick Blue isn't all that more complicated than other compact electronics. You have to deal with subscription, app download, and Bluetooth connectivity. In use, you have to make sure your phone and the device are connected and that everything stays charged.
We had two initial complaints with the ease of use of the Bivystick Blue. First, it charges with USB-C. We know that this is the coming standard, but so many of our outdoor electronics are still on Micro-USB. Headlamp, external batteries, phones, Steri-Pen, etc. all use Micro-USB. The Bivystick Blue requires we carry another cord. The short, fabric-reinforced cord they include is nice and serviceable, but it is still one more thing to deal with. Next, and likely more importantly, we wish that there were even more on-device options. This version is far better than the previous, but it isn't as good as other options on the market. You can send SOS and "check-in" messages from the device alone. We wish you could view and compose customized messages from the device, even if it required some sort of slow text entry.
After our initial testing of the BivyStick Blue (and after the first publishing of this review), we kept using the product and service. Long-term reliability matters to you and to us. We don't let up on our testing. With the BivyStick Blue, we found that it began to fail. It would turn itself off while in use. Tracking would stop, and all app-messaging would discontinue. We could always turn it back on and conduct at least a little bit of correspondence before losing it again, but this is undesirable at best. Unacceptable, really. We contacted Bivy customer service and received a prompt response and service. They replaced the device, and we have had a great reduction in that issue since then. We will keep testing this second device and report back if anything changes. Bivy customer service (seemingly with input from their PR "department"… they are a small company, which is good) assured us about the failure we experienced that "It's rare. We've only seen a couple of cases of it and the problem was related just to that device, not all devices."
Another ease of use matter that has come up with longer-term use is that the two-way message threads, once they are a certain length (roughly 20 messages, total), stop automatically scrolling to the most recent messages. You have to manually scroll to the most recent in and out messages. You can delete the contents of the thread to mitigate this, but that seems clumsy, at best.
Bivystick calls the Blue the "smallest, most simple satellite communication device in the world." It is indeed very small, but we're sitting here comparing the options directly. Their marketing claim about size isn't true in weight, volume, or maximum length. The shape and thinness and robust "feel" enhance portability. All the functions they cram in there are much appreciated. But their marketing claims are hyperbolic.
After "calling out" the over-exaggerated claims, we have to acknowledge that this is indeed a very compact piece of equipment, especially considering all it does. Further, you can carry it in multiple ways. It is configured for a string/clip carry or for a tripod/action camera style mount. As compared to its closest competitors, it is thinner. Despite "splitting hairs," for most purposes, the Bivystick Blue is basically the same size and weight as all the other compact options we have reviewed.
The value of a satellite messenger like this is a combination of the initial purchase price, subscription/service cost, and service flexibility. Your usage patterns will play in as well, of course. With so many moving parts, it is difficult to make direct comparisons and assessments of value. That being said, the initial purchase price of the Bivystick is competitive with similar offerings to other top models, and the subscription options can be tailored to suit your budget. The best value attribute of the Bivystick Blue is that there is no contract or commitment required. If you are game to administer your account closely, you can activate and deactivate from one month to the next, with no additional costs.
The Bivystick Blue is an iterative improvement from this upstart company. That they could offer such a significant upgrade so soon is a testament to their corporate flexibility. We benefit whether we choose this product or not. The entire business is innovating and progressing. No one product has all the features and performance that we know to be possible, but they are getting closer all the time. As of right now, the Bivystick Blue is as good as it gets and is worthy of our highest award.
— Jediah Porter