Somewear Global Hotspot Review
Cons: Only supports SOS on the device itself
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Global Hotspot from Somewear was released a couple of years ago in the first of several spurts of innovation in this sector. We liked it at first, and we continue to test it for longevity. We are happy to report that it truly complements the options on the market. Most notably, it brings two-way wilderness messaging to a new level of affordability. Because it's hard to compare subscription plans, the savings aren't immediately obvious. When you ponder how these devices will be used, the Hotspot is at least a little less expensive than any other two-way texting device. It, therefore, earns a Best Buy award.
Somewear configures the Global Hotspot for SOS functionality with an on-device button, the Iridium network, GPS location data, and a third-party monitoring and dispatch service. In our testing, thankfully, we did not activate the SOS service of the Hotspot or any of the tested devices. All of our reviews of these attributes are based on a thorough understanding of how they work and on extrapolation from the non-emergency messaging attributes. We also consulted with SAR teams across the USA. In short, we can confidently recommend the SOS functionality of the Global Hotspot.
The governmental, global "COSPAS/SARSAT" network of satellites and associated dispatch service is the best option. Of the systems available, this one has the most robust set of data supporting its functionality. There are three other networks available and in common use. These are geostationary distant satellites, Iridium, and Globalstar. At this point in time, all services that employ one of the non-COSPAS/SARSAT communication networks route SOS messages through GEOS incorporated's global dispatch and monitoring service. GEOS is a for-profit entity that provides emergency dispatch services in a variety of contexts. Their track record is long, and their performance is sound. The Somewear Hotspot uses the GEOS emergency service.
The Global Hotspot allows two-way texting from remote areas via an app on your phone. Messages can be sent either to email addresses or to phone numbers as standard text messages. If the message recipient is registered with Somewear, even if that recipient is not using a Somewear device, messages go to and from their Somewear App or web interface. The Global Hotspot also has a rudimentary tracking service. It can be configured to send out your location automatically every 30 minutes.
There is no option for preprogrammed outbound messages, nor is there any way to send a non-emergency message without your app-enabled phone. Interestingly, and somewhat uniquely, you can also send and receive Somewear messages through cellular data or wifi. When your travels take you in and out of civilization, it is nice to keep a conversation thread intact across connectivity types. We like this, and we like that we are seeing this attribute in more and more products and services. Somewear Labs was one of the first to include this seamless messaging functionality.
The non-emergency messaging attributes of the Global Hotspot are not the most sophisticated, but they are better than nothing. By providing two-way, non-emergency messaging, the Global Hotspot exceeds the abilities of many others. With the Hotspot, you send and receive messages via a smartphone app. Others can send and receive messages only through the device itself. Some allow both. We prefer having both methods on one device, but the budget price of the Global Hotspot has us overlooking this limitation as we grant our Best Buy award.
The Global Hotspot uses the Iridium low earth orbit satellite network. This network is the best option available for two-way communication and world-wide coverage. That said, all satellite communications are vulnerable to temporary outages and issues with overhead obstructions, the Global Hotspot included.
In comparing devices, brands, services, and networks — once we corrected for the inherent issues of satellite communication — we've found little to no difference in signal coverage. In most places and circumstances, the difference between your familiar cellular coverage and utility and satellite comms is far, far greater than any difference between different satellite networks or devices. Satellite communication is inherently slow and challenging, compared to wifi or cellular texting.
Ease of Use
The Global Hotspot is very easy to use. Essentially all of its functions are accessible via an intuitive and simple mobile phone app interface. This simplicity is valuable but limiting. In certain situations, we wanted the option to send a message from the device itself. Otherwise, we find the Hotspot quite easy to use.
Other reviewers have pointed out that the Somewear has shorter battery life than close competitors. We didn't notice an appreciable difference. In our testing, we had no issues with battery life. On short trips, our testers have good electronics use habits — i.e., we turn off our devices when not in use. On longer trips (more than 2-3 days or so), we carry more battery power or solar charging options. The modern wilderness traveler needs good electronic and battery use habits and skills, regardless of which devices you carry.
No two-way messaging device we tested is simpler than this one. Of course, for emergency-only communications, the COSPAS/SARSAT options are way easier to use. These have just one button for SOS summons. Without phone app complications and various options, simpler devices will be simpler to use.
Portability is simply a function of size and weight. The Global Hotspot is on the small and light end for a two-way messenger. It weighs 4.1 ounces and is 3.6 inches long.
Some devices in our review are slightly lighter and smaller than the Global Hotspot. Others are considerably larger and heavier. The Hotspot is a size and mass that can easily go anywhere with you.
Assessing the relative value of personal locator beacons and satellite messengers is a bear of a task. We've poured hours of work into a comprehensive and usually up-to-date chart that collates hardware and subscription options. When we crunch the numbers, the Global Hotspot is the best value option if you want two-way text messaging, around the world, in the wild. You can get something less expensive if you forego coverage outside the US, and you can save even more by foregoing all but emergency messaging.
The initial purchase price of the Hotspot is essentially the same as other options, but the subscription plans are among the least expensive. For annual activation and low-volume use, Somewear has the least expensive plan full stop. Their "Plan Ultralight" allows you to set it up, forget about it, and use it periodically for routine check-ins from occasional adventures. This is how most weekend warriors will use their device.
After five years of this type of use, this device is cheaper than the next closest global competitor and is less expensive than using some one-way devices in a similar way.
We know that shopping for these devices is a complicated task. Essentially, all wilderness travelers with budgetary restraints should choose the Somewear Hotspot while the rest would do better to aim for the Editors' Choice. With more and more reliable two-way communication options, one now needs a real good reason not to carry two-way, text-based communication equipment into the wilderness. The Hotspot brings this service at a slightly lower price point in a form that is handy to carry everywhere. It has some quirks but is a great budget consideration. Depending on how you use it (and therefore how you choose to activate it), this device can be a fraction the cost of other options.
— Jediah Porter