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SPOT Gen3 Satellite Messenger Review

Best Buy Award
Price:   $150 List | $133.00 at Amazon
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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.
Bottom line:  The lowest up-front cost satellite messenger and it comes with a rental option.
Editors' Rating:   
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Manufacturer:   Spot

Our Verdict

The SPOT the best selling and least expensive of the devices we tested. However, in many cases, the annual plan is no longer always that much cheaper than the Garmin plan. We go into detail below and in our complete Satellite Messenger Review. It wins our Best Buy award, but carefully read the complete review to make sure it's thebest value for your situation. While it worked in our tests and the SPOT website says it has aided in over 5,000 rescues, we found it to be not nearly as reliable or feature-rich as the Garmin inReach Explorer+ which won our Editors' Choice award.


RELATED REVIEW: Best Satellite Messengers and Locator Beacons


Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results

Review by:
Chris McNamara
Founder and Editor-in-Chief
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Wednesday
August 30, 2017

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Updated Fall 2017
SPOT changed their pricing in good and bad ways.

The good: you can now rent a spot for short trips. Three days cost $75, and it's $15 each additional day. That is a great option for people who only take one or two short trips a year.
The Bad: The is now a "network maintenance fee" of $15 a year which raises the annual plan cost to $165. That is now, roughly, the same annual cost as the Garmin inReach Explorer+ and SE plans with similar functionality. But Garmin has the tremendous upside of letting you choose to spend more on two-way messaging, which is not supported by SPOT.

The bottom line: The SPOT may have a much lower up front cost than the Garmin devices but, depending on your usage, it might not be that much less expensive on an ongoing level. For example, if you only wanted to use the device for one month a year, the Garmin would costs you $90 AND give you unlimited two-way text messaging. If you didn't want unlimited text messaging, it would only cost $40 for that month. The SPOT only provides you with the option of a year plan renting.

Setup Process


When you receive your Spot Gen3 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 Gen3 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 Gen3) or satellite coverage, we don't know.

Sending Messages


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 Gen3 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.

Tracking


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.


Example Map
Example Map

SOS function


In your hand the SPOT Gen3 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 Gen3 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 send 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 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 Gen3 would not have worked in any of those places. Be sure to check the SPOT website to see if you will have coverage where you intend to use it.
Chris McNamara

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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: September 12, 2017
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:   
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 (3.0)
Average Customer Rating:   
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 (1.7)

23% of 13 reviewers recommend it
Rating Distribution
14 Total Ratings
5 star: 0%  (0)
4 star: 7%  (1)
3 star: 14%  (2)
2 star: 29%  (4)
1 star: 50%  (7)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
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   Aug 5, 2017 - 05:19pm
chad Dennis · Camper · novato
Totally sucks refers to the guys you have to deal with that answer the phones.

The device will track and did so, but for $200 a year plus the device of $150.00 dollars-ask yourself if you really need it.

Unless you are out in the middle of nowhere without cell service all the time this device is a total waste of money.

A one time fee of say, $35 dollars would be a great idea, but $200 a year when you use it maybe 2 or 3 times is stupid.

Do not buy this device.

Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this product to a friend.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
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   Oct 16, 2014 - 11:09pm
The service provider is not concerned with customer service. I have never had a worse experience with a company. I was mislead when signing up and now they will not work with me to resolve the issue.

Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this product to a friend.
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   Sep 12, 2017 - 03:57pm
chrispeer · Backpacker
Horrible Customer Service. Buyer Beware. I received the Spot device as a gift and signed up for the mandatory service for a backpacking trip. Apparently the annual service of $220+ auto renews. Here is the problem. SPOT offers no way of cancelling the service without calling customer service. You cannot cancel on their website or in your account portal. I received no notice of renewal. Furthermore, my account was created very early in the month (when I originally signed up) and they offer a 30 day grace period to cancel. However, they bill on the first of the month so I did not get my bill until a full month later so the grace period had ended before they even billed me. I talked to three customer service reps and got the same story. "Its our policy".

Anyway, SPOT offered no credit to my account, they would not even prorate the contract. I am switching to Garmin.

Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this product to a friend.
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   Jul 22, 2017 - 08:55am
I am posting this review because of the customer-NO-service I have received in attempting to return this unopened and unactivated device. I have made four calls to customer service and sent one email. The first customer service rep said that a return shipping label would be mailed to me; I never received it. The other three reps said that some special department within the company would be in touch on how to return the device for a full refund. I have yet to be contacted by anyone.

My only recourse, so far, has been to dispute the charge of this device with the credit card company. I am hopeful that this action, plus a negative complaint with the BBB, will help me resolve this situation.

In short, I strongly suggest that you avoid purchasing this device unless you are CERTAIN that you are going to keep it.

Again, trying to return this unopened and unactivated device has been an absolute, inexcusable nightmare.

Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this product to a friend.
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   May 15, 2017 - 01:33pm
ec909 · Hiker
This has got to be the worst customer service that I have ever received. I have been trying to cancel this service for the past two years and this is the second time that a charge has shown up on my credit card. I just spend two hours on hold trying to get in touch with them and then after talking for two minutes get put on hold again!

Words cannot express my frustration on this company!!

I wish that I never heard of them.

Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this product to a friend.
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   May 2, 2016 - 04:33pm
I have had to call and deal with customer service for the spot 3 a number of times because it failed to track my whereabouts.
Customer service is courteous but not knowledgeable.
Each representative had to put me on hold to get help from the "supervisor".
Still got no resolution except the offer for me to pay for a replacement unit.
I have lost faith in SPOT and chose to cancel my subscription. Since I was 10 days past the 30 day renewal time there was not even a pro-ration of the
annual subscription amount.

My experience with the Spot 3 was very poor.
The spot 3 was unreliable and the customer service was substandard.
This is supposed to be a product that could save your life. It could cost you your life, thinking that someone actually had your track when it never transmitted.
They should have taken more care to see that the product is dependable before putting it on the market.
I would NOT recommend the SPOT 3 to any one else.

Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this product to a friend.
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   Nov 4, 2015 - 05:48pm
Jody · Climber · Occupied Territory
Never really had any issues with my SPOT device. The one issue I have had is with customer service. Absolutely horrible. I lost my device once and immediately called SPOT to cancel my service. I bought a new one and when reactivating my service they absolutely would not continue my existing service which had several months left to go. The CS guy was absolutely rude. He said, "Well, you should have waited until you bought a new one and then transferred the service to the new device." I said, "In the meantime someone might have found mine and be screwing around and press the 911 button!" To which he responded rather snottily, "That's not my problem!" Basically, I did the responsible thing by immediately cancelling service but got screwed by losing about 5 months of service I had already paid for. The website is very clunky and not refined.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Nov 4, 2015 - 12:01pm
ExtraBlue · Climber · the ford VT
For price this product can't be beat.
Let's face it if you are using it primarily as a rescue beacon you need to review your priorities. But the ability to tag areas onto a GPS map AND send notifications to your loved ones that you are okay but running behind schedule is totally worth it.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Nov 4, 2015 - 12:14am
Mark Smith · Climber · Portland, Oregon
The primary problem with SPOT is that about 1 in 4 messages aren't received even when the unit's LEDs show that the message was successfully sent. Also, I have had three other problems: 1) occasions where the tree cover was too heavy to get out a signal (in one case I couldn't get out a signal while my partner successfully sent a text message on his cell phone!). 2) an occasion when the message was delivered by SPOT to my family after midnight although the message was sent by me at about 9 PM. 3) an occasion when the location pin was about a quarter mile from the location that the SPOT message was sent. My solution to the various SPOT problems is to send two messages when it's important for the message to go through.

In summary, SPOT is a hassle, but provides an important enough service to be worth the hassle (and the $100/yr subscription cost).

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Nov 3, 2015 - 08:15pm
This device is unreliable and, in our case, resulted in an expensive search and rescue operation when the device failed COMPLETELY to send our daily "o.k." messages set up for a remote backcountry excursion. Lessons learned: (1) pay a little more for the device/service, and get what you actually pay for (2) redundancy in communication devices. We ended up switching to the basic DeLorme InReach model. When we called SPOT to recount our experience, they reluctantly refunded our annual fee and only offered us a "discount" on a replacement SPOT device. Abysmal customer service and a shoddy and unreliable product. Zero stars.

Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this product to a friend.
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   Feb 5, 2015 - 04:57pm
Air Brakes · Backpacker · San Diego, CA
Although an improvment over the Gen 2 SPOT, still needs lots of work, both the harware and the web site.

Web site is clunky, and not at all intuitive. When inputting new trips, you are required to save and re-perform functions more than once.

Device itself does not work more than 50 to 60 percent of the time, and in Maui it didn't work at all. Hiked the Haleakala Crater, and although the SPOT showed a satellite signal available, no Check Ins or OK, or bread crumbs were available, so out of about 50 signals, NONE were actually sent and received.

I'll let this device ride the pine, and try out the DeLorme…

Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this product to a friend.
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   Dec 19, 2014 - 02:36pm
My buddy got a Spot 3 last month and we decided to compare it with my good old reliable Spot 1 that I have had for over 5 years now.

I use it mainly while flying in the back country. So, things like being slightly more compact and a motion sensor to start tracking really are no value. What I am looking for SPOT to do is add two way communication. All my messages and tracking locations went through just as well as the SPOT3 with no appreciable difference. It's disappointing in a way- I have been very happy with the original SPOT for what it does but to date have not found any of the newer models huge gains in function that I would upgrade. Sticking with my old trusty first generation for now.

Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this product to a friend.
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   Oct 19, 2014 - 12:37pm
Suzanne Connely · Camper · Taft
While I've had some good experiences with my SPOT3, since there is so much that could be improved on the device, and the emergency of more "functional" devices now on the market, I give my SPOT3 a 2-star rating.

What I like on my SPOT3: light weight, easy to use, and improvement over my SPOT2 with the USB port for charging. Nice improvement here.

Account set up on my SPOT was easy and fast.

What I find "flawed": Still 1-way outbound only messages. Sometimes, I feel that it's similar to a loaf of good, but half-baked bread. While my LED's on the device tells me that my unit is trying to send out my pre-programmed "OK" message, I really have no idea if the message is getting out. That's just a bit odd in the field, to not know if your product is working or not. The lack of any feedback on the unit leaves me a bit worried, especially if I ever had to use SOS [which on occaision I was close, but never had to use SOS - I used the "help" feature instead on 1 occaison.

Also, without a QWERTY keyboard on the device, my SPOT3 leaves me begging for more. With no flexibility to write [or receive] custom text messages, and whom I send them to when I am already out in the field, is a shortcoming. How can I anticipate my needs 2 days from now?

2 months ago, I went into my local REI store in Santa Barbara, who now carries the DeLorme inReach SE 2-way device. The saleswoman at REI was very knowedgable about both devices, and after full consideration, I decided to upgrade to the inReach SE, and I'm glad I did.

There's no debate in my mind that the slightly higher price of the SE device is worth its wieght in gold for the added functionality.

My "delivery confirmation" icon has now eliminated the guessing game if my text messages get out, the QWERTY keyboard [which takes a little practice at first], is a blessing so I now senf out custom, free-form texts from the field, and I also understand from the REI associate that[though have not yet used it], in SOS mode, I can text back and forth to emergency responders, thus elimating the chance of them thinking its a "false alarm", and allows me to describe to vivid detail the nature of my emergency, and hence needs.

Under canopy, I have found my inReach SE to work faster, and with a higher degree that messages get out to their intended recipients. I'm guessing this may have something to do with the antenna, which appears to provide robust signal under less than optimal conditions.

In short, I think that while my SPOT3 has been a "nice solution" for what is intended for, SPOT3 normally leaves me begging for a bit more. My inReach SE was about $100 more on the front end [though they now offer 30 day contracts for service], that investment provides me with benefits far above the nominal price I paid at the REI store.

SPOT3 is a small improvement over the SPOT2, but I would give it a C+ in terms of overall satisfaction.

Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this product to a friend.
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