Hands-on Gear Review

SPOT Gen3 Satellite Messenger Review

Price:  $150 List | $149.95 at REI
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Compact and lightweight ergonomic design, rental option
Cons:  No two-way communication, no smartphone interface, Globalstar is arguably less effective than Iridium or COSPAS/SARSAT
Bottom line:  The lowest up-front cost satellite messenger with a handy rental option.
Editors' Rating:   
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2-way messaging:  No
Battery Life (hours):  150 hrs (lithium batteries)
Weight w/ batts oz:  4.0 oz
Manufacturer:   Spot

Our Verdict

The word "SPOT", as it pertains to wilderness travel, has become synonymous with emergency communications. This satellite messenger is handy, compact, and proven in its value and limitations. It is an excellent tool and a reasonable value. However, competitors have closed the gaps on either side, bringing greater functionality for only slightly more money on one side, and bargain basement emergency communications on the other. Carefully read the complete review to make sure it's the best choice for your situation. The other devices we have reviewed have significant advantages over this particular, now-classic product. 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 Test Results

Review by:
Chris McNamara and Jediah Porter

Last Updated:
Sunday
May 27, 2018

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The third iteration of the venerable SPOT device, along with its proprietary satellite messaging service, is a simple, clear, and largely reliable way for a wilderness traveler to send rudimentary communications to the outside world. There are nuances, with preprogrammed messages and tracking and SOS capability, but it is a basic a tool to access a network to send information out of the wilderness.

Locator beacons and satellite messagers need a clear view of the sky  clipping them on your back works well.
Locator beacons and satellite messagers need a clear view of the sky, clipping them on your back works well.

Performance Comparison


Overall, with its compromised set of features, the SPOT Gen3 comes out right in the middle of the pack. Some devices do more, for a little more money, and some devices do the same important things that the SPOT does at a much lower overall cost. For many, though, the SPOT's set of attributes and functions hits the sweet spot, so to speak.

SOS Emergency Messaging


The Gen3 has a clear and easy-to-use SOS button. Activating this feature sends your location and an alert, via satellite relay, to SPOT headquarters. From there a team of Search and Rescue dispatch experts works to secure the help of resources local to your position. This service is crucial, and this is what the SPOT device does. It requires a subscription, and responsible backcountry travel demands that you understand the realities of local, on-the-ground emergency response.

The SOS button has a protective cover  but it's really easy to brush aside. If you activate it accidentally  just press it again until the light blinks red.
The SOS button has a protective cover, but it's really easy to brush aside. If you activate it accidentally, just press it again until the light blinks red.

The message will get out rather quickly, often in a matter of minutes. However, wilderness SAR response rarely occurs within an hour and — depending on weather, terrain, socio-political issues, economic factors, and cultural limitations — it could be days, if not weeks away. Activating a SPOT device's SOS mode in Grand Teton National Park (where, incidentally, our lead test editor interviewed SAR experts on the function of various emergency location and notification products) will result in very different response time than in high-altitude South America. Your SPOT device and service is good at getting word out, but it can't circumvent the realities of remote emergency response.

It's worth reiterating directly, all the functions of the SPOT device, including SOS, require a subscription, activation, and appropriate configuration.

In addition to the SOS function that sends a message to professional dispatch, the Gen3 also features a Spot Assist button that notifies your contacts that you are in a non-life-threatening situation but need help. You and your contacts should agree, before you head to the wild, the parameters around your use of the Spot Assist mode. You can also subscribe to a version of 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 a rock in the desert situation.

Even with the "SPOT Assist" mode as an option, the device's emergency messaging is rudimentary. Those responding to an SOS message must assume the worst.


The ACR ResQLink+ and Ocean Signal rescueME PLB1 are a little simpler than the SPOT. All that these two products do is to send an emergency SOS message. They do it with a free registration instead of with a paid subscription, but the information transmitted is identical. The Garmin inReach explorer+ has the same emergency messaging capability as the SPOT, with the additional (and significant) advantage of being able to send, receive, and respond to actual text messages for transmission of more nuanced emergency information.

The Gen3 has three non-SOS functions that are activated by buttons along its bottom edge. From left to right they are the custom message button   automatic tracking (marking your location every 2.5 to 60 minutes)  and the check-in button. Each blinks green when activated.
The Gen3 has three non-SOS functions that are activated by buttons along its bottom edge. From left to right they are the custom message button, automatic tracking (marking your location every 2.5 to 60 minutes), and the check-in button. Each blinks green when activated.

Non-Emergency Messaging


The Gen3 offers rudimentary non-emergency messaging. As mentioned above, there are the two degrees of emergency messaging. The third mode of messaging is the "Ok" message. You can preprogram the text of this message, and you can determine where that message is sent, as long as you have an internet connection. You can set it up to send via SMS, email, and to certain types of social media. This also needs to be programmed while still in civilization. Once in the field, you simply press the "OK" button, and it transmits whatever message and delivery options you programmed.

There is also a helping hands or S.O.V. (Save Our Vehicle) function. It alters friends or professional services that you're in a non-life-threatening situation but still need help.
There is also a helping hands or S.O.V. (Save Our Vehicle) function. It alters friends or professional services that you're in a non-life-threatening situation but still need help.

We found that about 70% of these OK messages made it to their recipients. Because of this attrition rate, repetition is important, and your loved ones should thoroughly understand the device's function. As with any of these satellite communicators, agreeing with your contacts at home that "no news is good news" is the best idea.

Finally, the fourth type of messaging available from a SPOT device is its tracking mode. This is something that can be programmed and then allowed to passively send your position on some pre-set interval to SPOT's public or private web interface. Your contacts can be apprised of this tracking in a variety of ways. For some, this is an important attribute. Our test team finds it interesting in select circumstances, but it is largely a non-factor in our use.


The Ocean Signal rescueME has no option for non-emergency messaging. The ACR ResQLink can be configured, with an inexpensive subscription plan, to send a sort of non-emergency messaging. You should read the review for a full explanation. The two-way non-emergency messaging of the Garmin InReach explorer+ truly sets it apart from the SPOT and all the other devices. The GoTenna Mesh only does non-emergency messaging. Range and coverage are limited, but for direct communications between those in proximity and without cell signal, it's worth considering.

The SPOT's antenna is under its logo  so orienting it to the sky helps it find satellites.
The SPOT's antenna is under its logo, so orienting it to the sky helps it find satellites.

Signal Coverage


The SPOT device you might carry is only part of a much larger system. When you send a message from the SPOT, whether that message is the SOS variety or not, it goes to the outside world via the "Globalstar" satellite network. Contrary to how it sounds, the Globalstar satellite constellation is not global. Consult SPOT and GlobalStar's documentation to see where coverage exists and to see if it might matter for you. For many adventurers, Globalstar covers all you might need.

Also note that, just like all satellite communications, the SPOT device's "view" of the sky is critical. Local vegetation, terrain, and electronic interference can impede the transmission of SPOT messages. This is the same for all satellite communications. In a specific place and time, since the respective satellite communication networks use satellites located differently and moving at different rates, one device and network might work slightly better than another.

Over the course of our testing, the SPOT completed about 70 percent of the message-send attempts. The Gen3 on the Globalstar network 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, for instance) or satellite coverage, we don't know.


The inReach, ACR ResQLink+, and Ocean Signal PLB1 all use global satellite networks. They have greater coverage than the SPOT. The GoTenna Mesh has far less signal coverage.

Ease of Use


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. An important step, which should be an ongoing dialog, is to inform your contacts in civilization how to respond to the various types, timing, and potential lack of messages from your SPOT. Again, we recommend a "no news is good news" approach.

Once configured, paid, and activated, your SPOT is easy to use. Depending on the agreements you have with your contacts, you might leave the SPOT in your pack for days and weeks and years with no use at all. If you wish to use it for non-emergency messaging, there is some set up you must do at home. If you wish to use the tracking function, there is even more configuration you must do. With tracking especially, mind your battery life.


For emergency-only use, the SPOT is only a little more complicated than the ACR and the Ocean Signal. The complications are in the setup and maintenance of the paid account. For non-emergency messaging of all kinds, the SPOT is simpler than the inReach and the GoTenna Mesh.

The SPOT comes with a velcro strap that can be used with the included carabiner  as shown  or strapped directly to a bag or bike.
The SPOT comes with a velcro strap that can be used with the included carabiner, as shown, or strapped directly to a bag or bike.

Portability


For what it does, the SPOT is tiny. For many years now people have carried the SPOT on adventures of all kinds. It could get a little smaller and lighter, but it is hard to imagine a device like this cutting a major percentage off.


It is the same weigh and dimensions as the Ocean Signal PLB1, but it does much more. The ACR ResQLink is twice the size of the SPOT and has fewer functions.

Best Applications


Widespread use of the SPOT family of devices has made the product and service a sort of industry standard. Some options are much less expensive (overall one must consider initial purchase and subscription costs), and others do a great deal more, but the SPOT might be the sweet spot for you.

What it does, basically, is send rudimentary messages that tell your loved ones "I am ok and I am right here", and give you the option to send notification of a dire emergency to a professional dispatch office. That is all.

While the device isn't that expensive  keeping the subscription current isn't cheap.
While the device isn't that expensive, keeping the subscription current isn't cheap.

Value


Emergency communications can save lives. The capability to do so is virtually priceless. That said, you've got options. The SPOT device strikes a balance. The technology and subscription service combine to hit the "middle of the road." The device itself is one third the price of the Garmin inReach, for instance. It is also quite a bit less expensive than the ACR and Ocean Signal.

Beyond that initial purchase price, though, there are subscription costs to consider. The ACR and Ocean Signal devices require no subscription cost at all. The initial purchase price of the Ocean Signal is almost twice that of the SPOT. But, over five years, the SPOT device and service will cost more than four times as much.

Allow us to make another comparison, over that same five year period. (Allow too that subscription costs can change.) When you compare the SPOT to the inReach, you find interesting results. At initial purchase, the inReach is three times the cost of the SPOT. But the inReach has the least expensive subscription plan of each, so over five years, the cost is the same. The inReach is 1.7% more expensive over five years. For that additional $20 you get the significant upgrade to two-way messaging.

Conclusion


The SPOT Gen3 is an iterative refinement of a proven and well-regarded product. As an early leader in the field, the brand, the product, and the service have traction. However, other products are surpassing the SPOT. It still fills a niche, but critical examination of your options is important.
Chris McNamara and Jediah Porter

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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: May 27, 2018
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:  
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 (3.0)
Average Customer Rating:  
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 (1.6)

21% of 14 reviewers recommend it
 
Rating Distribution
15 Total Ratings
5 star: 0%  (0)
4 star: 7%  (1)
3 star: 13%  (2)
2 star: 27%  (4)
1 star: 53%  (8)
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2 of 2 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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   Nov 9, 2017 - 02:08pm
David Golden · San Marcos
Do not purchase this product. The salesman at REI highly recommended it, so we purchased for my daughter's trip to Everest Base Camp. The product was so unreliable that it caused more stress than if we had purchased nothing. The tracking map was inconsistent, which we had expected it to be. However, the "Made it" message was completely unreliable. My daughter relayed to us (via her cellphone in the Himalayas) that it was flashing green which is what the customer service department mentioned needed to happen to be assured it had sent. Didn't happen! In fact, on one occasion, I was sent a message, but my wife and our email were not. This device, which we paid $150 for, plus the service contract, was unreliable and didn't bring any peace of mind.

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
superawesomefuntime · Skier
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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   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
Robo
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.
Climber

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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.
Climber

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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.
Climber

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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
Outdoor Adventurer
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
tips up
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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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
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   Jul 22, 2017 - 08:55am
imdowntown
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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