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Hands-on Gear Review

SPOT Gen3 Satellite Messenger Review

Best Buy Award
Price:   $150 List | $149.95 at REI
Compare prices at 2 resellers
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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Dimensions (in./cm):  3.4 x 2.6 x 1 inches, 8.7 x 6.5 x 2.5 cm
Weight w/ batts oz/g:  4.0oz/ 114g
Battery Life (hours):  150 hrs (lithium batteries)
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.


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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results

Review by:
Chris McNamara

Last Updated:
Wednesday
August 30, 2017

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Updated Spring 2018
SPOT changed their pricing again.

The good:
  • You can now rent a spot for short trips. Heading out for one to three days costs you $75. It's $15 for each additional day. That is a great option for people who only take one or two short trips a year.
  • SPOT now offers monthly service plans. You can turn the device on for one month for just $19.99.

The Bad:
  • The annual plan cost is now $199 per year. That's about $50 more than the basic Garmin InReach plan. But Garmin has the tremendous upside of letting you choose to spend more on two-way messaging, which is not supported by SPOT. The SPOT plan does include free route tracking at this price point. You have to pay $0.10 for each track point on the basic Garmin plan.

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