Reviews You Can Rely On

SPOT X Review

A two-way texting device with a built-in keyboard reminiscent of old Blackberry phones with slightly limited geographic coverage
SPOT X
Spot X
Credit: Spot
Top Pick Award
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Price:  $250 List | $199.95 at Amazon
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Two-way messaging, on-device keyboard, smartphone interface
Cons:  Bulky, tough customer and tech service
Manufacturer:   SPOT
By Jediah Porter ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Apr 3, 2020
Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more
69
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#6 of 9
  • SOS/Emergency Messaging - 30% 7.0
  • Non-Emergency Messaging - 25% 8.0
  • Signal Coverage - 20% 6.0
  • Ease of Use - 15% 7.0
  • Portability - 10% 5.0

Our Verdict

We've been watching, reviewing, and using products in this category for decades now. Improvements are slow and incremental, and the SPOT X is an important step along that path. This fills a narrow niche as a device that will send texts independently, using a real keyboard, without a linked smartphone. In this sub-category, the X indeed delivers. However, what it offers was eclipsed by the nearly simultaneous release of other company's improved offerings. SPOT scrambled to play catch-up by adding Bluetooth and smartphone compatibility just a little over a year after the initial release of the X. Nonetheless, in most ways, close competitors still edge ahead. Despite this, the SPOT's unique on-device keyboard earns it a specialized award for Standalone Use. One reviewer, the spouse of a backcountry ranger, noted that the X is likely, "a better choice for the person in my life who prefers to ski tour and packraft alone and will never give up the flip phone."

Compare to Similar Products

 
SPOT X
This Product
SPOT X
Awards Top Pick Award Best Buy Award  Best Buy Award Best Buy Award 
Price $199.95 at Amazon
Compare at 3 sellers
$249.95 at REI
Compare at 2 sellers
$199.00 at Backcountry
Compare at 3 sellers
$280 List$330 List
$329.95 at REI
Overall Score Sort Icon
69
77
75
71
63
Star Rating
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Pros Two-way messaging, on-device keyboard, smartphone interfaceCompact, great network, on-device basic controlsExcellent network, seamless communication, some on-device functionalitySmall, affordable subscription options, proven satellite and dispatch networks, simpleReasonable initial purchase price, no paid subscription, uses proven global network, compact
Cons Bulky, tough customer and tech serviceNo on-device message viewing or composition, USB-C charging (could be a pro for some)No on-device message viewing or composition, heavier than close competitorsOnly supports SOS and tracking on the device itself, no custom messaging, occasional hardware issuesNo non-emergency messaging
Bottom Line A two-way texting device with a built-in keyboard reminiscent of old Blackberry phones with slightly limited geographic coverageA small, light, and full-function two-way messenger that competes closely with the top of the heapThis nearly perfect device provides comprehensive, polished, two-way satellite communications at a fair priceCompact, simple, two-way satellite communications using proven technology and relatively affordable subscription optionsThis device provides a compact and affordable “help me” button in your pocket
Rating Categories SPOT X ACR Bivy Stick ZOLEO Satellite Com... Somewear Global Hot... Ocean Signal rescue...
SOS/Emergency Messaging (30%)
7.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
9.0
Non-Emergency Messaging (25%)
8.0
8.0
8.0
6.0
1
Signal Coverage (20%)
6.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
9.0
Ease of Use (15%)
7.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
5.0
Portability (10%)
5.0
9.0
7.0
8.0
8.0
Specs SPOT X ACR Bivy Stick ZOLEO Satellite Com... Somewear Global Hot... Ocean Signal rescue...
2-way Messaging? Yes Yes Yes Yes No
2-way Messaging Available via Cellular/Wifi? No No Yes Yes No
Custom Messaging Viewable and Composable on Device? Yes No No No No
Passive Tracking (turn on and forget about it - viewers at home can watch your progress on the web) Yes Yes No Yes No
Weight w/ Batteries 6.8 oz 3.6 oz 5.3 oz 4.1 oz 4.0 oz
Battery Life (hours) 240 Up to 120 200+ when checking messages every 12 minutes Up to 1000 messages 24
Waterproof Rating IPX7 (splashes & weather proof, nonsubmersible) IP67 IP68 (water resistant) IPX7 Up to 15 meters
Pairs with Smartphone? No Yes Yes Yes No
Satellite Network Globalstar Iridium Iridium Iridium COSPAS/SARSAT
Dispatch service Focus Point International Global Rescue GEOS GEOS COSPAS/SARSAT
Dimensions 6.5" x 2.9" x 0.9" 1.9" x .9" x 4.5" 3.5" x 2.6" x 1.0" 3" x 3.6" x .8" 3.0" x 2.0" x 1.3"
Cubic Inches (L x W x H) 17 7.7 9.1 8.6 6.8

Our Analysis and Test Results

The SPOT X is a stand-alone two-way satellite messaging device. A few other devices we tested also allow for two-way, customized messaging, but they require a smartphone for easy typing. The SPOT's built-in QWERTY keyboard makes it stand out. You compromise nothing by using the X on its own. The latest version of the SPOT X includes Bluetooth functionality that links with a dedicated SPOT app on a smartphone for interfacing that way. This latest update truly sweetens the deal. If you have a SPOT X from before the Bluetooth update, it is worth trading yours in for the newer version.

Performance Comparison


SPOT X personal locator beacon - on a fast-paced day-hike, being able to send and receive text...
On a fast-paced day-hike, being able to send and receive text messages quickly can be an asset. The stand-alone function of the SPOT enables this better than the phone-linked options.
Credit: Jediah Porter

SOS/Emergency Messaging


The SPOT network is contracted from Globalstar. Its emergency messaging capability has been proven now for a decade or so. The X has the same emergency messaging capabilities that many have come to love and trust. Activating the "SOS button" sends an emergency notification and your location information to a central, for-profit dispatch agency called "Focus Point International". That agency then works to secure local rescue resources. We don't know much yet about Focus Point International.


What is unique about the X, compared to previous SPOT devices, is that you can also text back and forth with friends, family, or additional emergency services while your rescue is unfolding. This latter portion is outside the normal parameters of SOS messaging but can be very beneficial. In certain circumstances, the ability to communicate in both directions in an emergency may mean the difference between positive and negative outcomes.

SPOT X personal locator beacon - we go to the mountains and wild for simplicity. but we also might...
We go to the mountains and wild for simplicity. But we also might need to communicate. The X's on-device texting can be simpler than one of the app-linked products.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Two-way messaging can further refine emergency response. It helps manage the stress of those involved in the incident and those at home — so they don't assume the absolute worst if your SPOT is activated. It can also let you provide more information to your rescue team for a more nuanced (and therefore likely better) emergency response.

SPOT X personal locator beacon - when base camping in the wild, being able to text with folks back at...
When base camping in the wild, being able to text with folks back at home has great appeal to some. The X can fill that niche.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Non-Emergency Messaging


For non-emergency messaging, the X is great. You can send and receive text-only messages (no photos) with ease. All sending, receiving, and viewing can be completed on the device itself or on the associated smartphone app.

Since initial launch SPOT added Bluetooth to all new SPOT X devices and an associated app. All the info we provide about the app applies only to newly purchased or upgraded devices.


You can configure the SPOT X to continuously monitor for new messages. Then it can sit in your pocket or pack like your cell phone would, receiving messages the whole time. Message speed is limited mainly by satellite reception, which we examine more closely below. Each text conversation is organized into familiar "thread" format, whether on the device or in the app. Conversing is intuitive and clear.

SPOT X personal locator beacon - the results of a three-way time test. all three messages, sent...
The results of a three-way time test. All three messages, sent simultaneously, arrived within a minute, in this particular test iteration.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Signal Coverage


In our comparative testing, signal coverage is almost entirely determined by the network. The device size, design, or power do not have any appreciable impact on signal coverage. All SPOT devices, including the X, use the Globalstar satellite network. This web of lower altitude communication satellites covers only a portion of Earth.


Notably, all 48 contiguous states are well covered, and coverage elsewhere in North and South America and Europe is pretty good. Elsewhere it might work, but reliability is lower. Overall, SPOT devices offer below-average coverage. Consider this when you consider the SPOT. While the Globalstar network that SPOT taps into doesn't cover everywhere, it is entirely possible that it covers your intended travel area. Be honest about your travel habits and communication needs when shopping for a beacon or messenger. You might aspire to that polar trip, but the fact of the matter could be that the entirety of your adventures are in our beautiful Continental US national parks.

SPOT X personal locator beacon - texting the x in a dense new york forest. all satellite...
Texting the X in a dense New York forest. All satellite communications are compromised in dense forest. This particular message got out, but we have always noted difficulties in the trees. This is an inherent issue of satellite communications.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Ease of Use


Initially, using the X is a smooth and intuitive process. It doesn't take long to set up, and the subscription plans are fairly obvious and simple. The large screen and integrated keyboard simplify sending and receiving messages. The smartphone app features a user interface that is similar to that of the device itself but employs touch screen function and your familiar smartphone keyboard and text entry.


In ongoing testing and upgrading of the SPOT X, we have had a few service and support issues that are worth pointing out. First, with the original non-Bluetooth SPOT X, we had trouble updating the firmware. A couple of hours of tech support phone time yielded zero progress. Finally, we gave up and bought the new SPOT X with Bluetooth. The timing was right, as our other device wasn't working at all. When the new one arrived, it also was due for a firmware update. We followed the instructions closely but were unable to update this one as well. After another hour or so of time on the phone with SPOT tech support, we had no luck updating the firmware. That phone call ended with no resolution and the advice to "just try again in an hour or so." We only achieved success and a usable product when we took the initiative, prompted by only the vaguest suggestion from tech support, to try a different computer for conducting the firmware update. After weeks of delay and tech difficulties, we had a usable SPOT X and like its function. However, our customer service and tech support experience was poor to mediocre. We hope this is an issue that has been resolved all around, but proceed with caution.

SPOT X personal locator beacon - by 2010 millions of people got really good at typing on a keyboard...
By 2010 millions of people got really good at typing on a keyboard like this. If we learned it then, we can make it work now. You can type quickly and clearly on the physical board of the SPOT.
Credit: Jediah Porter

SPOT X personal locator beacon - the spot x app roughly mirrors the on-device interface. you get a...
The SPOT X app roughly mirrors the on-device interface. You get a bigger screen and a more familiar keyboard.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Portability


The X is about the size of an adult palm with one short finger as the antenna. It weighs 6.8 ounces with batteries. For what it does, this degree of portability would have been amazing just a couple of months ago.


Today the smallest available devices make the compact stature of the X seem bulky. The difference between the size of the SPOT X and the smallest competitor is an important threshold. Universally, trail runners, multi-pitch rock climbers, and day-trip mountain bikers deem the SPOT X too big. The smaller competitors pass an important line and are considered small and light enough to be carried everywhere, all the time. Of course, if the unique functionality of the SPOT X appeals to you, you will justify carrying the greater mass and bulk.

SPOT X personal locator beacon - size comparison of the spot x and inreach mini. even without the...
Size comparison of the SPOT X and InReach Mini. Even without the keyboard, the X would be much larger.
Credit: Jediah Porter

SPOT X personal locator beacon - the spot in use with its unraveling antenna in utah's lone peak...
The SPOT in use with its unraveling antenna in Utah's Lone Peak Cirque.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Value


Value of satellite communication devices and services is difficult to assess and compare. Initial purchase of the SPOT X is competitive in price. Ongoing subscription options are ever-changing.

Consult our comparative table of subscription plans for more information.

If absolute value is important to you, choose a simpler and far less expensive COSPAS-SARSAT product. Any of your options employing that technology will be expensive at initial purchase, but require no ongoing subscription fees. The two-way messaging found with the SPOT X and other award winners is (arguably) inherently a luxury item. Choose between the two-way options for their coverage, ease of use, and portability — don't sweat the endlessly debatable value questions.

One issue we had with the X is that the antenna began to disassemble itself. It is minor and hasn't affected function, but it does hint at durability concerns. We found no other online reviews that mentioned this issue, but a few REI.com reviewers found it to be "super cheaply made" and the like.

SPOT X personal locator beacon - the newest spot x, with bluetooth, includes this stand. with the...
The newest Spot X, with BlueTooth, includes this stand. With the smartphone app interface, you can position the device in ideal orientation for communication and use your app somewhere nearby.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Conclusion


The SPOT X represents a step forward in this gear category. Complicating your choice is the availability of a small hand full of close competitors that do some or all things as well or better. Only select users will find the X preferable, overall, to the close competition. When we consider all the important variables, a couple of other products surpass the SPOT. However, it is truly unique on the market because it allows you to text directly from the device. With practice, the "Blackberry" style keyboard is as fast as, if not faster than, the smartphone app option. By letting you step away from your smartphone, the X fills a niche and earns a specialized award.

SPOT X personal locator beacon - we did have a minor issue with the construction of the x. it still...
We did have a minor issue with the construction of the X. It still works just fine, and this protrusion can be pushed back in. Nonetheless, it is worth noting.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Jediah Porter
You Might Also Like

Ad-free. Influence-free. Powered by Testing.

GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.

Learn More