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
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SPOT X Review (The SPOT in use with its unraveling antenna in Utah's Lone Peak Cirque.)
The SPOT in use with its unraveling antenna in Utah's Lone Peak Cirque.
Credit: Jediah Porter
Price:  $250 List
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Manufacturer:   SPOT
By Jediah Porter ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Jan 19, 2023
67
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#8 of 12
  • SOS/Emergency Messaging - 30% 10.0
  • Non-Emergency Messaging - 25% 8.0
  • Signal Coverage - 20% 2.0
  • Ease of Use - 15% 7.0
  • Portability - 10% 2.0

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.”
REASONS TO BUY
Two-way messaging
On-device keyboard
Smartphone interface
REASONS TO AVOID
Bulky
Tough customer and tech service
Editor's Note: We updated some this review with some buying advice information on January 19, 2023.

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Bottom Line If you want two-way texting that doesn't rely on a smartphone and tend to travel in the Americas and Europe, this one's is for youA compact, full service satellite messenger that has all you need, and is close to all you would wantThis is a smooth, comprehensive two-way communicator that relies on a proven satellite network and brings innovations that raise the barA small, basic device that employs established network, dispatch, and hardware systems through affordable subscription plansA small, satellite-linked emergency communicator that is exactly what you need and nothing more
Rating Categories SPOT X ACR Bivy Stick ZOLEO Satellite Com... Somewear Global Hot... Ocean Signal rescue...
SOS/Emergency Messaging (30%)
10.0
10.0
10.0
10.0
4.0
Non-Emergency Messaging (25%)
8.0
8.0
8.0
6.0
1
Signal Coverage (20%)
2.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
9.0
Ease of Use (15%)
7.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
9.0
Portability (10%)
2.0
9.0
6.0
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 240 hours Up to 120 hours 200+ hours when checking messages every 12 minutes Up to 1000 messages 24 hours
Waterproof Rating IPX7 (No dust rating. Rain, splashing, and accidental submersion up to 30 minutes) IP67 (protection from harmful dust. Rain, splashing, and accidental submersion up to 30 minutes) IP68 (protection from harmful dust. Rain, splashing, and accidental submersion at least 30 minutes) IPX7 (No dust rating. Rain, splashing, and accidental submersion up to 30 minutes) No Formal Rating. Likely exceeds rating system. Claimed "Up to 15 meters"
Pairs with Smartphone? Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Requires recipient to use a special app for two-way communications? No Yes Yes Yes N/A
On Device Functions (if you lose or disable your smartphone) All.Texting is slightly faster on smartphone. SOS, check-in, tracking. All texting requires smartphone. SOS, check-in. All texting requires smartphone SOS. All texting requires smartphone app All.
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"
Volume 17 CU IN 7.7 CU IN 9.1 CU IN 8.6 CU IN 6.8 CU IN

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 - 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 - 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 - 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 - 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 - 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 - 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 - 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 - 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

Should You Buy the SPOT X?


This is the only two-way messenger on the market with a physical keyboard, which is great for those that don't like to use their smartphone screen in the wilderness. 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 that some people will prefer.

spot x - 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

What Other Personal Locator Beacons Should You Consider?


If you'll use your smartphone anyway, many other options on the market will do all that the SPOT X does and also take up less space. These other options also have better signal coverage. The Garmin inReach Messenger or Garmin inReach Mini 2 are overall a bit better. The ACR Bivy Stick, Zoleo, and Somewear Global Hotspot all do what the SPOT X does in a smaller form with better satellite network function. The satellite SOS messaging of the iPhone 14 uses the same network as the SPOT X.

spot x - 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