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SPOT GPS Messenger: On Track Review
- For our extensive review of the SPOT2 Messenger on the Bibbulmun Track see: 54 Day On-Track Review: SPOT2 GPS Messenger
- We also did an extensive battery review: SPOT 2 GPS Messenger: Battery Test, which details the SPOT2's performance over the life of a set of batteries.
When investigating the SPOT we got very mixed messages from the various online forums, so much so that at one stage I'd almost decided that it was too much risk.
The Reviews at REI especially had me thinking. As I'm writing this the average is 2.8/5.0 and only 48% would recommend it to a friend... and I think I read each one in my attempt to understand why the mixed reviews. It almost seemed that the review was a 1 and a no recommendation or a 5 and a Great Device with nothing in between: it was either great or hopeless.
There was a lot of angst about the Auto-Renewal of the user's account and associated Credit Card fees. Everyone should read the full terms and conditions before signing up
Currently, their pages shows:
|Compact (33)||Unreliable (30)|
|Easy to use (32)||Difficult to use (4)|
|Well made (4)|
In the end I decided that the mixed reviews were mainly due to a misunderstanding about the device and its abilities and what they should expect.
Over time my understanding (and expectations) of the SPOT became:
- Small, light device: Treat with care
- Use with discretion: like all GPS Devices it wont work everywhere
- Messages are one way only: no receipt of successful delivery available
- Customer service may be less than satisfactory: tread carefully
I also noticed that a good proportion of the good Reviews were Australian, so I decided that if the performance in Australia was acceptable I'd cope with the other issues.
Why did I buy a SPOT Messenger?
We'd been using the PLBs available from our local Police for a while, and I was happy with the lifeline it provided. But I was really wanting something more social where I could let friends and family know we were OK without getting the emergency services involved. I also think that the level of PLB-ness that the SPOT provides is enough in our situation. Note: I do understand that it's not a full PLB, that it's battery doesn't last 7 years (neither does my GPS battery ), etc etc.
- A good understanding of the performance characteristics of the SPOT, so that we can opperate successfully within its limits, including:
- GPS Ability
- GPS Accuracy
- Message Sending Ability
- Social & Website integration
- A pretty accurate estimation of what the battery usage was going to be, as we were going to be using the Voltaic Fuse Solar Charger to charge our batteries for the duration of the Bibbulmun (I wanted to make sure that the Fuse was going to cope with our charging requirements).
Out of the Box
It's a big box it comes in... and when you get down to it, it's a very small device (this is a good thing for a bushwalker).
It came with 3 AAA lithium batteries, which the manufacturers recommend, and all their specifications are based on. We'd already made the decision to use the Voltaic Solar charger, so I purchased some new AAA rechargables from ProTog: Powerex Imedion 950mAh.
I didn't find any problems activating the device. They took my money, I set up the message forwarding details and sent a test message (that was in my inbox almost immediately).
I tested it around the four corners of our property and was impressed with the accuracy of the location and the speed of the message delivery (they were on my computer before I got back inside).
There were issues setting up Australian mobile phones. This was an opportunity to test the much maligned customer service
I initially found their customer service to be very responsive. With the mobile phone issue they had the wrong information, but they were great in responding and checking up on the issue.
I'm not sure about other countries, but in Australia:
Use standard International phone number without the USA IDD
After all the criticism of their websites I was a little apprehensive... but it's pretty much a no-brainer: it's no worse than most other websites; you just have to figure out what you've got to do to get the job done.
It was easy enough to set up the social networking site of the application (I used FaceBook and Twitter) and also put an object on my bushwalking page that displays the last 7 days messages (although there seems to be an issue with that object displaying on FireFox 4 )
You can see our SPOT Adventures for the Mittagong to Katoomba walk.
On the Track
I don't use the Tracking function as I've a very good GPS that does that, but I do use the SPOT to send messages of our progress (and if the case arises, request help). We took our kids through what they should do if they got a "Please Help" message (not one that goes to Emergency Services). The other custom message I set up as an end-of-day message... "we've set up camp here for the night" type of thing: that was to prove very handy on this walk later on...
The SPOT Log
During the walk I recorded when I started the Message Send function and when we got home entered the GPS time in the email. From the difference I've calculated how many message attempts failed (It sends 3, but discards all messages after the first successful one).
|Day 1||Mt Waratah||Start||29/03/2011 17:11||29/03/2011 17:14||03:00||0|
|Day 1||Bracken Flat||Camp||29/03/2011 18:56||29/03/2011 19:01||04:21||0|
|Day 2||Morning Tea||30/03/2011 11:12||FAIL||3|
|Day 2||Lunch||30/03/2011 14:17||30/03/2011 14:18||00:54||0|
|Day 2||Piggies Crossing||Camp||30/03/2011 17:13||30/03/2011 17:22||08:13||1|
|Day 3||Morning Tea||31/03/2011 10:39||31/03/2011 10:40||00:32||0|
|Day 3||Lunch||31/03/2011 13:40||31/03/2011 13:42||01:50||0|
|Day 3||Afternoon Tea||31/03/2011 16:21||FAIL||3|
|Day 3||After Paul's||Camp||31/03/2011 17:42||31/03/2011 17:46||03:15||0|
|Day 4||Morning Tea||1/04/2011 10:32||1/04/2011 10:33||00:24||0|
|Day 4||Lunch||1/04/2011 12:23||1/04/2011 12:26||02:45||0|
|Day 4||Beloon Pass||Camp||1/04/2011 18:36||1/04/2011 18:51||14:11||2|
|Day 5||Morning Tea||2/04/2011 10:39||2/04/2011 10:42||02:58||0|
|Day 5||Lunch||2/04/2011 13:01||2/04/2011 13:03||01:15||0|
|Day 5||Yerranderie||Camp||2/04/2011 16:40||2/04/2011 16:47||06:36||1|
|Day 7||Morning Tea||4/04/2011 10:11||4/04/2011 10:15||03:31||0|
|Day 7||Kiaramba Spring||Camp||4/04/2011 12:52||4/04/2011 12:57||04:02||0|
|Day 8||Morning Tea||5/04/2011 10:44||5/04/2011 10:46||01:40||0|
|Day 8||Kowmung House||Camp||5/04/2011 12:59||5/04/2011 13:14||14:51||2|
|Day 9||Morning Tea||6/04/2011 10:52||6/04/2011 10:53||01:00||0|
|Day 9||Lunch||6/04/2011 13:02||6/04/2011 13:05||02:05||0|
|Day 9||Lake Birrel||Camp||6/04/2011 16:37||6/04/2011 16:40||02:35||0|
|Day 10||Dunphy's Camp||Finish||7/04/2011 11:50||7/04/2011 11:59||09:00||2|
This was the first venture out into the wilds with the SPOT... the first venture anywhere, and so I was still learning as we went. The manufacturers warn that the SPOT should be used away from other GPS devices, so I made sure that it was (as I usually have the GPS in my pocket).
Of the two complete failures on the walk it's quite possible that I shut the SPOT down before giving it the full 20 minute cycle to try sending its message 3 times. That penny dropped during the walk, and notably later in the walk there were no failures. Considering the terrain we were walking through I was amazed that there were not more failures, at least not more message retries!
One habbit I got into was putting the SPOT onto my hat and leaving it in an open position whilst we did what we were doing (morning tea / lunch / etc): that way I was not going to forget it or lose it
The manufacturers also stress that a clear view of the sky is essential, and on the various forums it is the most often complained feature: how many missed messages there are... so I was very interested to get such good results as most of the time we did not have a perfect view of the sky. The deviece will let you know if it can't get a GPS fix, but it doesn't receive a receipt that it's message has been received by the satellite or server.
The device did get some bad comments in the forums about how fragile it is... (i.e. didn't work after being dropped). I was glad to read these first and act accordingly: thankfully I didn't test its robustness fully. It spent it's days lounging in the top of my pack when it wasn't in use. But I'm not going to throw my GPS or camera around either.
This walk was harder than we'd originally anticipated and we were delayed on the first half. Our end-of-day messages came in very handy as the people we were meeting could easily see that we were not keeping up with our intended itinerary, and were therefore not worried when we were a day late... and we weren't worried because we knew they'd know .
Message delivery was good: 65% of messages were delivered on the first (of three) tries, and only 2 (8%) failed completely (and there is a posability that that was user error).
The device is small and light (so much so I was concerned I'd misplace it somewhere ), which is great, and I didn't have any issues with how robust it was travelling in the top of my pack.
Battery usage was OK. I should have left the batteries in when they came up with their first warning (100 to go), but I got a little too excited about charging them on the FUSE . I'm currently conducting a battery test so that I'll know how many messages I'll get out of our rechargable batteries (stay tuned: I'm up to 80 messages after the low battery warning )
Would I recommend it? Everyone must make their own decisions concerning their safety and safety devices, but I'm happy with the SPOT's performance as a PLB for our level of adventuring and extremely happy with its ability to let more than emergency services know how we're going on the adventure!
We don't have a smart-phone so for us we'd not consider the Connect (and have not looked closely at it).
But if we did have a smart-phone, I think it only adds a custom message ability (42 characters) more than what the normal SPOT2 has? Would I go for that?? Probably not, in that it would mean that I have to take the smart-phone with me.
It also means that there are two points of possible failure (SPOT & Phone).
But if I wasn't hiking (i.e. in a car maybe) and had a smart-phone, I probably would go for it because of the custom messaging :)
I'm getting to the end of an extended battery test with the SPOT and I'm very impressed with the results so far, both for battery and messages.