SPOT Gen3 Satellite GPS Messenger Review

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Basic description: The SPOT Gen3 is a GPS tracker and communication device that operates outside of cell phone coverage, allowing you to send pre-programmed updates to interested parties when you’re in the backcountry – and to activate an emergency response if you should encounter life-threatening situations.

MSRP: $170 for the device. Subscription service packages (yearly or monthly) required and purchased separately.

Quick summary: For backcountry adventurers and those who like to take prolonged excursions off the grid, SPOT’s Gen3 GPS Messenger provides peace of mind for athletes as well as their loved ones. The device has seen significant upgrades from earlier editions that makes it more reliable, user-friendly, and error-proof. The subscription payment model is somewhat cost-prohibitive for infrequent users, but for those who use it regularly, it’s a reasonable investment.

Features
• Motion-activated tracking in all settings
• Vibration sensor to detect movement and pauses
• Unlimited tracking: tracks are sent until you turn the device off
• Track updates sent at 5, 10, 30, or 60 minutes
• Extreme tracking: can decrease your track rate down to every 2.5 minutes
• Battery life
– Tracks sent for 52 days at 60-minute intervals in continuous tracking
– SOS available for 13 days
• Power source
– 4 AAA Energizer® Ultimate Lithium 8x batteries (L92) or
– 4 AAA Energizer® NiMH reusable batteries (NH12)
– 5v USB connection for recharging
• S.O.S. function contacts GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Center
• Check In sends pre-programmed text messages with GPS coordinates or email with a link to Google Maps to your contacts
• Help/SPOT Assist alerts contacts that you need help in non-life-threatening situations
• Custom Messaging sends pre-programmed messages with your location to your contacts
• Web tracking allows anyone to follow your progress online in close to real time and save waypoints so you can review your entire route at a later date

Deep dive
The SPOT Gen3 is the latest iteration of the company’s personal locator and communication device that utilizes a private satellite network called GEOS instead of the public, international one used by your GPS watches, cell phones, and nearly every other tech gadget on the market. It allows you to send pre-set communications home from anywhere in the world, and to activate an emergency response should a worst-case scenario occur.

OnPack

When they first came to market, SPOT devices were nearly as problematic as they were helpful: the communications were unreliable, the activation buttons were temperamental, and it was far too easy to trigger the emergency response accidentally.

Thankfully, the Gen3 version has significant improvements in all of these areas, as well as enhanced tracking ability and prolonged battery life.

To use the SPOT, you first have to visit the www.findmespot.com website to activate the device and select what service package you want. You will also compose your pre-written messages on the website, and enter a contact list for distribution of these messages when you’re on the trail. After performing an initial system test, the device is ready for use.

The SPOT device is most effective strapped onto the back of your pack, which gives it a clear view of the sky. It also prevents any potential signal interference from a GPS device on your wrist. The device is waterproof, so it’s fine in a rainstorm even if unprotected. Power up the device to begin, and you’re on your way.

There are two methods for loved ones to know your whereabouts: a constant tracking mode that automatically updates your webpage at regular intervals, or a message function that you activate with a button to send your pre-programmed message. Messages can be a standard “I’m OK” or they can be customized in advance to reflect varying degrees of distress. This is where the pre-programing gets a little tricky, because it’s impossible to truly anticipate your circumstances in advance; from our experience, the most common customized message is something along the lines of “I’m doing OK, but taking way longer than I expected. Don’t worry, I’ll make it.”

WebTrack

 

Message

Of course, in a true emergency, you flip the cover on the SOS button, and the International Emergency Response Coordination Center communicates your location to the nearest first responder or Search and Rescue team. Although it’s practically impossible to accidentally activate this button, one great feature on the Gen3 SPOT is that you can cancel the SOS call by pressing and holding the button again.

Design upgrades to the Gen3 SPOT include a separate on/off switch, hard plastic covers on the activation buttons, and improved tactile feedback with all of the buttons on the device. The Gen3 has a new power indicator light that turns on when the device is on, and a USB port that can be used for firmware updates or bug fixes as they are rolled out in the future. Battery life on the Gen3 is more than double that of the SPOT II, and the device can be powered internally with 4 x AAA Lithium or NiMH rechargeable batteries or externally via 5V USB connection.

ConclusionSpot
Extensive improvements in the design, feature set, and performance of the SPOT Gen3 tracker make it a significant overall improvement from its predecessor. The SPOT Gen3 is easy to setup and use, and provides a reliable method to reassure your loved ones or activate an emergency response while you’re out in the wild. The subscription fees add considerable cost, but are more affordable if done intermittently on a monthly basis during periods of regular use. And for those of us who frequent the backcountry but want to minimize the risk and worry, the investment is money well spent.

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About Author

Donald is a physical therapist, California native, barefoot aficionado, and father of three with more than 25 years of experience in endurance sports. He was a collegiate rower at UCLA, then dabbled in marathons and Ironman-distance triathlons before falling in love with ultras in the early 2000s. His favorite locations to run include Marin County, CA, and the Sierra Nevada mountains, and he loves exploring America's National Parks. When he's not training for ultramarathons, he enjoys hiking or slacklining with his family in Monterey County, CA.

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