Sunday, June 26, 2011

Gear Review: SPOT Connect

A specific piece of equipment has been catching my eye for at least the last three issues of Backpacker Magazine (funny/pathetic how their advertising gets me every time...). I have wanted a SPOT locator beacon for a couple of years now, but due to my current financial situation as a student, it is one of those many pieces of technology that will need to wait until after I'm done with school. When I saw the advertisement for the SPOT Connect I thought that I had found a better alternative that would give me an even greater justification to purchase such a devise following my graduation, but I'll let you decide which of these two devices is superior.

SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger
For a basic overview of what the SPOT beacon does, check out this post I wrote several months ago. The SPOT beacon is a small hand-held device which allows you to "check in" anywhere in the world (as long as the beacon has a signal from the satellite - caves and many slot-canyons don't). You pay for the device (about $80-150 according to the search I just did on-line), and then pay for the yearly service plan (basic is $100, and goes up from there). You have the ability to check in with loved ones through the SPOT tracker website, send "custom" messages via e-mail (have to set this up with a computer before your trip), inform your contacts at home that you need non-emergency assistance, and then you can also use the SOS button in case of a real emergency.

The Cost: Unit + yearly subscription = two charges. Depending on how many features you want to have access to, the subscription cost goes up. Only one-way communication if this is the only form of communication you have. Even if you are where you would have a cell signal, you won't be able to talk to anyone or text anyone unless you have your cell phone with you.

The Benefit: A peace of mind for your loved ones while you are in no-mans land, and a peace of mind for yourself if you were to be in a sticky situation.

SOS x 2: Cell phone has the SOS button, but the Connect has a button on the side as well, meaning that even if you lose your smart phone or it's charge dies, you still have a way out of whatever dire situation you find yourself in.

SPOT Connect
The biggest difference between the Connect and the Messenger above is an ability to customize your e-mails that you are sending home (also send a customized message along with your SOS so the authorities know what they are dealing with), as well as an ability to send text messages and to update your Twitter/Facebook status. Due to the fact that you are using a secondary device, you have more options and abilities. At this point you can use an iPhone, iPod Touch (HUGE surprise to me when I found out about this), or an Android with a 2.0 or newer platform. You have the ability to use every feature that the Messenger has, but much more. Right now the Connect device is roughly $150, and, just like the Messenger, you have a yearly subscription fee ($99) which will cost more depending on how many texts/e-mails you would like to send.

The video below is very informative, and quite amusing. I don't know who the guys are doing the interview, but the SPOT rep knows what he is talking about (for the most part). Be sure to pay attention to what he says about sending a customized SOS message. I'm not sure if he is being serious or ironic, but it's entertaining nonetheless.

Costs: Instead of only taking one device to use as an SOS when the poop hits the fan, you have to have the Connect AND your iPod/iPhone. If one of the batteries dies on either of these devices, there is no point in having the second one - unless, of course, you have a cell phone signal and can just call out. In addition to having to care for two devices, you are also taking more weight (a minimal 4.5 oz for the Connect) and more space being taken up in your pack. The pictures on-line are deceiving in my opinion. At first glance I thought it was a flat device, but it's not. It is still smaller than a smart phone, but is probably two or three times thicker.

Benefits: All the same features as the Messenger, only much better. If you are able to send a customized message along with your SOS ping, the authorities will know if they are dealing with a broken leg, someone who has fallen in a tough to reach location, or you are being eaten by a bear (which is what the rep said in the video...hahaha, "help me, the bear is almost to my organs as he has already exposed my rips and is working his way through my gluteus maximus"). Having two devices means you have twice the opportunity to get help and send status updates. If you have a cell phone signal on the trail then you can call whoever you want, if you don't then you can just use the Connect features. Almost like having a security blanket on the trail:)

Here is the promo video from SPOT. Although a little cheesy, it's still pretty informative. Does a good job of showing that this device is not just for your backcountry adventures.

The Bottom Line: Although the main purpose for me purchasing either the Connect or the Messenger is for my backcountry activities, they would both be very useful for road trips and really any possible situation. I feel that the Connect offers much more than the Messenger, and will hopefully be an owner of the Connect one day. The up-front cost of the device is a little steep (as with the Messenger), but the yearly subscription ends up costing less than most data plans for smart phones when divided between twelve months.

Here are a few reviews to read if you are interested: One, Two, and Three.