SPOT X Review: 2-Way Satellite Messenger Device
Mountain Sledder | On 11, Jul 2018
Many sledders are already familiar with SPOT, which is best known for its S.O.S. personal locator device, the SPOT Gen 3. Well, the company has recently released SPOT X—a new, 2-way satellite messenger device. We were lucky enough to have the chance to try one out early on. So here’s our SPOT X review! For more in-depth information on specific features, keep reading below!
SPOT X Review: 2-Way Satellite Messenger
SPOT X uses satellite communication to allow users to send SMS and email messages to any phone number or email address worldwide, without the requirement of mobile phone service. In short—you can text from the backcountry. The device also provides S.O.S. emergency signalling, tracking, navigation, and other messaging features.
2-Way Messaging and Delivery Times
We first tested the 2-way messaging functionality while still in mobile phone service, just to see how quickly it would send and receive messages. Our first few messages took between three and 11 minutes to go back-and-forth between the device and our mobile phone. That’s pretty quick given our experience with satellite communications. This was tested in the middle of a broad valley in the mountains, between buildings and on a partly overcast day.
In general, delivery times for satellite communicators are known to be somewhat inconsistent, and there are many factors that play into this. The first and foremost is view of the sky. They have a hard time sending a signal when there is thick cover overhead (as in a thick forest), so a clear view of the sky is key. Cloud cover seems to play some role as well in our experience, although it is hard to say how much exactly.
With the SPOT X in particular, one factor that affects delivery of incoming messages is the fetch rate of the device. The frequency at which the device checks to see if there are incoming messages can be selected on the device—the shortest interval being 2.5 minutes. However, users CAN choose to manually check for incoming messages at any time.
Messaging in the Mountains
While testing in the mountainous backcountry, our messages took somewhat longer to be delivered. For one, we were sending from a location surrounded by mountains—which did restrict the view of the sky significantly. Also, it should be noted that the device works best with the antenna pointing straight up at the sky. When I had stuffed it inside my backpack, it wasn’t able to send. This of course is not the fault of the device itself—but worth noting that the device might have difficulty sending messages while tucked away.
The long and short of it is this—these devices aren’t phones. They don’t send and receive messages instantly. We can’t expect them to perform with the same efficiency as a mobile phone on an LTE network. It takes some time, and the device must have an unobstructed view of the sky for best performance. However—with a little patience—with SPOT X we can enjoy the convenience and connectivity that we’re used to, even while in the backcountry. And let’s not forget the added level of safety that comes with the ability to communicate with the outside world.
Here are some other points that didn’t come up in our SPOT X review video:
Backlit Screen and Keyboard
The screen and keyboard can be backlit. Simply give the power button a short press to light them up. Works great.
You can only have a maximum of three messages queued up to be sent. You can compose a fourth message, but you won’t be able to select the send option until there is more room in the queue.
In order to share your tracking points with others, you’ll need to set up a SPOT share page ahead of your adventure. Once the page is created, you can share the URL or post it to your Facebook or Twitter accounts. From there, your friends, family and followers can keep track of your movements.
We couldn’t get the compass to work accurately, or manage to get a bearing on the waypoint we synced to the device. We may have incorrectly calibrated the compass, or had too much electronic equipment nearby causing interference, or something else. Not sure. In any case, the navigational tools feel like periphery functionality anyway—in fact, we don’t know why they were even included at all. If this device had been designed to offer full GPS functionality, it would cost twice as much. Just be aware that SPOT X is a communications device—not a GPS.
Yep, it’s waterproof. We dunked it in the creek and used a bunch of the buttons underwater. No problem.
The firmware on your SPOT X can be updated, and it’s recommended that you do so after unboxing the device. It’s a simple process that involves downloading the SPOT updater software. This is the same software used to sync the device with your account.
This feature (which we did not test) can be setup to send a message or email when the device has been moved after being stationary for a pre-determined interval.
SPOT X Review Conclusion
In our limited time that we had with the SPOT X, we were quite happy with its functionality. The 2-way messaging worked well under the conditions we tested it. Users just need to understand that SPOT X isn’t a mobile phone—it doesn’t send and receive messages instantaneously like your phone does. There is some delay as a result of using the satellite network.
The fact that it has a full keyboard is great—it makes it a standalone product. It’s easy to quickly type out a customized message without pairing a smartphone.
And most importantly, it’s got the functionality to send an S.O.S. distress call to emergency services. This is a crucial safety feature for backcountry activities—especially one so inherently risky as mountain sledding.
Finally, SPOT X is very reasonably priced. It is the cheapest currently available 2-way satellite messenger device, and the service plan pricing is on par with other available units.
SPOT X is a valuable safety and communications tool, and for that reason it comes highly recommended as a piece of your backcountry safety kit.