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Somewear Global Hotspot Satellite Communicator Review

Somewear Labs has shattered the Garmin and SPOT duopoly with a new entry into the satellite communications device market.

The device is called the Somewear Global Hotspot, and it offers a small, lightweight and dead-simple way to turn your smartphone into a satellite communicator for adventures off-grid.


Somewear Global Hotspot

The Basics

The Somewear Global Hotspot uses Bluetooth connectivity to pair with your smartphone. The device is controlled by a very simple and easy-to-use app on your phone.

The device itself is small and lightweight, barely registering on the scale at a featherweight 114 g. For the sake of comparison amongst devices with similar functionality, the SPOT X device is 198 g and the Garmin inReach Mini is 100 g.

The Somewear’s teardrop-shaped housing features an elastic strap that can be used for hitching around a belt or pack.

 

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The device is rated IPX7, which means it can be submerged up to 1 m deep for 30 minutes without water ingress. Basically, it’s waterproof. The finish of the device isn’t the most polished we’ve seen—it looks a bit plastic-y. But hey, if it’s waterproof and impact-resistant and gets the job done, who really cares what it looks like?

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The Somewear device is IPX7 waterproof. Even better, it floats!

Activation

Getting the Somewear up and running is a breeze. This first step is to create an account (or sign up with your Google account), then download the free app onto your smartphone. Once that’s done, fire up the app, and it will run you through a Bluetooth pairing sequence, which is just as easy as holding down the power button on the Somewear for three seconds. Boom, you’re done.

The app looks great, and upon first use it offers a handful of tips, including how to use the S.O.S. function and the best way to position the device (flat, with logo pointed to sky).

User Interface

The app user interface is as clean as a whistle! It’s seriously dead-simple to use. If you’re accustomed to navigating your way through a smartphone, using the Somewear app is a breeze.

The four main functions are: Messaging, Tracking, Weather and, of course, S.O.S. It really couldn’t be easier.

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Messaging

Messaging is straightforward, and works a lot like texting on your smartphone. Either select a current message thread if you’ve got one on the go to continue messaging that person, or start a new message with someone else.

If you choose new message, you’ll be taken directly to the contacts in your phone. I like that Somewear knows that we don’t have our contacts’ phone numbers memorized. You can send a text message to either a phone number or an email address.

Outgoing messages are limited to 160 characters, but you’re used to that from tweeting anyway. If you’ve got more to say, you’ll have to send another. Incoming messages are also limited to 160 characters. Longer replies will be broken up into multiple messages.

When you hit the send button, the app will tell you that the message is sending. Once that is complete, the time the message was sent will be indicated.

When the device receives a message, you’ll get a notification on your phone—which is great. However, when I received a message from my wife, the notification on my phone indicated a message from “Your friend”, rather than the name of the contact. That’s weird. Which friend? Oh yeah, I only have one and we’re married so it should be obvious. But this could be confusing for someone more popular, who is used to seeing the name of the sender in their notification.

One details that I don’t care for is the email notification of all messages. I know I’ve sent and received messages with Somewear. I don’t need a full inbox to tell me so! I imagine the ability to turn these notifications off will be addressed in a future software update, however.

Message Transmission

All satellite communications device manufacturers will tell you that it is important to have a clear view of the sky for good signal transmission.

With the Somewear Global Hotspot, our tests determined that can take as little as a few seconds to a minute or two at times to send a message, depending on location, visibility of the sky and where the satellites happen to be at the moment. That’s pretty standard for a device on the Iridium network, and at this time, that’s the best you can expect.

The Somewear signal seems to be pretty strong. To obscure the signal enough to prevent the device from sending, I had to bury it under a pair of jacket and bibs in the corner of my office inside a metal building. In this case, the device let me know that my message was “Not delivered”, which is pretty important. And it gave me the option to try to resend the undelivered message or just delete it.

Tracking

The tracking feature is straight-forward. To get started with tracking, first select up to 10 recipients from the contacts from your phone. When you turn tracking on, those recipients will receive your location information at set intervals. The tracking interval can be adjusted between 10 and 60 minutes.

Just click the start button to start tracking, and stop to finish. Easy as that. Tracking will drop a pin on your map with the time and your UPM coordinates.

There is one catch. The recipient must create a Somewear account to see where you’ve been. That part is a little unfortunate. In this day of instant gratification, the requirement to create an account and log in to track someone is asking a lot of a person just to see where you are. However, with a recent update, end users can now track your movements via the Somewear app on their own phone, instead of having to log into the Somewear account on a web browser. The tracking feature also allows you to view tracking history, which was not available before.

Another feature that has been recently added to the device software is a new onboard tracking functionality. Users can now trigger location sharing directly from the Somewear device without having to use their phone. This could be useful for a quick activation if your phone is dead. To activate tracking, simply press the on/off switch 3x rapidly on the device. A light will quickly flash white three times, letting you know that tracking has been activated. To deactivate, repeat the process. The device will flash red three times letting you know tracking is off.

In terms of mapping, while your phone has access to the internet, the app streams a basic Google-style map from Mapbox that shows towns, roads, landmarks (peaks and waterways for example), topo contour lines and shaded relief information. Maps areas can be downloaded ahead of time for use outside of mobile service.

Weather

Simply select the “Weather” tab on the app and request a forecast. It couldn’t be easier. The forecast shows the current temperature and conditions and the chance of precipitation. It indicates the time the forecast was last updated.

One thing to be careful about is that when you swipe down on the weather page it will check for a weather update, just like refreshing any other app. There’s no cost if you’re within mobile phone service, but if you’re already off the grid, refreshing across the satellite network will rack up your subscription plan for each refresh.

Upcoming

The upcoming forecast indicates hourly information for the next 24 hours, consisting of temperature, conditions icon (windy, sun and cloud, full sun, etc), sunset and sunrise times and percentage chance of precipitation. It’s not super-detailed weather information, but it does come from the Dark Sky weather API, which is reported to be scary accurate.

This Week

The forecast shows daily information for the next seven days. The information consists of daily temperature highs and lows, conditions icon and percentage chance of precipitation.

S.O.S. Function

To initiate the S.O.S. function, first remove the cap, which prevents the alarm from being sounded accidentally. Then hold down the button for six seconds, and the S.O.S. light will begin to blink.

In the event that help is no longer required, the S.O.S. can be cancelled by holding down the button until both indicators blink. Once the cancellation is successful, the blinking will stop.

And in case you already forgot all that, don’t worry, the S.O.S. instructions are written on the back of the device. That was clever!

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Once the message has been successfully delivered to emergency dispatchers at GEOS Worldwide, the S.O.S. Delivered indicator will light up. GEOS will contact the device and you can start a message thread to provide more information on the emergency and receive updates on rescue operations.

Battery Life

After 26 hours of testing various messaging and tracking, the Somewear device had dropped from full to 77% battery. At that rate, the device should last a little over four and a half days of regular use.

So with regards to device battery life, the fact of that matter is this: you’re going to drain the battery in your smartphone multiple times over before the Somewear battery runs out. And when your phone calls it quits, there goes your messaging and weather forecasts. Thankfully, the S.O.S. function still works directly on the device (and tracking too, now). Unfortunately, with your phone dead, there’s no way of knowing how much juice is left in the device.

Device and App Updates

The Somewear device will let you know when it needs to be updated. All the user needs do is touch the button on the app, and the update will download and install on the device on its own. Too easy!

Somewear takes a software-first approach to upgrades. Their promise is to improve the functionality of the device over time through software updates rather than the requirement of purchasing a newer device. We’ve already seen a couple of updates in the time we’ve had the device. The lastest device firmware update improves the battery life of the device. Another example is the company’s current efforts in revamping the capability of the app to include waypoints and routes in the future.

Miscellaneous Notes

Aside from the actual messaging functionality, I really like that there is some other valuable information available displayed in all modes.

First of all, the display shows the strength of the satellite signal and indicates whether the device is currently “Checking for messages”, “Connecting to satellite” or “Searching for satellite”. That way you’ll know if you need to get the device to a more clear sky—which by the way, has not been an issue. Also, there is a device battery percentage indicator, so I know how much life is left in the device. These are both really great pieces of information to have readily accessible.

One thing to note is that messages do not automatically send location information with them. It’s just a text. However, a location pin can easily be sent simply by hitting the pin drop right next to the message text box. Pretty simple. However, once again, the user will have to create a Somewear account or sign in via their Google account to view the location either with the Somewear app or on a web browser.

Somewear Global Hotspot Review Summary

Basically, what you get with the Somewear Global Hotspot is a lightweight, simple and easy-to-use satellite communications device that features everything you need to communicate from the backcountry. It doesn’t have a lot of extra bells and whistles like GPS navigation or a dedicated device keyboard, but that is all part of its beautiful simplicity.

The device is reasonably priced at $350 USD, which is on par with similar devices from the other manufacturers. The monthly subscription plans are also not exorbitant either, and by purchasing an annual plan, you can actually get the monthly cost down to as little as $8.33 USD/month, which is very reasonable and the cheapest we know of. Otherwise, the basic plan is $15 USD/month. Subscription plans can be put on pause by those who use their devices seasonally rather than year-round.

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For more information on the Somewear Global Hotspot, visit their website at: somewearlabs.com

And stay safe out there this winter!

 

– MS