You can never under estimate safety in the backcountry no matter what your adventure is and now Spot has you covered with their new Spot X 2-way Satellite Messenger. Stay connected and rest assured knowing help is only a push button away—should you need it. This pocket sized communication device is impressive in size, weight and features.
The Backcountry Skiing Canada Team.
The Spot X is the newest model of SEND (Satellite Emergency Notification Device) to hit the market, joining the Spot GEN 3 and Spot TRACE from the Spot family. Offering 2-way messaging, bluetooth, and several other basic GPS functions as well as an SOS feature, the Spot-X is a testament to just how quickly the backcountry tech boom is changing the way we recreate.
The Spot X 2-way Satellite Messenger is small yet powerful and full featured.
Extra safety and security always sound like a good plan, and SENDs and PLBs offer that option. Many have even suggested they be required for high-risk expeditions to remote areas. However, there are contrasting points to be made about their necessity and functionality. SAR (Search and Rescue) dispatch centers in the US are now receiving a higher percentage of non-emergency or accidental SOS activations from PLBs (Personal Locator Beacons) and SENDs, exposing rescuers to more risk and raising costs. Australia had the highest number of per capita rescue beacons in 2012 - that year only 109 out of approximately 1700 activations were considered real emergencies (The Danger of a Life-Saving Device). While they have obviously saved lives, the fact that some now consider a SEND just as essential as a sleeping bag or headlamp is leading to changes in the definition of an emergency. It is important that providers such as Spot and inReach stress the seriousness of an SOS activation, and equally important that the public accurately understand its intended use.
The difference between a PLB and a SEND is a subscription-based service. PLB’s need to be registered (free) in order to be effective, but do not require annual or monthly fees once purchased. SENDs operate on a private satellite network, requiring monthly fees to guarantee access to those specific satellites (more on how to choose between a PLB and a SEND here). Both Spot and Garmin operate on a network of LEO (Low Earth Orbiting) satellites. Spot uses Globalstar, a collection of 32 satellites orbiting at roughly 900 miles. InReach's utilize Iridium; 66 satellites orbiting at roughly 450 miles. Iridium claims to offer coverage anywhere on the earth’s surface, while Globalstar provides a coverage map with a limited number of there are places where no coverage is available.
The Spot-X offers several subscription plans, both annual and flexible. An annual plan consists of an activation fee ($19.95 USD) and monthly fee ranging from $11.95 USD to $29.95 USD per month with a 12 month term. A flex plan consists of an activation fee ($19.95 USD), a flex charge of $24.95 annually, and a month to month fee ranging from $14.95 USD to $39.95 USD based on usage. These plans offer anywhere from 20 to unlimited messages, tracking intervals ranging from 2.5 to 60 minutes, and unlimited preset messages, check-in messages, and SOS activation.
SOS service is provided by GEOS Travel Safety, utilized by 29 different satellite communicators (including all Spots and InReaches, plus several sat phones and mobile apps) via Globalstar, Iridium, or Inmarsat satellite networks. GEOS operates out of an IERCC (International Emergency Response Coordination Center) providing 24-7 year-round support everywhere except Afghanistan, Chechnya, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Somalia, and Israel (occupied territories only). Spot-X will still receive satellite coverage in most of these areas, however, GEOS is unable to network with local resources to coordinate a rescue. GEOS offers memberships to individuals in exchange for rescue insurance regardless of which device or service plan you are using, however, Spot-X users can bundle a GEOS membership with their Spot-X service plan (normally $29.95 USD/year, $24.99 with Spot-X). This particular plan includes up to $100,000 USD in rescue insurance per year. To view more GEOS plans, click here. To view an example of what happens when you activate an SOS, click here (note: this video is using an inReach, however, the GEOS response is the same).
The Spot-X includes six primary features: the ability to send custom and preset text messages, the ability to check-in, active tracking in customizable intervals, the ability to post directly to a social account, standard GPS functions such as waypoints/altimeter/compass and the SOS function. These are accessed and configured through one of three platforms; the unit itself, your mobile phone app (when connected to the unit via bluetooth), and your Spot account web page. The unit itself has an easy to navigate interface with simple commands.
The Spot-X mobile app is also straightforward to operate.
NOTE: You are only able to connect to the unit through the app; there is no mechanism to connect to your phone on the unit itself. Also, there is no way to disable the bluetooth search function from the unit. The overall bluetooth functionality is embedded and very intuitive.
The Spot Account page is where the user is able to customize available features. Here you can set your preset messages.
And configure any social channels you want to.
And create share pages (a custom link which shows your location, messages, and check-ins on Google Maps).
Your Spot Account is also where you can change your plan, pay your bill, update your software, and set emergency contacts. Once you have configured your device settings simply sync your device via the micro-USB port.
Check-in is a unique shortcut that allows you to send a pre-programmed message to a pre-selected list of contacts (up to 10). This requires one button, and is faster than composing a text or selecting a pre-set.
Here is what a check-in looks like to the recipients (email example).
Pre-set messages (up to 14) can be customized and sent to specific contacts with a few more button clicks. You can also receive messages on your device (without a bluetooth connection to your phone) as your device comes with its own mobile number. If you are connected to your phone via bluetooth, you have immediate access to all of your contacts (including emails).
The Spot-X app messaging interface is simple and easy to navigate.
Messaging from the unit is also intuitive, and allows you to either select from your contacts programmed on the device, or type in a new one. You may also choose whether or not you include your location and/or altitude in each individual message.
Navigating on the Spot-X unit is also straight forward and easy to use and can be seen in some detail below.
Waypoints can be manually entered or set to the unit’s current location.
Spot-X currently does not offer the use of maps on the unit or through the mobile app.
The power button is located on the top right corner and is enclosed in a plastic ridge to prevent the unit from turning on unintentionally. Scrolling and selecting is done through the circular centre button. The left side button is the SOS feature, located underneath a plastic hinge.
The Spot-X is packed with features centered around messaging. There are several different ways to use the device for communication, allowing a large degree of user preference. Check-ins are simple and easy, while one can go as far as creating a Share page and offering a virtually live feed of their trip to anyone with the link. When compared with the inReach Explorer+, most features are identical - even the service plans are similarly priced. Spot-X offers better tracking in their lower-tier plans, and more text messages (20 verses 10), however, inReach offers weather forecasts and free maps uploaded to the unit. Both devices are bluetooth compatible. Spot-X offers more than double the battery life for a 10 minute tracking interval. Both devices offer preset messages, shareable location pages, and GEOS SOS services.
The Spot-X mobile app is cleaner and simpler than Garmin Earthmate (for inReach), which matches the intended use. Navigating and mapping on a phone screen via bluetooth is not supported by the battery life of most smart phones and requires an external power source. By keeping the app simple and centered on the messaging feature Spot-X only relies on optional phone use. The Spot-X unit is slim and light, and the QWERTY keyboard is another feature that facilitates quick and easy communication. Spot-X also includes an SOS test function.
If you are curious about which SEND to get, the Spot-X is the choice for a better messaging experience. Spot’s service plans offer more messages at a lower price, the check-in feature, and more pre-set messages than the inReach Explorer+. If you are more interested in navigation and mapping you may want to continue looking, as Spot-X offers only basic GPS functions. The Spot-X base-unit is significantly more affordable than an inReach, however, so if you carry an additional GPS unit for maps or don't require a dedicated GPS, a Spot-X is an excellent communication tool that can also provide basic navigation.
Price: $349.99CAN / $249.99US
Dimensions: 16.6 x 7.4 x 2.4cm / 6.5 x 2.9 x 0.9”
Weight: 198g / 7.0oz
Battery: 240 hours (10 min tracking)
Bluetooth: 9m / 30ft
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