Saturday, May 28, 2011

SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger Review

If you are a regular reader, you know that I have been out cycling a lot over the last couple of months. I tried to put in my long rides in the company of my trainer partners, but that didn't always work out. Most of the time, I try not to think about, what could possibly happen to me while out on the bike, but I am not acting completely stupid either and normally have my Road I.D., a cell phone and some pepper spray with me. The most important thing for me to have on me is my cell phone, but once you are up in the mountains, you can pretty much forget about reception. And if I would really spill one day and would lay in a ditch, who knows, when the next car comes by to find me and put that Road I.D. on my wrist to good use.

A couple of weeks ago, I read a post over at DC Rainmaker (if you like gadgets that come with our sport, this is the blog to read!) about the Garmin GTU10 satellite GPS tracker. I don't think, I ever heard about satellite GPS trackers and if I did, I don't think I would have thought that would be something useful for me before the whole preparation for AOMM.

After doing some research in the field and reading several reviews, I actually didn't end up buying the Garmin tracker (even though, I normally do love all things Garmin), but went with the SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger instead. The reason for it was mostly the price point for me and that the SPOT unit communicates with search and rescue in emergencies (I still have that Appalachian Trail hike in the back of my head... One of these days...) and lets you send messages to a customized user list.

I got the "adventure kit" version from REI (currently not available on their website) and the package included: 

  • 15 percent Discount code off SPOT Basic Service activation
  • Form-fitting SPOT Messenger Flotation Case
  • Micro PICO(TM) Lite LED Flashlight by eGear
  • Safety Whistle
  • Carabiner Keychain
  • Durable Lanyard 
  • Case with Arm Strap
  • SPOT Safety Tips Bandana 

Obviously, this is made for the real adventurer and maybe, at one point, I will be able to utilize this, but usually, I am not that far away from the beaten path.

The unit itself is the size of my palm and pretty light weight. It is powered by two lithium batteries and according to the manual, the battery life is pretty darn long. I can't say anything about this quite yet.

According to this map it has reception pretty much all over the world.... Of course, so far, I don't have much experience with this, but during my Mount Mitchell ride, I had reception for the most part. The only time, where the unit had some trouble was the tree covered section on Hwy 80.

Now for the functions: The unit has six buttons (easy enough) and I am just copied the description from the official website since I could hardly explain it better.

SOS: Use this function In the event of a life threatening or other critical emergency to notify emergency services of your GPS location and that you need assistance. The GEOS International Emergency Response Center alerts the appropriate agencies worldwide – for example contacting 9-1-1 responders in North America and 1-1-2 responders in Europe.
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Help: In the event of a non-life threatening emergency, you can use this function to notify your personal contacts that you need assistance. Additional SPOT Assist services can be purchased and programmed to your Help button as well. When activated with SPOT Assist, the Help button will notify professional services either on the land or water. SPOT has partnered with national service providers to offer non-life threatening assistance.
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Check-in/OK: This feature allows you to let your friends and family know that all is OK with a pre-programmed message along with your GPS location. With a push of a button a message is sent via email or SMS to up to 10 pre-determined contacts and your waypoint is stored in your SPOT account for later reference. Your stored waypoints can be easily integrated into a SPOT Shared Page or SPOT Adventure account.
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Custom Message: This feature allows you to let your friends and family now receive a custom message along with your GPS location with a push of a button. Use this feature as a secondary OK message or transfer your personal help alert to this message function if you are using a SPOT Assist service on your Help button.
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Track Progress: This feature allows you to send and save your location and allow contacts to track your progress in near real time using Google Maps. With your SPOT account you have the ability to set up a SPOT Shared Page which allows you to show your SPOT GPS locations to others on a Google Map.
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Once you get the SPOT in the mail, it has to be set-up first. In order to work, you have to buy a basic service package (for which there is a discount card in the adventure kit) in order to use the functions like the messaging to your contacts and S.O.S. To be able to use the tracking feature, you have to pay another yearly fee. I added the tracking feature, because this way it is possible for others to locate me (even if I don't send a message) by checking my shared page, that I set-up previously.

While getting the unit activated was a quick and easy process, customizing the contacts and the shared page is not very intuitive in my opinion, but eventually I managed to get it done. 

This is a screen shot of my shared page with the last 30 miles of AOMM. When you click on the picture to enlarge it, you can see, that the tracking doesn't follow to the road, but connects each submitted location directly. You also see the long straight shot from Marion up to the intersection Hwy 80 and Blue Ridge Parkway during which the Spot didn't get a signal due to the trees. I guess, if I had stopped for a little at a spot with less trees, it wouldn't have been an issue to get a quick signal for another location submission.

And if you have a closer look at my AOMM finisher pic, you can see the SPOT strapped to my bottle cage that is mounted on the seat post. I had one little scare, when the case slipped off the bottle cage and the SPOT was only hanging on the lanyard, but fortunately we noticed it and I had a rubber band (what are the odds) with me, so I was able to secure it better.

Overall, I am happy with this purchase so far, even though I didn't have a ton of chances to try it out. It'll certainly will be my companion for future rides, especially the ones that I do alone. Just a little piece of mind for me and the hubs.

1 comment:

  1. this is cool! i was wondering how you had personalized "tracking" for aomm. glad it worked well and that you didn't really *need* it (for an emergency).