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Spot X review, thus far...

DG Rider

DG Rider

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I ride some fairly remote areas where there isn't a hint of cell service, and many times, do so alone. Prep and caution are essential, but there is always the possibility for the unexpected. I have been aware of Satellite trackers/S.O.S. units and their usefulness for years, and at my wifes beckoning, decided to purchase one this past spring. My initial trips were in the 500, but after a scorching summer layoff, i have now picked up again in the new 700. At this point, i have used it enough to get what i believe is a good feel for it and what it does.

In this field, there seems to be two main players: SPOT brand, and the Garmin InReach devices. The SPOT tends to be less expensive, and ranges from a simple SOS device, to the 2 way communication SPOT X w/ built in BlackBerry style keyboard. InReach also has a few different devices, but i am not that familiar with them.
The biggest issue that Garmin fans seem to bring up is that the Garmin uses a satellite system with more world coverage, and reportedly has stronger transmitter power. For sure, a "world traveller" would probably want the Garmin.

When the SPOT X went on sale this summer, i picked one up...

20200718 185500 HDR


Plans range in features and cost. SPOT plans used to be yearly (a major gripe in the older, negative reviews), but can now be done monthly, though cheaper plans may not allow all the features.

Here's what the SPOT X will do:
Allow you to set off a SOS signal that alerts Search and Rescue (and any numbers you have added on the SPOT website) complete with GPS coords. AKA-save your life!
Allow you to send predefined messages (which you can change on the website).
Allow you to type out a message (due to the keyboard) WITHOUT a cell phone.
Allow a "check in" with predefined message (which can also be changed) to be sent to contacts, along with GPS location.
A tracking feature that uploads your location at selected intervals (frequency may be depending on plan), which others can follow on the website, giving them near real-time location.
Allow someone to message your device. The device is assigned a "global phone number", much like a cell phone number. You must manually check for messages, or the device can be configured to check at certain intervals (depending on plan). It also "checks" when you send a message, "check in" or when a tracking point is uploaded.
It has a built in compass, which i've never used.

The whole tracking/message fetch/sending intervals are a balance. The more you do them, the more battery is used. With 10 minute tracking, and typical 4-5 "check-ins", my device uses about 1/2 the battery in a day long ride. Turning these off and using it purely as a SOS device supposedly would stretch the battery life to days, and my experimentation shows this likely true.

What it won't do:
Work where there is no clear view of the sky.
Show maps of the area (yes, people b**** about this NOT being a GPS unit). Garmin does offer a InReach model with GPS mapping.
Replace cell phone texting. Message send time can be 5 minutes or longer.
Replace smart thinking and planning.

So how does it work?

The good:
It (mostly) works. I checked in yesterday from the Gila river valley where nothing but smoke signals could ever get out. My wife got it, and replied a few minutes later.
The stand alone keyboard on the X means if i drop my phone down a mine shaft, i can still construct custom messages.
Its cheap. Got mine on sale for $200. I believe the cheapest INReach is $350.

The Bad:
It mostly works. Which is a nice way of saying it sometimes doesn't work...at least as far as tracking. Check out this pic...

Spotmaps


Notice the yellow circles and the popup to the left. The popup is the time of the ping i've selected, which is the yellow circle to the left. The circle to the right is the next ping...some 40 minutes later! Keep in mind, i have it set to 10 minute tracking, meaning it missed at least 3. This is a powerline road, and is about as open as you can get short of standing on top of some spire in monument valley. I don't know if the power lines affected it, but was still some terrain away from those where it should have pinged.
Also notice the blue circles towards the end of the ride. The ping inside the lower blue circle is actually the 1st one of the day, some 9 hours earlier. The upper is the last one on the way back...again, 30 minutes passed with no more pings. At least 2 tracking pings were missed here. Again, this was very open desert....this time with no power lines. No reason it shouldn't have worked here. NONE!

This seems to be a trend over the last few rides. I have noted in previous rides that i may have had the device in a position where it might have gotten out of position and not worked, so on this ride i (literally) hung it on the rolled up window netting so that the antennae would point skyward all the time, yet the result was the same. The only thing i can think of is that this road is smooth gravel, so i was cruising along...so is it possible the wind blew it back enough to tilt it enough to get the antenna out of position.? In a Pioneer 700 (with a soft top, BTW)? Seems unlikely...and that doesn't explain the powerline trail, which is just that.

To be fair, I've never had a message or check-in that didn't go through (to my knowledge), so maybe some type of priority is placed on non-tracking "stuff", and it just misses them. Honestly, it often pings in areas where it wouldn't surprise me at all if it didn't...and yet, easy places like this powerline road?

Now imagine a scenario where something happens and i don't have time to hit the SOS, like running off in a wash and knocking myself stupid, flipping the machine and putting the SPOT out of position to ping again? 40 minutes since the past ping? Even the lowly 700 can travel 30+ miles in that time, so that doesnt give the best starting point. Would you really trust it with your life?

Other "bads" are that the device is a bit like Windows ME in that you have to be patient because it does stuff slow and is glitchy. I've had the tracking button become unresponsive a few times, and it seems like it prefers not to be bothered for several minutes after power-on. For this reason i turn it on while unloading the machine to give it time to get happy.
"Hard resets" have cured everything that has gone wrong...thus far. Firmware updates can often help, but i've actually had the device refuse to do one. Until i did a hard reset. Strange thing is, the device showed no other issues, so it took me a while to conclude that the reset should be done.

One thing i can call "bad" with certainty is the SPOT X android app that's out there. It (in theory) allows you to control the device from your phone. Typing a message, for example is much easier on the phone. In reality, the app is glitchy, often won't even connect (Bluetooth), and when it does, has the annoying habit of cutting the SPOT off randomly. Maybe a future version will improve it, but in its current form, i don't even use it. If you do, keep an eye on the SPOT, because it won't work when off.

Conclusion:
Works most of the time, and has never failed to send a message or check-in, but the gaps in tracking are worrisome. I will make an attempt to eliminate the possibility of getting the unit out-of-position. If that helps, i will update, but as of now, if i did it over again, I'd pay the extra for the InReach (which i have no experience with) and see what it does.
 
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100Acre

100Acre

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Forgive the momentary hijack but, I love my Garmin InReach Explorer! I had the earlier one originally put out by Delorme and switched to Garmin once mine finally ceased to work. I got about 5 good years out of it and many 100’s of backcountry miles. It’s 1st use was over landing and then I switched to the 500 back in 2017. This new one has over 8,000 miles of travel on it. Only on an extreme rare occasion while trail riding did it not show a trail where I was riding but always shows where I was. I even got lost once Trying to follow a paper map on the Centennial Trail in Idaho but because of The InReach , I found my way out. It was $450 last year at Cabela’s and you can suspend service when not travel and lowest I paid for monthly service was $14.00 per month. It also has Tracking, an SOS switch and text. Last thing, I keep it charged while riding via 12 volt socket. Never regretted buying it. Ever.
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B0B3A246 F10B 479D A04E 4A3BEBEBBD2C
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DG Rider

DG Rider

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I'm starting to become convinced that powerlines disrupt the signal.

Yesterday's map, same area. Same route from staging, and back to staging on the last pings. The lines are "drawn" in by the mapping app to connect the pings, and are not the true path. The time between pings causes it to look wildly varied, but The actual path only varied slightly near Cochran road.

Spot2



Now look at the right side and notice the pings become pretty consistent. Much of what you see in the circle is in canyons or deep washes, where i wouldn't be too surprised if it didn't work, yet for the most part, it did. Some of those cross under the big 1.21 jiggawatt lines as well, but it doesnt stay under lines like the powerline road back to staging, which pretty much follows the lines exactly.

Next time i'm in this area, I'll try sending some "check In's" (The green checks you see) under them.
 
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CID

CID

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SPOT pings are 10 minutes default. By upgrading service I got 5 minute pings. My GPS track log, on the other hand, pings every 82 feet. I have the SPOT for search and rescue and use a GPS's track logs for seeing where I actually rode since it has so much more resolution (82 foot pings vs 5 minute pings).
 
CID

CID

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This is my Gen 2 SPOT at 10 minute pings. I haven't been out with the new SPOT X, so nothing to share.

I T69Wqsb X3
 
DG Rider

DG Rider

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SPOT pings are 10 minutes default. By upgrading service I got 5 minute pings. My GPS track log, on the other hand, pings every 82 feet. I have the SPOT for search and rescue and use a GPS's track logs for seeing where I actually rode since it has so much more resolution (82 foot pings vs 5 minute pings).
I have mine set on the default 10 for riding. If I were hiking, I'd probably do 30 minute pings or something. I believe the lowest 2 settings (5 and 2.5, I think) are disabled on my plan, but I didn't see the need for them.
 
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DG Rider

DG Rider

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  1. 700-2
Yesterdays ride. Kinda confirming that the powerlines may be disruptive. Worked pretty well, and most of the gaps were in some deep canyons/washes where i can see it having trouble. Were also some sections with lines as well...

Spot3
 
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Backwoods

Backwoods

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@DG Rider I don't want to ask a stupid question but can you back track your way out eith those.
 
CID

CID

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@DG Rider I don't want to ask a stupid question but can you back track your way out with those.
No, as far as I know, you can't see where you've been on the SPOT, you have to view it on a computer. The Delorme might have a GPS driven map but the SPOT doesn't to the best of my knowledge (would be glad to learn otherwise).

Even if it did, the 10 minute pings are so coarse that you won't be able to track your way out, it's just a crude outline.

I T69Wqsb XL
 
DG Rider

DG Rider

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@DG Rider I don't want to ask a stupid question but can you back track your way out eith those.
No, as far as I know, you can't see where you've been on the SPOT, you have to view it on a computer. The Delorme might have a GPS driven map but the SPOT doesn't to the best of my knowledge (would be glad to learn otherwise).

Even if it did, the 10 minute pings are so coarse that you won't be able to track your way out, it's just a crude outline.

View attachment 231751
Agree with @CID. Not really useful for that unless you were doing 2.5 minute pings and hiking, and even then it'd be a very vague guide.

But...as I mentioned earlier (and @100Acre demoed) Garmin makes a GPS/SAT S.O.S. in one unit.
What you are referring to is usually called a "breadcrumbs" feature or a tracklog. Any cheap mapping app can do that on your phone. Heck, google maps may even do it. Of course, if you don't have service, you got no maps, but remember, you don't necessarily need a map to backtrack if you're lost. All you need is the path.

Many of those apps will cache maps to your phone, so you have them, even with no service. That's actually what I use. US TOPO maps app on an old S6 my sister in law discarded when she upgraded.
 
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DG Rider

DG Rider

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  1. 700-2
PSA:
At this point I think I've concluded fairly certainly that power lines seem to disrupt the signal. So if you're going to crash or have an emergency, try not to do it under power lines.

Also... On spots website there's a bar you can click to deactivate SOS for testing the unit to make sure the SOS signal works. It is recommended you test this before you begin to use the unit. While I've been messaging on it for months, I have never actually tested this feature. So today I decided to do this.

On the page you'll click deactivate and it tells you you'll see the text message confirming the SOS signal. I clicked this right under the bar where entered my email.
The only thing the little window did was sit there with the deactivate button highlighted, even after clicking it a few times...so I'm like okay... Guess that's all it does.

Went out in the yard, hit the SOS button, and watch the messaging come up on the spot telling me it will continue to send signals every two and a half minutes. In the meantime I'm waiting for an email saying that the SOS have been received...

And then I get a phone call...from GEOS, saying that my spot had sent an SOS signal and asking me if I was okay. Nice!
The lady on the phone said that sometimes even when deactivated the spot SOS signal makes it through the system. I apologized, she laughed and said no big deal. Deactivated the SOS powered off the spot, went back in the house, and refresh the page that I was on. Click deactivate again, and this time it went to a new page telling me the device SOS had been deactivated, blah blah blah. So, as with like much spots software, the web page glitched out and simply didn't send my deactivation request through. I also got an email saying that it had been deactivated this time.

So, for reference, if you try this on the website you will get a confirmation page that's different than the one you click deactivate on, and you will get an email confirming it. Unless you want to talk to GEOS, wait on these before you test the SOS function.
 
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