FJ Cruisers of Northern California
I picked up the new SPOT Connect on April 1st from REI. I've been eyeing the SPOT messenger for a couple years and when I saw they were releasing one that works with Android I knew it was time for me to jump on the band wagon. I like the idea of having a device like this to check in when I go into the back country like the Gold Lake Area, but also when I go out on road bike rides I get into areas that have little to no cell coverage.
First impression it is a solid square GPS puck designed to show where you are via the low level satellite system operated by Globalstar satellite network. Once I got it activated and setup (more on the later) it did just that. As a GPS puck it's a no frills device with 2 buttons a on/off button and a SOS button. The rear has a belt hook and there is the ability to pass a lanyard through the top of the back of the unit. The unit is also rubberized with only a little bit of glossly black around the LEDs. The promo shots on the SPOT website show it as a gloss black unit and that is not the case. I like rubber texture personally
This is the living document review that will be updated over time as I use the device more. This will be a long term review that will grow and change over time.
The packing contains
I have to say I'm happy with the minimal packaging so there isn't a lot of wasted materials that aren't needed. That being said there is a user manual for those that are inclined to RTM, but you have to download it at findmespot.com, it's worth downloading and browsing just to get a better understanding of the features.
I have read but haven't tested yet but it looks like you can use the SPOT connect as a bluetooth GPS so on a device like a iPod touch or iPad it would provide GPS. I have a android tablet thatdoesn't have built in GPS and will be testing this at a later date. If this does work it will be a value add for the SPOT connect.
Overall activating the device is pretty easy you just need to make sure you write down the IMEI and the activation number under on of the batteries. The activation web site had no issues to note and is straight forward. At this point you need to pay forthe basic service at 99 dollars a year.Link to services provided
You then need to select the additional services that you want -
This is where I think people will have the most sitcker shock, after buying the device for 149 and some change, you then need to spend a minimun of 99 bucks a year. My package came out to $198 for the services, I saved on the price of the device as I used a dividend I had with REI to purchase it. The pricing on the services will need to be looked at in the future to see if it is worth while in the long run.
Now once the SPOT Connect is activated you need to download the application at the appropriate Market or App Store for either you Android Phone/Tablet or iPhone/iPod Touch(3g or later)/iPad. My review will focuse on Android since I'm not a iOS user.
As of this writting the Android Application I'm using is version 1.0.0 running on a Sprint Evo 4g
Update: I am successfully running the app on a HTC EVO that has been moded with Cyanogen 7.0 so it appears the application runs on Android 2.2 & 2.3.3
Update 1: The software for Android has been updated to version 1.1.1 which incorporated some bugfixes.
IMPORTANT your phone needs to have a network connection when you setup the SPOT connect
When you first launch the application it will pair with the SPOT connect, this is done by holding down the power button until the blue led flashes. I had to do this a couple times and was only sucessful once I went into the wireless settings and made the phone discoverable. Not sure if this is normal but it is what worked and it's not in the documentation.
Once the device is paired you then have 4 screens to choose from.
Most of what you will do to access the device when on or off network is the SPOT tab.
There is a slide for SOS, there is no test for this so unless you need it don't touch it.
The help screen sends a message to a specifc contract group (more on that later)
When you hit the help button a message is broadcast every 5 minutes for 1 hour. It is sent to a contact group or Spot assist provider if you purchased that option.
The Check-In/Ok is the main function for most people, this is where you send a message to one of your contact groups. You have to use a contact group and not a individual person. These groups have to be setup before you go off network. While I understand setting up and syncing with the servers prior to no network conectivity; I disagree with not being able to select just one contact. since you are limited to 10 contact groups with a 50 contact limit per group. You can also setup to ping twitter and/or facebook.
Track progress this will also be a highly used function. Once you enable it will broadcast every 10 minutes for 24 hours or until stopped, SPOT states that only one message will be delivered and the three times is just to make sure the message is received. The phone application does not have to be connected once you enable this. You just need the phone app to enable or disable the function. This goes for the other functions as well.
You can setup a web page that you can share with your friends and family that will allow them to track your progress. I have a friend hiking the Appalachian Trail with a earlier spot device that has this feature and it's nice to see his progress. You can make this page open or only accessable via a password. I took my page link and mapped it to a sub-domain for one of my sites to make it easier to remember when I share it with friends and family.
I'm pretty happy with what I've seen thus far with the performace and the device itself. While the service is a bit steep but not unreasonable, I look at it like insurance I hope I really never have to use it but it's nice to have.
Buy it if you go into areas with little to no cell coverage on a regular basis, or if you have a spouse that wants to know that you made it to camp alright.
Don't buy it if you have issue with paying for service plans year after year.
I have a couple issues with the software
I used the tracking feature to track a 105 road bike ride I participated in. The tracking worked flawlessly. While you aren't going to get turn by turn accuracy since the device is only transmitting once every 10 minutes it is frequent enough to get the overall idea of your path, if you are hiking in might be a little more accurate.
The setup to track was simple turn the device on and access it via the app on you phone and turn on tracking and then you can quit the app and it will continue until you go back in and turn it off the same way or you can power off the device.
A tip on doing the tracking sharing. The URL for the the spot tracking can be long and hard to tell someone without cutting and pasting into a email or IM. So here are two tricks
I'm still working on using the Spot as the GPS via bluetooth to see if it will allow me to have GPS on my hacked Nook Color running Cyangen Mod 7.
PLB is on my list for next year. I've been ocassionaly doing some light reading on PLB's
Like most things, many variables to consider
SOS/Frequency capabilities - NOAA, 911
GPS tracking app capabilities vs. simple emergency PLB homing device
Costs - Spot subscription services vs. no subscription cost for emergency PLB homing device only
Operational Battery Life
I like the spot devices for the consumer end app functionality and GPS tracking but don't like the subscription costs.
I like the simple emergency PLB's with no subscription costs, though higher cost for the device.
I've got it somewhat narrowed down to a spot device or a McMurdo PLB
Subscription cost is definitely a barrier to entry with any of the Spot Devices.
It all comes down to do you want a multifunction device or a single function device.
I've committed to a year with my SPOT connect and after a year if I see the value of keeping it then I will renew or I will sell it.
I see that you can track progress which will be a nice feature for recording progress/trails. Can you tell the Spot to mark a waypoint?
yes and no. when you are doing the tracking it just beacons every 10 minutes.
If you wanted to mark a specific spot you can send a check in, but you need to hang there for 20 minutes since it it tries to deliver the check-in 3 time in a 20 minute period.