SPOT2 GPS Messenger :: 54-Day On Track Review
The SPOT2 Messenger is a Satellite GPS Messenger that provides a unique line of communication with friends and family when you want it, and emergency assistance when you need it. Using 100% satellite technology, the SPOT works virtually anywhere in the world, even where cell phones don't – all with the push of a button. This review looks at how the device performed over 54 days on the Bibbulmun Track in the South-West of Western Australia.
- Small, light device: Treat with care
- Use with discretion: Like all GPS Devices it wont work everywhere
- Messages are one way only: No receipt of successful delivery available
- Customer service may be less than satisfactory: Tread carefully
So: Why are we using a SPOT Messenger?
- I wanted something more social than a standard PLB
- I can let selected friends and family, and the rest of the world through social networking links, know where we are up to and that we are OK without getting the emergency services involved and without relying on a mobile phone and coverage.
- I wanted one-way communication: I wanted to be able to contact others without them having the ability to contact me. Getting away was one of the objectives of our bushwalking after all ;).
- I wanted the reassurance of having a PLB-like device in case we did get into trouble.
- I think that the level of PLB-ness that the SPOT provides is enough in the situations we were likely to find ourselves. Note: I do understand that it's not a full PLB, that its battery doesn't last 7 years (but neither does my GPS battery ;), etc etc..
- I wanted the ability to request help from friends rather than emergency services.
- The customisable messages allow personalisation for each owner and/or journey. The "Please Help" message seemed much more like the type of message that we'd be needing in our walking: We've lost our packs and food – please come and pick us up... We've got back to the car and the battery is dead... that type of non-life threatening thing.
The SPOT has four types of messages, apart from the Tracking function (I don't use the Tracking function, as I've a very good GPS that does that):
- The PLB equivalent SOS message
- A "Please Help" message (that doesn't go to Emergency Services)
- A "Check-in OK" message
- A customisable message that I set up as an end-of-day message... "we've set up camp here for the night" type of thing
- Email accounts
- SMS Numbers
- Social Network accounts
Each walk day of our trek (53 days), I sent a Check-In OK message at each scheduled stop. The itinerary was well identified before the walk and was available on our webpage, which allowed people to check our progress: Morning Tea, Lunch, Afternoon tea and the End of Day message at Camp. This framework worked well on our Mittagong to Katoomba walk, allowing me to send emails / SMS to people looking after us as well as posting the messages on Social media for all and sundry so see. It was great fun to come home and see some of the discussion that ensued in our absence...
In my previous review I discuss the other on-line reviews I accessed in researching the SPOT, and there were some basic and important areas that were questioned by other users: Reliability, Usability and Hardiness. I obviously worked through my concerns to purchase the SPOT... So how did it perform over the two months on the Bibbulmun?
I've broken our data down into the three important areas for specific:
- Message Reliability
- The messages have to get through to be any use, surely?
- Battery Life
- It's a small and light device, but if I have to carry a pocket full of batteries I won't be happy.
- The device has to stand up to general, if not a little careful, on-track treatment.
Overall though, I'm am extremely happy with the little device and am more than happy to keep the submission going and to use it in future.
Reliability :: Transmission Success
Obviously, Reliability is the single most important aspect for this type of device, although for the majority of its use its function was not critical, which affected how we used it. Generally I didn't fuss too much with the location when sending: on the track I'd get into a clear space where we'd stopped, but not go too far; if at a camp site it'd be the table in front of the shelter. If I was in a critical situation and in a location that was not ideal I'd definitely adjust my location as suited (if possible).
The manufacturers are at pains to stress the importance of having a clear sky above the device and the correct orientation for best reception. Obviously, this is not always possible, and realistically I wanted to get an idea how the SPOT performed in less than ideal conditions. Over the period of the walk we had to transmit in wildly different areas:
- Heavy canopy forest – Medium canopy woodland – No canopy heath
- Deep in river valleys – High on mountain tops – In the middle of open plains
Over the period of the walk we ended up sending a total of 143 messages (thankfully no emergency or come and get me messages), of which 137 were successfully received and transmitted by the satellites and 6 failed. This 96% success rate is about the same as the 97% I recorded on my Battery Testing.
It's not always easy to discern why a particular message failed. The SPOT does not inform you that the satellite has just failed to receive the message just sent, which is why it is critical to ensure that the SPOT goes through the full message cycle (The results from my Battery Test indicated that 26% of messages failed on their first attempt!). The SPOT does have a degree of redundancy to allow for environmental blockages to the satellite, but I guess you can just be unlucky three times in a row. Canopy and land form probably played a part down in the River Valleys, but it could have been something as obscure as a hut, a toilet and a rock getting in the way three different times.
I've added our unscientific measurement of the canopy to the Transmission Log, which is plotted against the elevation profile, as an indication of what may have been an issue (I wished when I got home that I'd taken a photo specifically of the canopy at each send location... next time maybe?)
During my Battery Testing I managed 200 messages on a set of batteries: so I wasn't expecting to drain the batteries over the two months, though I carried spares just in case (the AAAs are also used in our head lamps). Spares are obviously necessary in times of emergency as well, as the SPOT will transmit continually until the batteries are drained (or the unit reset).
As expected, the single set of batteries managed the entire 54 day walk. The 143 messages being well less than the 150 messages that was my possible swap-out time. I'm not exactly sure how much was left in them at the end of the walk, as I didn't test them.
Next time, I may just trust my calculations more and leave my spares at home and rely on the headlamps for spares if required ;).
- Heavy rain: where I'd set it going, run out and place it on the ground then retreat back to shelter again.
- Seaside: there were many kilometres of beach walking on the Bibbulmun – many messages were sent during a stop on the beach where it was generally windy and always sandy and salty.
- Snow: not this time ;)
- as well as Beautiful sunny & warm weather :).
On Day 4 we had a wee mishap with the SPOT. Having read numerous reviews on-line that complained about the device being fragile and drops causing it to stop working, I was cautious handling the SPOT from the very beginning. Mind you: I was also concerned that I'd forget that it was on the ground somewhere transmitting and lose it too, which led me to always put my hat down first, and then putting the SPOT on top of my hat (my reasoning being that I was much less likely to leave without my hat – although I did in fact do just that leaving Mt. Clare after lunch on Day 42).
Anyway, at morning tea on Day 4 we found a nice morning tea spot just off the track on a wee rock outcrop, so leaving our packs and the FUSE on the track headed to our rocks to relax in the wonderfully warm sun. Unfortunately, the wind caught my hat and the SPOT crashed onto the rocks (~2m fall)! After all the bad reviews the SPOT had received concerning the ease of failing after moderate knocks I was a little worried. All the right lights were working, though from memory, non-functional lights was not the problem with the failed SPOTs, so I continued to worry (without being able to do too much). Later, when we came into phone reception again, we were to SMS Nat for confirmation that the SPOT was still sending and that FaceBook and Twitter were still receiving; Nat's instant reply: "Yes". Which means it only has a couple of scratches to worry about. So although I have no doubts that the SPOT can be fragile, it survived this fall in tact.
When not in use I carry the SPOT in the top flap of my pack, with all the other electronic gadgets. Generally there is not an issue, but more than once I accidentally crashed the top of my pack into over-hanging limbs, rocks, etc. The SPOT was not affected by this or the normal jarring that happens when dropping your pack (accidentally).
Over the period of the walk the two covered buttons ("SOS" and "Please Help") had their decals worn off. I don't think this is critical, but it is a shame.
The only time that I think the worn decals would be a problem is if Sandi had to use the device (as she generally doesn't, although I have trained her), and she forgot which button was which (although they are detailed under the cover as well).
The SPOT2 performed well within our expectations. The 96% success rate, without too much thought for location, is what I'd expect now. Not that I intended to test the hardiness of the device, but I'm also glad that maybe I don't need to be quite so paranoid about its fragility ;)
One small gripe is that the manufacturers changed the set-up of the SPOT-Adventures page and essentially making it SPOT owners only. This probably does make it easier for single sign on, but it also makes it impossible for guests. It's nothing that can't be worked around, and a 'guest' site can be set up on other sites: but it was a shock to discover that all my links were not working :()
The other aspect of the social networking that was a little disappointing was that the SPOT links have a short life. I think it would be much better to have your map link as always available, otherwise anyone accessing old Social Network links get a target not found error.
SPOT Transmission Log
Each of our 143 SPOT Transmissions is plotted below on the elevation profile. The shade of green indicates the density of the canopy, with dark green being the densest and the lightest being 0% canopy. The photograph is generally a photo taken at the time of the transmission, or of the actual location.
Created by • Last edit by on Nov 24 2018