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Best Satellite Messenger of 2016

If you are hiking out in the backcountry and you find yourself in an emergency, what do you do? You cannot pull out your cell phone and call for help if you are way outside the range of coverage. At times like these, you need a satellite messenger—a handheld transmitting device designed for sending your coordinates or short messages to family, friends, or local emergency responders.

If you are thinking about buying a satellite messenger, you will discover there are only a couple of choices:

  • DeLorme inReach
  • SPOT Messenger

Compare them quickly and easily in the table below.

DeLorme inReach SEDeLorme inReach SE
SPOT Gen3SPOT Gen3

How do you decide which of these two units to purchase? Before you can pick the right satellite messenger for your needs, it helps to know more about these handy devices and how they work. The right satellite messenger can literally be a lifesaver.

What is a Satellite Messenger?

A satellite messenger is a GPS-based device built specifically for backcountry use. With it, you can transmit your coordinates along with short text messages.

While a satellite messenger is similar to a personal locator beacon (PLB), there are some important distinctions between them. A PLB is only for use in the most dire emergencies, and sends its signal straight to first responders. A satellite messenger can be used to contact friends and family, not just the authorities. You can use it for less urgent emergencies, as well as for sending trip updates.

So say for example you have sprained your ankle hiking and you want a friend to pick you up. You could make it back to your car on your own, but you simply do not want to. A PLB would not be appropriate for this situation, but a satellite messenger would be perfect for getting in contact with a friend or family member to come and get you.

How Does a Satellite Messenger Work?

Another difference between personal locator beacons and satellite messengers involves how they work. A PLB uses the military network of satellites, whereas satellite messengers work through commercial GPS (Globalstar or Iridium).

Questions to Ask When Shopping for a Satellite Messenger

Do you really need a satellite messenger, or do you need a PLB?

Before you go out and buy a satellite messenger, be sure that is really the device you are looking for. If sending text messages is important to you and you want flexibility in terms of use, you probably do want a satellite messenger. But if you do not need those features and you just want a quick way to call first responders in a worst case scenario, a PLB may be a better choice since locator beacons do not require a subscription.

Which satellite network do you want to use?

SPOT uses Globalstar, which covers most of Earth’s land masses. DeLorme uses Iridium, which covers 100% of the planet. Pick your network based on the locations where you will use your device (if for example you will be in sub-Sahara Africa, you cannot use Globalstar). Which network is more reliable? It depends on who you ask. Do your research and draw your own conclusion; right now there is no firm winner.

Do you need two-way communication?

Some devices offer this (like DeLorme InReach SE Satellite Messenger or DeLoreme InReach Explorer), but others (like SPOT 3 Satellite Messenger) do not.

Features and Add-Ons to Look For When Shopping for a Satellite Messenger

Battery life

DeLorme: DeLorme devices provide you with around 100 hours of battery life, and are powered with lithium batteries.

SPOT: SPOT also uses lithium batteries, but they last longer—around 150 hours.

Device and subscription cost

DeLorme: DeLorme devices are more expensive to purchase, ranging from around $250-$400. Subscriptions start out at $11.95 per month and range up to $99.95 per month, depending on the features you want. You can pay month to month as needed, or sign up for an annual plan for ongoing cost savings.

SPOT: SPOT devices cost less to buy, around $100-$150. You will pay $149.99 per year to use SPOT. You can sign up for a monthly plan, but it requires a 12-month contract, so essentially you are going to pay for a year either way.

Reliability

Both SPOT and DeLorme are highly rated in terms of reliability by users, but there is no way to say at this point which is the clear winner. You will find a lot of customers who swear by SPOT’s network and others who insist that DeLorme’s is superior. You will need to make up your own mind, but whichever device you go with, you should be in good shape.

Size and Weight

DeLorme: DeLorme devices are heavier than SPOT. The DeLorme InReach SE Satellite Messenger weighs in at 8.18 ounces, while the InReach Explorer weighs 7 ounces. The InReach SE Satellite Messenger is also the largest, measuring 4.8 x 2.8 x 1.7 inches.

SPOT: The SPOT 3 Satellite Messenger measures 3.4 x 2.6 x 1 inches and weighs just 4 ounces.

Extra Features

DeLorme: DeLorme devices tend to include a lot more bells and whistles than SPOT. InReach includes a digital compass, accelerometer, barometric altimeter, odometer, email, and topographic maps.

SPOT: SPOT has no two-way communication and no smartphone interface. This is a bare-bones product designed with simplicity and ease-of-use in mind. It can send four messages, each using its own corresponding button: SOS, Help, Check-In/Okay, and one custom message button. You have to pre-program the custom button on the SPOT website.

As you can see, there are a lot of distinctions between DeLorme and SPOT. Both offer you the basic functionality of a satellite messenger, but DeLorme’s devices definitely offer more in terms of extra features and versatility. There are also more plans to choose from, though on the whole DeLorme is more expensive than SPOT. Weigh your own needs and priorities and choose the device which will offer you the best bang for your buck.

SPOT Gen3: Provide Your Rescue Team With Detailed Info

SPOT Gen3Sometimes a simple beacon just isn’t enough. With the SPOT Gen3, you can provide your rescue team with extra info they need to make the best decision possible if you ever find yourself in need of help.

Good

  • Rubberized shell. If you manage to survive the accident, so will the SPOT Gen3.
  • Small size. The Gen3 is ultra portable and small enough to fit in your pocket.
  • Excellent battery life. A single charge will last for at least 100 hours.
  • Fast signal acquisition. The SPOT Gen3 only needs a few seconds to determine where you are.
  • Four message options. You can send a simple “I’m OK” message, a custom message, a help message or a SOS emergency distress signal.
  • Your sent messages reveal your location. Every satellite ping leaves a breadcrumb that rescuers can use to help determine where you are.
  • Water resistant. As long as you keep USB port closed shut with the stopper, the SPOT Gen3 does a great job of resisting water.

Bad

  • Many people who bought this device had billing issues. Surprising charges often appeared on SPOT Gen3 customers’ credit card bills.
  • The SPOT Gen3 is pretty energy efficient, but other GPS messengers have even better battery life.

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DeLorme inReach SE: Send Messages Via Satellite Without Paying a Fortune

DeLorme inReach SEFans of the inReach SE love this durable, energy efficient, reasonably priced little GPS communicator. GPS messaging services are usually quite pricey. The DeLorme inReach SE, however, is quite affordable.

Good

  • Excellent durability. Like most satellite messengers, this one is built to survive the worst kinds of accidents and disasters.
  • Good battery life. Even if you use the inReach SE all day long, its battery will only be halfway drained.
  • Great support. It’s obvious that the DeLorme customer support team believes in this product.
  • Send and receive messages anywhere. The inReach SE allows you to send a message to anyone, anywhere in the world without paying a ton of money to do so.
  • Communicate with rescuers. Text messages can provide rescue teams with way more info than a plain old SOS.
  • Quick registration. The entire registration process will only take up about 10 minutes of your time.
  • Reasonable price. The inReach SE’s usage fees are way less expensive compared to most other satellite communication services.

Bad

  • The 160 texting character limit places a limit on the type of info you can send out.
  • The inReach SE’s keyboard takes some getting used to. Its keys are cumbersome and stiff.

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