Mobile phones are a godsend when it comes to being able to stay in touch with friends and family mostly anywhere on the planet. I say “mostly” because there are spots where your mobile phone just won’t work. This is because there are areas where there aren’t any cell towers to transmit signals and that’s why we also have ways of communicating via satellite instead. You need a special device though to use satellite communications such as the SPOT X and SPOT GEN4. These two SPOT products provide a line of communication when you travel beyond the boundaries of reliable cellular signal and let friends, family, and colleagues know you are safe, and god forbid if you need emergency help.
For starters, let me explain first what the SPOT X and SPOT Gen4 are. They are both satellite communicators and GPS locators, but they do so in different ways. Starting with the SPOT Gen4, this is a simple 1-way communication device. You can only send information from the SPOT Gen4, such as simple messages, location check-ins, and S.O.S. in case of emergencies. Now the SPOT X can do the same but includes a backlit 2.7″ display and backlit keyboard. This allows for 2-way messaging and more advanced features like navigating with a compass and programmable waypoints.
Both are handy in a pinch and ultimately it’ll be up to you to decide which is right for you.
The SPOT Gen4 is a rugged, pocket-sized device that’s roughly the size of a deck of playing cards. It’s mostly plastic with rubber accents and you’ll notice there’s no display on it. Instead, you’ll interact with the SPOT Gen4 using a series of buttons you’ll find on the front. Three of these buttons are easily accessible while two of them are “locked” away under protective flaps so you don’t accidentally push them by accident.
The three easily accessible buttons are tracking, check-ins, and custom messages. Basically the check-in and custom message buttons are to let those on your contact list know that you’re still OK. This is good if you’re in an area where there’s no one around, such as the woods or up in the mountains. The tracking button allows you to enable map tracking so that you and your loved ones always know where you are.
That brings me to the two buttons that are hidden away under flaps. The first button is a help/help s.o.v. which will send an alert to specific contacts that you need non-life-threatening help or roadside assistance. The second button is for more life-threatening situations where S.O.S. is needed. This button sends an S.O.S. to the 24/7 GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Center and provides them with your exact GPS location coordinates so that local response teams can find you and send help. This is why both these buttons are protected from accidental presses because the last thing you want to is cry wolf.
The SPOT Gen4 is powered by 4xAAA batteries. You’ll need to unscrew the back plate to get to where the batteries go so I recommend always having some kind of multi-tool with you if you’re venturing into the great unknown. Don’t forget those extra batteries either.
The SPOT X is their top of the line product and for those who need a 2-way messenger, this is what you’ll want. The SPOT X has similar features as the SPOT Gen4, but has more due to the inclusion of a 2.7″ display and keyboard. Upon first glance, this looks very much like past generations of the iconic Blackberry devices, just thicker and more ruggedized.
It’s made of very hard plastic and coated in rubber around the edges. It’s mostly all black aside from the bright orange accents around the display and keyboard. You’ll also notice the giant antenna on top that gives the SPOT X a walkies-talkie like appearance.
Up front you’ll find a couple buttons aside from the keyboard and navigation buttons. There’s a button that looks like a shoe print, which is used for tracking (adds points to SPOT’s cloud-based mapping system). There’s also a flap here not unlike what you find on the SPOT Gen4 which when lifted, reveals the S.O.S. button. This again is used only for life-threatening emergencies and also sends an S.O.S. to the 24/7 GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Center.
Note that the SPOT X is also rechargeable and does not require batteries.
The rest of the features are reached in the software. You’ll need to use the navigation buttons to move around eight different choices. Here you can select messages, create messages, contacts, check-in, track/fetch intervals, fetch new messages, navigation, and system settings. It’s very simple to use and the display is very easy to read in bright sunlight. When it gets dark out, you can tap the power button which will turn on the backlighting.
What makes the SPOT X different from the Spot Gen4 is the ability to not only send messages but also receive them. In combination with the SPOT X mobile phone app, the SPOT X can pull your contacts from your phone via Bluetooth connection.
The SPOT X and SPOT Gen4 will not function without activation. That means that out of the box, they’re a bit useless until you activate them on the SPOT website and choose a SPOT Service Plan. Service Plans come in 2 flavors. There are the contract plans and there are the monthly flex plans. Contract plans are for year-round usage (12-month service plan) and start at $11.95/month. Flex plans are month to month subscriptions and start at $14.95/month. Both plans require a $19.95 activation fee. While the flex plans seem like it might be great for seasonal use, note that there is an additional $24.95 flex charge every year if you decide to go this route.
Both the SPOT X and SPOT Gen4 have Basic plans available with the SPOT X also having Advanced and Unlimited plans. Each device has its own structure on how it allots messages, check-ins, and tracking, so review these plans carefully. Note that there are also additional services not included in the plans that can be added for additional fees.
Service is provided by Globalstar.
The SPOT X and SPOT Gen4 appeal to a certain type of user. Your average, everyday person most likely will never need something like this nor those who maybe occasionally go camping or hiking. This appeals more to those who spend very long periods of time out in the middle of nowhere where cell signal just doesn’t reach. For instance, out in the desert, in the woods, on mountains, or even on the wide-open ocean.
The only downside to these devices is that the service plans seem a bit steep especially if you don’t plan to use this very often. If you do plan on using this a lot, then they’re not bad really if you opt for the contract plan.
With that said, the SPOT X and SPOT Gen4 are perfect for those who are away from family and friends for long periods of time and need a means of staying in contact. At the very least it allows them to let people know where they are and that they are safe. It gives them that peace of mind just knowing because nothing is worse than not knowing.