SPOT Announces New Device: spotX (two-way with a keyboard!)

carbon60

Explorer
SPOT announced a new device, the spotX, that not only does two-way messaging, competing with Garmin InReach, but also has a built-in keyboard.



From my brief read, I see the following key pros:
  1. Finally does true two-way text messaging.
  2. As a built-in keyboard, which is fantastic.
  3. Less expensive than InReach.
  4. Provides a dedicated phone number for SMS. (InReach does not, yet.)
  5. Seems to have incredible battery life.
And cons:
  1. Coverage is not truly global. (InReach on Iridium is global.)
  2. Use with a semi-obscured view of the sky may be more difficult than InReach, but that needs testing.
  3. According to the documentation, it does not seem to allow pairing with a tablet or smartphone, meaning you are forced to use its keyboard.
  4. Lack of external antenna jack. (InReach does not have this, either.)
 

DaveInDenver

Expedition Leader
From what I've seen Garmin's future product will be smaller, lack most buttons and rely on a Bluetooth link to your phone.

I like that Spot doesn't need a phone and part of what swayed me to a Gen 3 was it using AAA batteries. This device is like the Delorme/Garmin stuff, it needs you to bring a USB battery pack or have some vehicle or wall charging periodically. My standard load is a cell phone turned on only daily or so to check for messages, a Spot and an eTrex. I can go a week with one spare pair of AA change for the GPS and only need the barest of minimum convenience stores to find replacement AA for it. I can go a month on a Spot and carrying one spare set of AAA lithium reduces concern to essentially zero for a whole summer almost.

We'll have to see what the battery life ends up being I think. FWIW, this has a slightly higher powered transmitter than the Gen 3 but has no antenna gain (the Gen 3 does have some slight gain). The reason I think they changed was the patch antenna on the Gen 3 has to be oriented facing up to work best, which shouldn't be the case with the X. But the Gen 3 has exceptional battery life (easily weeks on 3 x AAA) and I hope that to be true just doing tracking and a daily check-in on this. I don't like being locked into needing a USB charge, though, even if it does last a couple of weeks by not doing messages much.
 

DaveInDenver

Expedition Leader
Spot Gen 3 on left, Gen 2 on right. These are just one-way tracking beacons, periodically they wake up, get a GPS fix and transmit a short burst message that's relayed by Globalstar's satellites and is posted as a position update.

It can send four pre-configured (you set them up on the web prior to leaving) messages other than beacons. There's no provision to receive a message back at all. No arbitrary messages in the field. That's currently only possible with InReach or using a satellite phone. The SpotX is adding the two-way, arbitrary messaging to Globalstar's trackers.

BTW, the Gen 3 takes 4 x AAA, not 3. That's how rarely I have to switch batteries in it, I confused it with my BCA Tracker, which takes 3 x AAA. I just pulled the batteries in that for the season so it was on my mind.

New-SPOT-Gen-3-Left-and-the-SPOT-II-Right.jpg
 

Joe917

Explorer
We went with the InReach for the two way, so its great to have competition. The Keyboard is no big deal if tou can pair with another device that has a larger keyboard.
Space X will put both of these systems out of business in about 10 years with true global internet coverage.
 

sonoronos

Usually broken down on the side of the road
Is this just a case of Spot finally catching up with Globalstar's sat phone service, or did anything changed on Globalstar's end that opened up the extra bandwidth for unlimited uplink/downlink messaging and two-way texting?

It seems a little weird to me - unlimited 2-way texting on the SpotX for $29.99/month seems to be a pretty good deal - unusually good considering the alternatives in the satellite market. Compared to Sat-Fi plans this seems like a bargain. Unless there's some kind of explicit QOS limitation in place for SPOT that limits the maximum messaging rate?
 
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DaveInDenver

Expedition Leader
Globalstar got their constellation issues sorted. I'm not sure if you're aware, but in the gen 1 satellites they had faster than expected failures of the S-band amplifiers that required them to launch all their spares and accelerate the gen 2 design and launches.

They completed those launches in 2013 and since then have been focused on upgrading the ground network, which had become the bandwidth bottleneck. So I think they now have the capacity they expected to have 10 years ago and I guess now is the time to start trying to develop the subscribers they need to stay afloat and attract investors.

I suppose the risk is that they may turn the lights off if they run out of money. I just recently renewed my Spot when they offered me a $50 one year plan. For that price it seemed like a fair bet. Not sure I'll risk it with a SpotX, though it is everything I want other than not using standard replaceable batteries.
 
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carbon60

Explorer
Globalstar got their constellation issues sorted. I'm not sure if you're aware, but in the gen 1 satellites they had faster than expected failures of the S-band amplifiers that required them to launch all their spares and accelerate the gen 2 design and launches.
Yeah, I was aware, I remember when a friend had their really inexpensive phone, but we had to consult a chart to find out when we could place calls. :)

Have you tested your Spot to see how fast messages go out? I use my InReach to get medical/mechanical advice, and it sucked when it took 20-30 minutes to do a back-and-forth.

Thanks,

A.
 

DaveInDenver

Expedition Leader
Have you tested your Spot to see how fast messages go out? I use my InReach to get medical/mechanical advice, and it sucked when it took 20-30 minutes to do a back-and-forth.
The Spot I have is a one-way device and it doesn't handshake or acknowledge messages it sends. All I can offer is in the informal testing I have done suggests that a transmitted beacon or message is seen and handled within tens of seconds (e.g. posted to my location page or the email sent to my list of recipients).

A successful beacon to update my location is never more than 10 minutes old and the probability of success for them has been around 95% for me. So if a location hasn't made it within 20 minutes it's a failed attempt and will never make it. I have read that the Spot will send a new location and the previous location with each transmitted beacon.

My memory is the device itself only stays in check-in transmit mode for a fixed amount of time and reverts back to beaconing but I would have to test that again to make sure. My assumption is Globalstar knows the probability so for any message other than SOS it will go back to it's sleep/wake/transmit cycle after some time. I'm fairly certain the SOS activation will stay in SOS until you turn it off.

However this I can only verify this if I have Internet service with the Spot app or a web browser. Someone with a Globalstar sat phone would have to offer the latency and reliability of their two-way links.
 
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