FindMeSpot’s – Spot Connect – Our experience after a trip off the grid
by Troy Saxton-Getty
So who wouldn’t want a device that will let you send text messages from anywhere on the globe?
That is what we thought when we decided to purchase the Spot Connect from FindMeSpot, having owned both previous generations of Spot devices, it seemed a no-brainer to give the Spot Connect a try.
Previous Spot devices we’ve used extensively are ruggedized and self-contained handheld units, the Spot Connect however, is a smaller module that requires you to use your iPhone or Android 2.x smartphone as the control interface. All modes require the smartphone except the Spot Connect by itself can deliver a 911 message. (OK, HELP, Pre-defined and Custom messages require the smartphone Bluetooth connectivity)
These devices are the difference between life or death in the event of a tough situation. Having spent years in Search & Rescue I can’t tell you how quick and easy it is to find someone with a tracking device vs. not having one. A few hundred dollar investment means you can be located within seconds of pressing the HELP or 911 button. A rescue is effort is just the travel time to you. This completely changes many of the risk factors. In fact, most of the folks who organize rides in the desert southwest and Baja Mexico require riders to have them. www.BajaBoundMoto.com and www.riptothetip.com
Recently we tested the Spot Connect with our Search & Rescue group, BajaSAR, on a ride from Tecate on the California / Mexican border which ended in Cabo San Lucas, about 1500 miles of off-road from the top to the bottom of Baja California, MX. Although the 40+ riders and chase trucks have the standard Spot devices, our BajaSAR airplane and Chase Helicopter carried the Spot Connect (in addition to our regular Spot devices)
As you can see by the terrain in the photo, this is a 1000 mile strip of land with very little infrastructure, a perfect place to have hella fun flying, riding and racing and a great opportunity to test the new Spot Connect.
Early thoughts and experience in the real-world:
Using the Spot Connect required you to plan and think about some additional things, first managing two devices, your smartphone and the Spot Connect, meaning, they both have to have enough battery to talk to each other as well as the Spot Connect has to send a signal 22,000 miles into space so it has to be equipped with high-end Lithium batteries.
The folks at Spot are very clear in their documentation for all of their devices, ONLY USE THESE BATTERIES, if you use alkaline, rechargables or other regular batteries, even a fresh pack barely musters up enough energy to send the signal to the tracking satellites, you might be able to get a signal out, but they won’t last very long, in fact, these devices eat batteries, even the high energy lithiums.
Next, all of the Spot devices require you to setup your calling lists via the web from the comfort of your cozy internet connection, it is pretty straight forward, but you should definitely plan to do this before the trip and test it, twice. You will be setting up notification to Text/SMS and email addresses, you can build multiple profiles which make it easy for trips with a list of folks you want to send status updates or ask for assistance from.
With a clear view of the sky you can send: OK, HELP, (Custom Message for Spot 2) or 911, all but the 911 selection update your friends, family and support. 911 updates the GEOS Alliance tracking center if you purchased the annual subscription for 911 worldwide assistance.
All of the devices have a tracking mode whereas once set, they will update your location approximately every 10 minutes, you can share the website map before you depart and folks can follow along with you as you progress on your trek. This however comes at a cost to the battery life. We recommend carrying several spare Lithium batteries in your pack.
Spot Connect requires your smartphone to be charged and connected via Bluetooth as well.
The Spot Connect goes further by giving you a much richer interface via your smartphone with the SpotConnect application.
The Spot Connect application works fairly well, it will not allow you to do anything unless the Spot Connect has an established Bluetooth connection with the Spot Connect device. Once connected, the application is pretty straight forward as you can see below.
If you select Check-in/OK you will see the detailed screen with your additional communications options.
From the Check-in/OK screen you have to pick a contact list to send to: this isn’t easy to do on the fly, you can have multiple contact groups and a contact group can have 1 to 10 people in it, but you have to set it up in advance on the web, there is no way to currently change this while in the app outside of selecting the previously created contact group. Providing you have some form of internet connection you could modify these contact groups after you depart, but during our trip only a few hotels had usable wifi and doing this on the FindMeSpot website over a mobile device isn’t very easy at all.
Additionally, you can add your Facebook and Twitter accounts (setup while you have working internet) once configured, you simply select the icon and your update also posts to one or both social sites with your location detail and message.
A few irritations:
The Contact setup and changes requires internet, I get it, this data is all hosted at Spot and if you don’t have internet, how can you change list members or pre-defined messages.
The App always tries to send the message 3 times, about 10 minutes apart, I get it, the unit has to draw from the batteries and recharge the radio because the transmit requires a big burst of juice… and 3 times is better then 1, however our tests were cancelled after the first transmit, it worked every time and updated my Facebook and Twitter accounts perfectly.
You have to sync the app with your account at least once before you lose internet connectivity
If you have even a drop of connectivity, the application delays while trying to get the contact information from the Web to the app vs. using the sync’ed copy, this results in a time-out in several places in the application.
All functions but 911 offline if your smartphone battery is dead, I would like the other basic buttons, even if it means making it a tiny bit larger.
You can’t receive any messages, but that should have been obvious.
Did we mention these things eat batteries?
Things we liked:
It worked, it let us put up to 41 characters in a custom message each time we decided to send.
It worked from the airplane, helicopter, trucks and bikes while moving along quicky.
Facebook & Twitter integration really worked well, it was easy for friends and family to know where I was and I could post the custom message each time.
Small, easy to carry, lights are easy to see, once you understand the flashing sequence, RTFM (Technical term, look it up)… -g
We really liked this unit, the 3rd generation FindMeSpot device is fantastic actually once you get past the few items pointed out above, but hey, you are in the middle of nowhere and you want to post on social networks, update friends, send a custom message each time, vs a canned message, HELP or OK. This will take a bit of one-time setup, but well worth it.
Carry enough batteries and then buy another extra pack, just in case. Subscribe carefully as there are several options to purchase in addition to the device on an annual basis.
The custom messages aren’t cheap, but its the lowest cost easy way to do something like this… buy the “refillable” option.
Just in case you love this Baja, flying and riding stuff, here is the link to all the pics we took: http://bit.ly/kKt1iz