Editor: Cory McLaughlin
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Just the Facts:
SPOT X provides 2-way satellite messaging so you can stay connected to family, friends and colleagues whenever you’re outside of cellular range, including direct communication with Search & Rescue services in case of a life-threatening emergency. SPOT X even provides you with your own personal mobile U.S. number so others can message you directly from their cell phone or other SMS devices at any time.
Exchange messages with any cell phone number or email address from virtually anywhere in the world.
Select from 2½, 5, 10, 30 or 60 minute tracking intervals, and let family, friends and other adventurers follow your progress with SPOT’s easy-to-use Google Maps™ interface.
Built-in compass and programmable waypoints to help you navigate.
Send an S.O.S. to the 24/7 Search & Rescue center, message back and forth about the nature of your emergency, and receive confirmation when help is on the way.
|POST TO SOCIAL
Link your social accounts to keep your friends and family in the know wherever you go.
Quickly and easily let everyone know you’re OK.
ILLUMINATED QWERTY KEYBOARD
240 HOURS (10 DAYS) OF BATTERY LIFE IN CONTINUOUS 10 MINUTE TRACKING MODE
ALERTS 24/7 SEARCH & RESCUE CENTER
RECHARGEABLE LITHIUM BATTERY
IMPACT RESISTANT, DUST & WATERPROOF (IP67)
2.7″ BACKLIT DISPLAY
MICRO USB PORT
This is not my first rodeo with the great SPOT device. I previously reviewed the SPOT GEN3 and I really did love it. This is however my first look at the SPOT X and I chose about the best time in my life to test this bad boy out.
When I opened the box I was instantly impressed with how cool this new SPOT X looked. It looked to be very sturdy and well suited for backcountry adventure. I walked over to my computer and plugged it in to the USB port. I followed the directions exactly and downloaded the firmware updater. I spent the next 15 minutes or so messing with unplugging and plugging the device back in before it was apparent that I was not getting anywhere. I do need to mention that I am not a tech savvy guy and though this seemed pretty straight forward I was not surprised that I was having difficulty. So, I made a call to the customer support line and after a relatively long wait I was connected to an agent.
The next half hour or so was a bit stressful and after downloading several programs and having to switch between two different computers I was finally able to sync my device and activate it. It was certainly a process and nowhere near as straight forward as I thought it would be. I am not positive that this is a SPOT issue but I do remember having a bit of difficulty with my GEN3 as well. Could be that I am just a bit of an idiot but I think that there might be some tweaking that could be done on that side. Anyway, I was soon up and running and it was a good thing as I knew that I had a serious trip ahead of me and I needed to make sure this device was ready to go!
Before I left my house I made sure to put in a power bank and a solar panel charger that I have used in the past. The SPOT X, unlike the GEN3, does not use batteries so I knew I would need a way to charge it. I was not positive I would need it but I had no way of telling how fast the battery would run out and I would rather have it and not need it than the other way around.
When I got to my camp I was 2 miles off the main road and well past 2 hours of gravel roads away from cell service. The SPOT X was going to be my only hope of contact with the outside world. At camp I knew that I needed to send my wife a message as she is a bit of a worry wart. After all I was in the backcountry of Idaho and I was on a solo hunt. The SPOT X was my only lifeline and I knew it as well as she did. The first message I sent was to inform her that I was at camp and all was well.
I left my camp to go on a hunt and it was about an hour into my hunt when I needed to SPOT X again. I had forgotten my regulations and as I sat looking at a spike elk I was unsure if it was legal to shoot it. I used the messenger to text a hunting buddy and have him look that information up for me. I had bulls bugling around me and while I did find out it was legal to kill the spike I thought better of it and waited for a larger bull. I snapped a cool picture of the SPOT X as it hung out with me on my hunt and just before things got really interesting.
I would not touch to SPOT X again for about 40 minutes but the next message I sent was to inform my hunting partner and my wife that I had a “Got One” and it was really special thing to be able to share with them. I was alone and in the middle of nowhere with a tremendous amount of work to do and it was a good feeling to let them know where I was and what I was doing. It left a feeling of contentment in me that allowed me to fully focus on the task at hand. Back at camp I was able to message my wife and tell her that I was safe and that everything was OK.
The next day was a brutal task of hauling an entire mature bull elk from nearly 4 miles deep into the back country. It was really nice to have my SPOT X on hand to let my wife and buddy know how everything was going. The SPOT X battery had drained much faster than I thought it would and so I used my transit time to charge the device.
Another great moment was when I was able to send a message to my wife and ask her to locate a cooler for me as the weather was way to warm and I knew once I got the whole elk to my truck I would need to find a meat cooler. When I hit cell service I was happy to see she had received the message and had a number and location waiting for me.
The rest of my trip was scattered with a few messages coordinating my meet up with my buddy Mark that was meeting me on the night of the 4th day of my hunt. I was able to locate a good camp for us and send him that location and a message to make sure he was on the same page. I used the tracking feature, which now includes 2.5 MIN intervals, and the CHECK IN feature a few times during the hunt as well and while the tracking was really only useful when I got home it was good to know it was keeping track of my journey.
Overall I had a really positive experience with the SPOT X but it was not without its faults. The first of which was the buttons. The keypad looks really cool but the practical application of it is lacking at best. The buttons are hard to push and unless you have thumbs like my 8 year old daughter it is really hard to type messages. I often times used a bullet tip almost like a stylus to punch in my messages. After a while I just sent it with the typos as I figured the people on the other end could make sense of it. Not sure how to fix this but it is less than ideal.
The other issue I had which is actually one that burned me a little bit was that the device would sometimes lose messages. In the preview box I could see the first sentence or so but when I tried to expand it the message simply disappeared. This happened to me a few times and it was a bit frustrating. Additionally the interface with the messaging is a bit confusing. It does not keep a rolling track like a cell phone and each message must be clicked on by itself. The log of messages can get a bit clogged up and become a bit confusing. I had to delete messages often so as to make sure I was staying current on the new messages. This was a learning curve that I wish I had not had to use while in the field. Also, the device does not necessarily update itself and you must manually tell the device to search out any new messages that may be floating in space. This can take a long time. I am told that this is something that SPOT is actively working to fix and the latest Firmware update address these issues.
I want to touch on the battery life. I do not see how the device can get 10 days of use on a single charge unless it is simply turned on and used for tracking in the 10 minutes or greater interval and with little to no messaging. I know that I completely depleted the battery after only one hunt due to a few messages and having to keep manually searching out new incoming messages. As I said before I brought along a charging device so I was able to remedy this issue but without it my SPOT X would have just been a useless brick after my first hunt. That said i have had the device on for the past 15 days just sitting in my truck without tracking or messaging and the battery is still at 3/4 so it is still a valuable tool for S.O.S purposes.
Lastly, I would like to address the dead spots that I seemed to find. The device can do magical things but it cannot do them everywhere. The SPOT X does not like trees and sometimes it does not like open hillsides. I do not know all the science behind how this thing reads satellites but I know that I found my fair share of dead spots while trying to send or receive messages. Just something to be aware of as this could prove to be a major inconvenience if you are hurt or in an area that you cannot easily get out of. Luckily I was informed that in the event that you activate the S.O.S the device constantly sends a ping until you manually turn it off. This should give peace of mind as this should insure your call for help goes out. I chalk this up to the same difficulties that cell phones have and while the SPOT coverage is good it can’t be everywhere all the time. Dead spots happen, that is just a part of life, and one that I am confident SPOT is working every day to minimize.
I feel this is a pretty fair assessment of the SPOT X device and it’s usage in the real world. My overall attitude about this device is that it is better than anything else I have ever used in the backcountry and it is a very helpful tool though it does have its limitations. So, bottom line question is do I think it is worth the money? The simple answer is yes! Can you put a price on your life? I know for myself the annual fees or the new monthly plans are more than reasonable cost when it comes to the peace of mind that the SPOT X provides while traveling the backcountry. I would recommend this product to family and friends without hesitation.
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What can be done better?
As mentioned above i would like to see some modifications to the keypad as it can be a bit difficult to use. After speaking with SPOT it appears that fixes are already in the works for the other issues i mentioned and so there is not need to rehash them. Additionally if you have any input on the device you can long into Findmespot.com and add your suggestions to the FEEDBACK section.