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Reviews > Communication Gear > SPOT Satellite Messenger > Test Report by Chuck Carnes
Initial Report: November 15, 2007
Field Report: February 5, 2008
Long Term Report: April 8, 2008
Name: Chuck Carnes
Height: 6 ft. 0 in (1.83 m)
Weight: 175 lb (79 kg)
E-mail address: ctcarnes1(at)yahoo(dot)com
City, State, Country: Greenville, South Carolina USA
I love the outdoors – I’ve spent time camping in the outdoors since I was born, and have been actively hiking and backpacking since then. I consider myself a lightweight hiker, usually carrying 20 – 30 pounds (11-13 kg) for hikes up to a week in length. I hike at an easy pace, averaging 2 mph (3 kph). I am a one-man tent camper for now. I like to carry a single trekking pole when I hike to help relieve stress to my legs and knees. I like to get out on the trail as often as I can.
Model: Personal Tracker
Batteries Used: 2 AA Lithium
Year of manufacture: 2007
Listed Weight: 7.3 oz. (207 g)
Actual Weight: 7.5 oz. (213 g) (w/ 2-AA batteries)
Listed Size: 4.38 in. (tall) x 2.75 in. (wide) x 1.5 in. (thick)
(11 cm. (tall) x 6 cm (wide) x 4 cm (thick)
Actual Size: 4.2 in. (tall) x 2.7 in. (wide) x 1.6 in. (thick, w/clip)
(10 cm. (tall) x 6 cm. (wide) x 4 cm. (thick, w/clip)
MSRP: $99.99 (USD) [(some features are extra)]
Spot stands for Satellite Personal Tracker. It can save your life or it can save you the hassle of trying to find a signal on a cell phone when you just want to check-in. The Spot uses GPS satellites to provide coordinates of its location. In case of emergency or just a friendly check-in, the Spot is used to relay the location and message to a specific satellite antenna and then to a network which is then passed on to designated messengers in the account. Since the unit uses satellites instead of cell towers, the unit can be used anywhere in the world. The unit is also waterproof to a depth of 3 ft. (1 m) for up to 30 minutes. More technical information can be read on the web site.
I N I T I A L R E P O R TThis is a great electronic device that will come in handy on just about any hiking or backpacking trip. The Spot came in a very nice, graphic covered box and was well protected. The first thing I needed to do was to put the batteries in to see how it worked. As the picture shows below, there are two screws that hold the battery cover on and one screw that holds the clip on. The screw that holds the clip on obviously has to be loosened first and the clip can rotate around out of the way. Then the battery cover screws can be loosened to remove the cover. The screws stay attached to the cover so they won't get lost, and the screws themselves have tiny wire caps so that the screws can be turned with the fingers and not have to have a tool.
November 15, 2007
Once the cover was removed I placed the two Lithium batteries, which were included, into the unit and put the cover back on and tightened the screws. There are two things that I would like to note here. One is the sticker note that is on the cover that has a mirror finish. That note informs the user of how to cancel a 911 or Help message. This was very assuring to me that I could cancel a message since I might have a tendency to hit the wrong button by mistake. The second is the multiple notes of "Lithium Batteries Only" that are seen in black in these two pictures. The manual states that regular alkaline batteries can be used but ONLY if Lithium batteries are not available in an emergency. The alkaline batteries would give the unit enough power to get a message sent but it may not continue to send that message due to the lack of power that the alkalines could produce. I felt like this was very note worthy.
The Spot comes with a manual and some other instructions on how to get an account set up on their web site so all of its features can be used properly. The unit itself is made of a hard plastic material with rubberized sides for better gripping purposes. The unit fits great in my hand as the rubberized sides have small ridges spaced apart for the fingers to nestle down in between them for a better grip. Turning the power on is simply done by pressing the 'On/Off' button once. A green light above this button will continuously blink every three seconds to indicate the power is on. To turn the power of, again press the 'On/Off' button and hold down for three seconds until the light is no longer blinking. Below I will mention the four different functions that Spot offers and how they can be used.
This function would be used in case of a real emergency or life-threatening event and the user is needing assistance from proper authorities. If the user has to use this function, the 9-1-1 button would be pressed and held for at least two seconds. At this time a distress signal and the location of the user is sent out to an Emergency Response Center and to the emergency contact person(s) which the user sets up in the on-line account. This signal and exact coordinates will continue to be sent to an Emergency Response Center every five minutes until canceled. To cancel the call, press and hold the 9-1-1 button for three seconds.
The Help function can be used if the user only needs help from family or friends. The user would have to determine the extent of the emergency to make a decision on whether to use this function or the 9-1-1 Alert. To activate the Help function, the user would press and hold this button for two seconds. The contact person(s) that are listed in the users account will get a pre-programmed message either by text message on a mobile phone and/or an e-mail message. With this message, a link to Google Maps and the exact coordinates of the user's location will be provided. To cancel the call, press and hold the HELP button for three seconds.
The Ok button with the check mark on it is the check-in button. This allows the user to press this button once to notify the contact person(s) that are listed in the users account, that all is well and everything is okay. This is done by a pre-programmed message either by text message on a mobile phone and/or an e-mail message sent to the user's contact list. It also notifies them of the location and a link to Google Maps that shows where the user is at the point of check-in. To get the best performance, the Spot would need to be in clear view of the sky for 20 minutes. The user can not cancel this call but can disable the function by turning the unit off.
Another feature of the Spot that does not have its own button is the Track Progress feature. This feature sends the user's location and link to Google Maps by text message on a mobile phone and/or an e-mail message to the preferred contact(s). It will send this location every 10 minutes so the user can be tracked in real time. (Note: this service has additional fees that may apply) To activate this feature, the Ok button is pressed and held for five seconds. A green indicator light will blink every three seconds indicating that this feature is in use. It will continue to send the location and link every 10 minutes for 24 hours. To continue the tracking, the feature has to be activated again. To cancel this feature the user can turn the power off on the unit or press and hold the Ok button for five seconds. The check-in feature and the track feature are disabled when the Help button or the 9-1-1 button is pressed and activated.
I am excited to use this unit in the backwoods and on all my travels. I hope that I never have to use the 9-1-1 button but it is very nice to know that it is there if I do need it. I will be using the Track feature quite often and will find out what the results are from the contacts that I will set up.
F I E L D R E P O R T
February 5, 2008
I have taken the Spot with me on a couple of day hikes for the first part of the testing series to get a feel for different scenarios and circumstances to see how well it functions in tree coverage that I normally encounter. The two day hikes were to two different locations so that I could test the reception under different circumstances. The first day hike was to Paris Mountain State Park in South Carolina. The weather was very nice, no clouds and the temperatures ranged from 60 F to 70 F (15 C to 21 C) during the hike. The elevation started out at 1,100 ft (335 m), climb to about 1,300 ft (400 m) and back down to the start.
Day Hike #1
At the beginning of the hike, we were under tree coverage as seen here in the picture. I turned
on the Spot and placed it on the hood of my truck while I put my day pack on. Before I set out
for the hike I pressed the 'Ok' button to send a message to my wife's phone to let her know I was okay. I stood there for a few minutes but I don't think it was a full 20 minutes as the manual says to do. I went ahead and set the 'Track Progress' on by pressing and holding the 'Ok' button down for at least 5 seconds. The only thing about this and the other features is I don't know if the Spot is making a connection to send out the tracking until I am home and can verify that with the contact person. So the Track Progress was turned on and I verified that on the Spot by seeing the green light blink every few seconds and off I went. As I hiked the Spot was clipped to my belt on the front of my pants. There was no obstruction except for tree coverage. Most, if not all, of the hike was under tree coverage much like the picture shown here.
On the return home I checked the phone that was supposed to get the 'Ok' message and there was not a message or missed call or any sign that the Spot had made a connection. I also checked the web site that the Spot user can go to and check for tracking and location points and again, no sign of any connections.
The second day hike was to Mount Callahan in South Carolina. The weather was cloudy and cold and the temperatures ranged from 45 F to 50 F (7 C to 10 C) during this hike. This time I started out at an elevation of 3,040 ft (930 m), descended down into a gorge at about 2,100 ft (640 m) and back out to the start.
Day Hike #2
This was a little bit different since I started out at a higher elevation and went down into a gorge. I was curious to see what kind of reception or connection I would get in this instance. I did the same routine as I did before and sent an 'Ok' message and turned on the 'Tracking Progress' feature. This time I added another contact person to have two different contact people. Also on this hike I placed the Spot on the sternum strap at my chest so that it would not have any obstructions in front of it, hoping to get a better signal. I checked for the blinking lights and off I went again.
Again, after returning from the hike and checking with the contact people, there was no message received. I also checked the web site and a tracking message was not received.
My only thought for why the Spot is not making a connection is the tree coverage. On both hikes the Spot was placed un-obstructively in front of me but maybe with the minimal clear area of the sky it would need to be placed on its back so that the front face of the Spot would be facing towards the sky. I am glad that I had the two trips to find out if it was working in my area or not. Apparently I am going to have to go to a much more open area to make sure that it makes a connection and can track my progress. This will give me different options to try for my next phase of testing.
L O N G T E R M R E P O R T
April 8, 2008
As a last ditch effort I took the Spot on another day hike to Julian Price Park in Boone, N.C. The elevation ranged from 3,800 ft to 4,000 ft (1,100 m to 1,200 m). The weather was very sunny with clear skies but the temperature was a brisk 45 F (7 C). The hike was a 4.8 mile (7.7 km) loop that was easy to moderate in difficulty. I thought with the clearer skies, different state and not much tree coverage that I would hope to pick up a signal and make a connection to have the 'Ok' message sent to two different phones and two different e-mails.
Day Hike #3
As I got out of the car at the trail head I turned on the Spot and sat it on the hood of the car so that it could start picking up a signal before we got started. I left it for approximately 15 minutes while I got myself and my kids gear ready and put on. I grabbed the Spot as we headed towards the trail head and I pressed the 'Ok' button to send an okay message. I noticed that the lights were still blinking so that gave me an indication that at least the batteries were still working. Each time I checked it was still blinking green. After about .25 miles (.40 km) or so, I decided to try the 'Track' function. For this, I held down the 'Ok' button for at least 5 seconds and I assumed that it was starting to track my position. From what I understand about this function, the light will shine red for a bit to indicate that the message was sent. As I walked the trail I would check it periodically to see if the red light ever came on. The thing that I don't like about this is that I have no way of knowing in the field if the satellites have connected with the Spot and if any kind of message is getting out. As seen in the picture to the right, this is the sky and tree coverage I had on the whole hike. When I returned to the car I simply turned it off.
After returning home from the trip I check all of the sources that I used to receive the messages and none of them showed any sign of any message from my previous hike. No message was delivered to the two phones or the e-mail address.
For me, the Spot did not work well in the areas that I normally hike. The duration of the test period spanned three different seasons, and I would have thought that the SPOT would have worked during at least one of those. This product seems to be a great effort at putting the user comfortable when it comes to safety and location. I think it is a great concept and I wish that I could say that I could rely on the product but at this point, I can't. Maybe the slight tree coverage that I was in blocked the signals, maybe I didn't carry the Spot high enough on me for it to get a clear signal, maybe there is a malfunction with it. I think if there was a way to know in the field if I was getting a connection or if the messages were being sent, I could have remedied the problem in the field. The Spot has never been dropped or submerged in water and it is still shinning the bright orange color.
* The concept of knowing you can be found if lost or in danger
* The bright orange color
* Fits well in the hand
* Not too heavy
* Never functioned properly
* Not sure if the messages are being sent out
* Not sure if connection is made to a satellite
* Seems to have to need a completely unobstructed view of the sky
This concludes this test series
Thank you Spot and BackpackGearTest.org for this opportunity.
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