Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Gear Review: Spot Connect

On this trip we chose to use a SPOT Connect personal locator beacon. On the inside Passage Sarah had an original spot device. The connect was a little different. The reason I chose it, was that I didn’t choose it. It was given to me by someone who didn’t need it. I spent a couple of hours buying a usage plan, and setting it up. 

When you get your new spot connect, you need to go their website to register the device and then pick out a plan. I chose the most basic plan, which was $99. I then downloaded the spot software to my iPhone 5c. The original spot that we used on the IP has three buttons, okay, help, and sos - The Spot connect has only a power button and an SOS button. To do everything else you need to use an App on your phone. Our primary usage was the “okay” feature. Essentially telling our friends and family that we were all right, and where we were. When you go to their website, you create a contact list of people, and then you create message groups, then you apply contacts from your list to the message groups. Then when it is time to send an okay message, on the app you select the message you want to send - okay - and the message group you want to get the message to. Then hit send. 

The spot connect then gets a GPS fix and sends the message along with location info to satellites, which relay the message to SPOT, who then send out the message. It sends the message to the satellites 3 times - it only sends the actual message once, but sends it to the satellites three times to ensure delivery. It waits 500 seconds between sending the messages, which if you can do math is over 8 minutes. Spot recommends allowing the device to run through the three message cycle, which can take up to 20 minutes. 

The real beauty of the connect is also the real reason it pairs with your smart phone. It has the ability to send custom text messages - one way - to the people on your list. This is a nice feature, but I chose not to use it, primarily because I didn’t want to spend more money. The more text messages you prepay the cheaper they get. And if you don’t prepay you can send 5 text messages for free, before being charged one dollar per. 

I didn’t like that I had to keep two devices handy in case of emergencies- though in a real life or death emergency all i needed was the spot connect and I could hit the SOS button. I took to keeping them both in a small pelican case along with a pair of extra batteries for the SPOT. The Spot is waterproof, but my phone is not, so that was always a concern. I also think the spot connect should have all three buttons - okay, help, and SOS - so that if I am not sending text messages I don’t need to worry about my phone. 

In general the spot connect worked fine, but I didn’t like having to use my phone, that paired with the long wait time to send all three messages make this device one of my least favorite tools we used on the trip. If I have a choice in the future, I won’t be using this product. 

It seems that every outdoor company, over time, makes their gear more complicated, with more features - so they can then charge more money. I used the Spot Gen 1 and Gen 2 in the past and they worked really well, but I don't need this ever more complex product line in something that I am only using in case something bad happens. I like the idea of one of the ACR PLB's that just does one thing really well. I wish spot would make something similar. A smaller device, with one or two buttons, that when something really bad happens will get word to the appropriate people quickly and reliably. That is what I want in a Personal Locator Beacon. 

Which brings us to something else that I want. If you are a cyclist you probably know Planet Bike. They make Bike Lights, like this one. Since both Beth and AJ are avid cyclist - both having ridden cross country - they had these bike lights. I asked them to bring them along as emergency signaling devices. AJ chose to connect his to the back of his PFD. These little lights are tiny, ridiculously bright, and inexpensive. They also have several flashing modes, and the battery lasts 50 to 100 hours. 

It is time for Planet Bike to get into the kayak business, because there is no light in the paddling world that works as well as this. With the exception of the C - strobe - which I have used and is a great product! but the battery last 4 to 10 hours is double the size and weight of the planet bike light. I stopped using my C - strobe when it leaked and corroded. - Here are the changes Planet Bike should make. Make it more rounded. Make it water proof instead of water resistant. And what I really want, which even the C - strobe doesn't do, is to have it automatically turn on when submerged. This is what EPIRB's do, so it isn't hard. 

The paddling world is severely under served, and this would be a great first step. 

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