Forum Index » Editor's Roundtable » SPOT2 Personal Locator Review and Extensive Field Test


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Jon McConachie
(hyker) - MLife

Locale: Sierra Nevada
Testing data types on 12/01/2010 09:17:17 MST Print View

Regarding playing with the buttons... please do not test the Help button either, it could also initiate a SAR response.

Using tape to help block the hot buttons from being bumped on points to further improvements that the manufacturer could make to the device.

Steven Clark
(sclark58) - MLife

Locale: Costa Rica
PLBs vs SPOT on 12/01/2010 10:18:53 MST Print View

>The disadvantage of a PLB is that the only thing you can do is request urgent assistance.

Now, there is www.406link.com which takes the PLB's self-test and sends an "OK" email to one whomever (Plus service - you get 5 whomevers).

I would like to hear more from adventurers using PLBs. As I understand it, SPOT uses the same (low orbit) comm sats used by sat phones (I've had limited success with sat phones). Whereas, PLBs use the 406 MHz capable of penetrating tree/cloud canopy to SAR sats directly (no 3rd parties).

The ACR 'SarLink View' has a GPS coordinate window too.

Right now, I'm a shopper, not a user (of any of these tech) - so I would appreciate learning more from you guys.

Thanks, Steve
Living the "Pura Vida" in Costa Rica - where tree and cloud canopies are the norm.

Steven Clark
(sclark58) - MLife

Locale: Costa Rica
Re: Re: Position display on 12/01/2010 10:27:58 MST Print View

LCD displays can freeze, but LED do not. SPOT III?

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
avalanche beasons on 12/01/2010 10:59:42 MST Print View

some reputable ones use displays ... if it was really a huge issue i dont think theyd be using them ,,,

Rick Dreher
(halfturbo) - MLife

Locale: Northernish California
Re: Delorme GPS with SPOT anyone with experience. on 12/01/2010 11:36:28 MST Print View

Hi Shontelle,

For anybody who wants to carry both a GPS and a SPOT (or other emergency device) they're a viable option. With Delorme I've only used the older PN20 in the field. It has very good sensitivity and a good feature set, offset by clunky controls and menus, and ponderous response on the go (i.e., slow screen refreshes while moving).

Playing with the newer Delorme models convinces me they've addressed the speed and processing issues, making the PN60 series technically a very good GPS that's the equal of other top handheld models. Of course whether one likes the display, menu system, controls and general shape is a very personal thing--some will prefer Garmin, Magellin, etc.The Delorme maps are pretty good and they offer satellite imaging, which adds a whole other dimension to backcountry navigation uploaded to a GPS (although it cries out for a larger display).

But pairing with SPOT sets the PN60w apart from everything else, significantly enhancing SPOT with the personalized texting. This SPOT unit is much smaller than even the SPOT2 and takes only two AAA cells. It can also be used as a standalone unit, but will only send an SOS by itself.

The pair retails at a high price but I've seen it for as little as $350, which seems attractive to anybody who happens to be in the market for both a GPS and a communicator.

Here's a PN60w review that includes a link to a review of the SPOT unit.

http://gpstracklog.com/2010/11/delorme-earthmate-pn-60w-review.html

Cheers,

Rick

Edited by halfturbo on 12/01/2010 14:21:35 MST.

dallas shewmaker
(dallasshewmaker)

Locale: Southwest
SPOT Reliabilty on 12/01/2010 12:07:34 MST Print View

Some good/bad comments from the perspective of someone who owns a lot of both SPOT 1 and 2 models - my company has rented them out since they first came out a few years ago.

These units are valued by those at home much more than those in the field - they are lot more worried about safety than the user is.

We've never had any problem with the web portal setup, although maybe we're just used to it since we apply it so much.

We rarely get complaints about reliability in the field, but when they go out, it's a 100% failure - working fine one minute; dead the next. SPOT 1 was as reliable as SPOT 2 in our experience, but SPOT 2 captures a signal a lot faster.

SPOT customer service has been pretty good and responsive, but there's only so much they can do.

The units are frequently lost by the user - be sure to use a lanyard. The belt clip isn't that secure. Despite worthlessness in the hands of another, they are also occasionally stolen.

Test contact emails and cell phones at home before leaving on a trip. Assume some percentage of OK messages are not received, so send at least 3 or 4 a day to better ensure daily receipt at home. There is no pattern to when they aren't received (open clear sky may not complete; a canyon transmission may complete in 2 minutes). Absolutely tell contacts that absence of a message does not mean anything is wrong.

Leave the SPOT unit on for at least 20 minutes for every message transmission effort.

The HELP button has limited practical value - most users are not in a location where a friend or family contact can actually help them out. We suggest using that button as an alternative message conveyance, with a interpretation protocol established with the contacts before the trip.

The SHARED PAGE function showing the cumulative tracks seems to be preferred by those at home over the periodic message postings.

The button text on the unit wears off quickly.

The contacts you list for the 911 setup should be levelheaded and knowledgeable about your trip - they are going to get a call from the monitoring station first when the 911 rescue button is pressed.

In those rare cases where a renter has placed a 911 request, they were in fact rescued in a reasonable time, so the system does work.

Rick Dreher
(halfturbo) - MLife

Locale: Northernish California
Re: SPOT Reliabilty on 12/01/2010 12:10:20 MST Print View

Wonderful feedback and suggestions Dallas, thanks so much for sharing!

Cheers,

Rick

Kathy A Handyside
(earlymusicus) - M

Locale: Southeastern Michigan
SPOT2 Personal Locator Review on 12/01/2010 12:53:45 MST Print View

In three more years, I will retire and plan to move to either Oregon or Washington state. I live in Michigan and going from a flat state to a mountainous state will put me in very new terrain and conditions to learn about. I am also a solo hiker (none of my friends are into the outdoors), and given these two factors, I am very interested in the SPOT2. Thank you for such a good review and for the information on something that I think I should have for my new hiking life out west.

Daryl Hawkins
(dlh62c)
HELP Button and SAR Response on 12/01/2010 15:30:20 MST Print View

'Regarding playing with the buttons... please do not test the Help button either, it could also initiate a SAR response.'

It will if you have it configured to do so. I used the 'HELP' as a sort of poor mans tracker before I purchased the 'Track' option. It would drop a 'HELP' flag every 5 minutes along my route. But I always forgot to repress it after 1 hour.

I modified my contacts page so I didn't cause any undue distress for my loved ones.

daryl

Edited by dlh62c on 12/01/2010 15:45:11 MST.

Scott Bailey
(Smbailey) - F
Re: SPOT2 Personal Locator Review and Extensive Field Test on 12/01/2010 16:50:47 MST Print View

During a 2 week trip last July on the Sheenjek R. N of Double Mountain Sat Phone signal was spotty. Waited up to 4 min for lower strength signal acquisition-when there was one-on open tundra bench above the river. During a hike up Pk. 5040' N of camp we stopped at a small notch facing S @ the 3500' level. Signal was all bars with minimal wait time.
Not sure how above operation would impact battery life of the SPOT2 in any of the operating modes.

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Re: SPOT2 Personal Locator Review and Extensive Field Test on 12/01/2010 17:04:18 MST Print View

"During a 2 week trip last July on the Sheenjek R. N of Double Mountain..."

What state or country or locale or lattitude?

Edited by greg23 on 12/01/2010 17:51:37 MST.

Jason Brinkman
(jbrinkmanboi) - MLife

Locale: Idaho
On the fence about SPOT 2 on 12/01/2010 17:13:53 MST Print View

I would echo the posts of Steve O and Bob R - I have seen a lot of online reviews (that appear to be firsthand accounts) warning of message failure, unit failure, and poor or rude customer service from the SPOT folks. The REI reviews are a great example of this.

Counter to that is the experience of a frequent hiking companion of mine who owns a SPOT 2. His is one of the recall replacement (refurbished) units. On the trips we have done together, it has performed flawlessly. He reports it always works that well.

Now adding to the positives is BPL's glowing praise for a pair of Post-Recall SPOT 2's, even giving them a Highly Recommended rating. Plus BPL now reports a better web interface, despite others here who still malign the SPOT website useability. I didn't see any commentary on customer service.

So I am left more conflicted then before. I would like a messenger like SPOT 2 for reasons Amy noted, and for the comfort it would bring my family and friends when I am in the middle of the wilderness for a week or two. But I am really not anxious to invest in or depend on a device for this manner of communications when it has so many critical reviews floating around.

For now I guess I will keep doing it the old way - leaving a detailed trip plan and renting a sat phone when I am on prolonged solo trips.

Alan Dixon
(alandixon) - MLife

Locale: Mid-Atlantic
Re: On the fence about SPOT 2 on 12/01/2010 17:55:36 MST Print View

>I didn't see any commentary on customer service.

We had no cause to use customer service. The units operated as described and we had no problems.

Nor did we have difficulty using and web interface. We used the full gamut of message types, email address, SMS messages, shared web pages, exported trips to GPX, CSV, and KML fies, exporting them to SPOT Adventures, making adjustments on the fly to each others accounts mid-trip, etc., etc.

Amy has a very cool 3D Google Earth version of her Pyrenees trip that she created from the SPOT2 output.

Russell Adams
(rradams@q.com) - F
website on 12/01/2010 18:08:28 MST Print View

Not sure why people say the website is unusable. I get on from time to time and have had no difficulty doing what I need to do.

Also I do believe people have problems with their Spots. As mentioned it is an electrical device and can fail. In addition, after you factor in all the different locations and environments it is used in, it is understandable why people have different experiences.

I bought mine with an expectation of performance and was prepared to return it if not satisfied.

Danny Milks
(dannymilks) - MLife

Locale: Sierras
Cost of Spot2 on 12/02/2010 09:17:51 MST Print View

I wanted to see if there were any discounts on SPOT2 and found it for $104.96 on Amazon with free shipping. That's a pretty good deal.

Still, it doesn't help the $100/year contract.

Keith Selbo
(herman666) - F - M

Locale: Northern Virginia
Re: Re: Re: Position display on 12/02/2010 09:46:39 MST Print View

"LCD displays can freeze, but LED do not. SPOT III?"
I had the opportunity to test a low temperature LCD display for a product I designed. It didn't freeze per se, it just changed more slowly as it got colder. At minus 40, it was unusable for my application because the seconds display took more than a second to update which made for a jumble. A GPS readout that updated at a slow rate, say less than a minute would be legible at -40. I think that would cover most applications.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Re: Re: Position display on 12/02/2010 14:38:16 MST Print View

Yes, most LCD displays get increasingly sluggish as the temperature dips to the point where digit changes kind of blur together. That can be mitigated by placing a heater behind the display, but that requires battery power. If you leave the whole unit inside your coat for a while, it can operate, but it won't do a good job of transmitting or receiving signals inside your coat.

--B.G.--

Frank Deland
(rambler) - M

Locale: On the AT in VA
SPOT in use on 12/02/2010 22:06:57 MST Print View

I have used the SPOT in Yosemite and on the AT in the VA woods when cell phone reception was no available.

Here is what my wife saw at home in MA when I stopped by this area of Yosemite. Zoom in and the name of the lake appears. As I was hiking along the PCT just before I sent the message, I passed two Park Rangers hiking along with a hiker who had become ill on the trail. Even thought the Rangers carried a satellite phone, they had found it unreliable. Their connection had been dropped.

http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&geocode=&q=37.99367,-119.41841&ll=37.99367,-119.41841&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1

It had been raining when I sent the following SPOT Ok message from this campsite in the woods along Virginia Canyon in Yosemite:Virginia Canyon forest

http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&geocode=&q=38.03432,-119.33882&ll=38.03432,-119.33882&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1

I sent a test message from my backyard. Zooming in, one can see the arrow on the exact spot where I was standing. My house driveway and garden are clearly visible, as is the spot on my lawn where I stood. I think the SPOT is a great device.
I a lost hiker had both a cell phone and a SPOT, the contact person could zoom in on the location of the lost hiker and tell him which way to travel to safety. A lost hiker in the woods could be very close to a trail, or a lake or road, etc. he cannot see.

Edited by rambler on 12/02/2010 22:32:51 MST.

Jason Brinkman
(jbrinkmanboi) - MLife

Locale: Idaho
Re: Re: On the fence about SPOT 2 on 12/03/2010 13:21:33 MST Print View

I appreciate the reply Alan.

If I were to get the SPOT 2, I would hope not to need their customer service either, but their reputation is so bad that it's actually weighing into my decision on whether or not to get their device.

I am glad to hear of your positive experience with the web interface - that helps.

Ultimately my decision on when to buy one of these devices is affected by how fast the technology is moving. I suspect we are within just a year or two of a moderate-cost device that will allow custom text messages. The Delorme PN-60W with separate wireless SPOT pod is already there of course, but by my count that's actually two devices. I am looking for one.

Dean F.
(acrosome) - MLife

Locale: Back in the Front Range
User error? on 12/05/2010 14:18:02 MST Print View

Wow. I have been using the SPOT2 since it came out (I never had a SPOT1, I waited for the improved unit) and have been impressed as hell with it. Having read this thread, I started looking up these scathing reviews.

I'm sure there are people who have had a bad time with their SPOT2- as was mentioned they are electronic devices and electronic devices sometimes fail- but at least a few of the more scathing reviews of the SPOT2 were written by people who really don't know how to use the device. I found a couple that seemed to indicate that the user was expecting instantaneous transmission, and they were saving battery life buy leaving the unit off, turning it on to send an OK, and then turning it off again long before the 20 minute transmit window. No wonder they didn't like the transmission reliability!

Heck, I can only recall half a dozen or so dropped messages from my unit in the past year- and they were all points on the Tracking feature, not "real" messages sent by pressing one of the buttons. (FYI- I've been hiking in Colorado, not "Kansas.") As I said, I was actually expecting it to work much less reliably than it actually does, having read a lot about SPOT 1.

Anyway, I suspect that a decent percentage of those bad reviews represent user error, not a failure of the device. You can fix a device, but you can't fix stupid. (Just kidding- I actually made the same mistake. I would send a final OK message when i got back to my car, but then turn the unit off soon afterward to pack it in the vehicle, and noticed that those final OKs never went through, so I read the manual more closely.)

Doubtless, some failures are real, too. As I said, electronic devices fail. But I've generally been very impressed.

What I cannot speak intelligently about is SPOT customer service. My only experience in that area was returning my original device for the recall. I returned it immediately when the recall was announced (actually, before I'd ever used it in the field) and as near as I can tell I did get a new unit in exchange. And it arrived much more promptly than others described- about six weeks- but perhaps that was because I was one of the first people to send it in for exchange.

All of the stories about rude customer service reps and problems canceling the service do sound distressing, though. Especially since I need to cancel my service, as I'm leaving the country for the next year and won't be able to use it.

Edited by acrosome on 12/05/2010 14:43:55 MST.