Rating: 5 / 5
I just got the inReach SE today. This review will be added to as I exercise more aspects of the SE. The rating above, a four, is provisional. I had to put in something. So far the device has done what I've tried to do, except for some trouble with the mapping on a paired iPad, probably due to some misunderstanding or error on my part. The BlueTooth pairing was easy and fast.
Out of the box, it turned on, was quickly registered, and started to lay down track points, which were easily viewed on share.delorme.com. I tried sending a custom message to my email account. Worked fine. I received it on the SE almost instantaneously. Then I replied to it. That came back instantly, too.
The very first track points sent, when viewed on DeLorme's site were off a little. Subsequent points appear to be more accurate. One especially, on a well-defined high point was as good as could be.
Due to the known "synch" problem, which DeLorme promises will be fixed real soon now, the addresses that I had entered on the web site were not transferred to the SE. That's why I had to type both address and message on the SE's virtual keyboard. Not fast, but I can do it without going crazy. It will be better when I learn the shortcuts.
Next up, I'll try using the GPS location data from the SE on a third party iPad mapping program. I've been using Maps 3D lately, so that's what I'll be trying. It will be interesting to see whether it can lay down a track with higher resolution than one point every ten minutes (which is the max for SE tracking [using Iridium] on my plan). Maps 3D doesn't use Iridium, so it's possible. When I use the iPad's GPS to track, the track seems to show every step (!).
I will also be trying to send text messages to cell phones of other people and to receive replies from them. I have no reason to expect anything but success.
The display is not easy to read in bright sun, even turned all the way bright and set to a white text on a black ground. In the shade, not so bad.
Current coordinates are not shown on the SE's display. You can see any of the tracking points, however, in History. The awkward workaround to get your current position, is to start tracking. It will create a new point immediately. If you are already tracking, but it has not just made a track point, stop, then start. I think this might make your track discontinuous on your map at share.delorme.com. Not such a big deal. But I think DeLorme should provide an SE screen with current coords, heading, speed, and elevation, since they provide that info on any BT paired device. It wouldn't kill them.
To Be Continued . . .
Text messages to and from a cell phone worked without a problem.
The Earthmate app is not the greatest. A track point every ten minutes, also, is pretty sparce, even for walking if the track involves any complexity. Of course, you can just walk really slow. The topo of my area downloaded looks like Open Street/Cycle Maps, and they are not up to USGS standards. But Earthmate does report current coords, speed, heading, and elevation.
Using Maps 3D, I got a continuous track, as I was hoping. I understand that iOS will turn off an onboard GPS when it gets GPS info externally. This is not the case with Android. I got this both from the DeLorme Forums and, I think, from Bad Elf. There is no reason to doubt that Gaia and other such apps could use the SE's GPS too. You must have Location Services turned on for this to work.
If I decide to supplement or replace paper maps, I will use a 5th gen iPod (or some similar iPod) paired with the SE. It's much lighter and cheaper than even an iPhone 5, only 3.1 oz. but it has the same hi-res display. Using a competent 3rd party map program on the iPod basically trumps any dedicated handheld GPS. Combined weight: 9.8 oz or 278 g. Yes, battery life is a problem.
The lack of synch is a pain. I haven't found any way to type in contacts and preset messages using Earthmate on a paired device, so without synchronization from the user account on their web site, that leaves this kind of data entry only via the virtual keyboard on the SE. Tedious. But, real soon now, they say they'll have synch up and working.
All in all, the SE is doing what it is supposed to do, minus synchronization.
About the plans: I signed up for the middle "Recreation" plan, since I wanted to exercise the SE without paying a lot in fees for tracking and messages. DeLorme has a summer promotion that gives two free months if you register an SE in June or July. That helps a bit. The "Safety" plan would be adequate for someone just interested in, well, safety. That may be me, in a while.
To Be Continued . . .
Message delivery. The SE checks for messages every twenty minutes
CORRECTION: The check message interval is settable from 5 to 20 minutes.
or whenever a track point is transmitted. If the tracking interval is set for ten minutes, then the SE checks every ten minutes. You may initiate a check for new messages by selecting the icon on the main screen that looks like a mailbox with a check mark on it. It does what you guess it would do! The SE also reports the time elapsed since the last check and the time to go to the next check. For the doubting and anxious among us, all this is soothing. Under SOS it checks like crazy, DeLorme says.
Battery life. I haven't had this device long enough to really say. Like so many battery operated electronic thingies these day, the SE reports the percentage of battery capacity left on the status line at the top of the screen. That number declines by roughly one percent per hour, giving support to the notion of battery life in the one hundred hour range. The real numbers remain to be seen. Needless to say, environmental conditions and user practices will have a large effect on battery life. If you are hoarding the battery by turning the SE on only a couple of times per day to send a track point, it could well go for many weeks in standalone mode. If you are pairing it with a BT device and using it intensively and with a bright screen, it would probably die in a few days.
Supplemental battery. The SE can be recharged thru its USB port, so a large number of off the shelf USB battery operated rechargers would work, probably. Also, there are four electrical contacts beneath the belt clip meant for a dedicated power accessory of some kind. DeLorme must have something in mind. In fact, they say so, but they don't say what.
Yet more . . .
I have been looking at the map on share.delorme.com for my account. It happens that there is a big difference in accuracy between the topo, aerial, and road maps. In short, the topo map for my area sucks. Accuracy is excellent for the aerial images and road map. Who would have guessed? How do I know? I went for a drive, tracking. The track points plotted on the topo map do not lie on the roads (I was driving on roads, exclusively). The track points on the aerial photos show which side of the narrow roads I was driving on. The track points on the road map show the track points on the roads. This suggests that the GPS is pretty good. Also, it indicates good performance from both the GPS and the Iridium radios while lying on the dash of a moving car.
Stay tuned . . .
Went on a hike with the SE standalone in the South San Juan Wilderness today. Some of the track points seem to be right on, some less so. All are ok for hiking or rescue purposes. In other words, there are no wild points, and there is no doubt as to which trail I was walking. As always, it's hard to say whether the accuracy of the GPS or the map is responsible for what is seen. The trail can only be spotted sporadically on the aerial, so that's less informative than it was when I was driving on clearly visible roads. It would be interesting to drop the track points on a really good topo, but, as I said, the points are adequate as they are for rendezvous or rescue purposes.
By the way, checking history for the latest track point (recorded every ten minutes) was an easy way to get the current, or nearly current, coordinates. Maybe DeLorme doesn't supply current coords directly to encourage users to upgrade from the Safety plan, which makes you pay two bits for each track point. They are unlimited in the other plans.
The track point elevations are very approximate (plus or minus a couple hundred feet). That is my general experience with handheld GPS device elevations. An aneroid altimeter can be much more accurate, provided that one uses best altimeter practices. I'm a little obsessed with knowing elevations (don't know why), so I do.
Side note: Had a great view to the north of the smoke plumes from the West Fork and Windy Pass fires currently getting a lot of attention around here (the upper San Juan River drainage). Old growth beetle killed spruce is the fuel. Warmer winters don't kill the beetles. Blame the climate, don't blame the beetles.
Paired with 5th gen iPod Touché . . .
The 'Pod paired easily and had no trouble using the SE's GPS data for both the Earthmate and Gaia GPS apps. Gaia, of course, is a far more useful and full featured GPS app than Earthmate, but Earthmate is still useful as a convenient interface to the SE rather than using the SE standalone. Ok, here's a justification for taking the iPod. It weighs 88 g and has a surprisingly good 5 MP camera with number of excellent features including a really good sweep panorama option. It's not the camera my Canon S90 is, but the S90 weighs about the same as the SE. Let's trade them and throw in the 'Pod. For three ounces we've added two-way Iridium satellite texting with emergency dispatch and a very high-res GPS topo map device and have kept a pretty good snapshot camera. I omit mentioning all the other stuff you can cram onto the iPod without increasing its weight by a single electron (yes, I checked this on a scale!).
What's wrong? Nothing for shorter outings. The built-in batteries will not last for longer trips. Here's a possible solution: Energizer makes a USB micro-B tipped charger that is powered by 3 AA Li cells. It weighs less than 5 oz fully loaded and, with a tiny adapter for the iPod, can charge both devices. This is lighter, cheaper, and more convenient than using a solar PV charger. You can buy a lot of AA Li cells for what a solar charger costs.
UPDATE on Energizer charger (Model PP-3AAMC)
Just got the charger and the iPod Lightning adapter. Both weigh much less than I expected. The charger loaded with three Li AAs weighs 90 g (45 g for the cells, 45 g for the charger). The adapter weighs 1 g. The adapter fits in the charger's protective cap. The iPod weighs 88 g.
Does the charger work? Yes, it works to charge both the SE and the iPod. That is not trivial for the iPod, Apple devices being notoriously finicky about charging. What is more, I swapped the Li cells for three Sanyo eneloop NiMH cells. The eneloops charged both devices too. However, NiMH cells weigh a lot more and run at lower voltages and hold less charge than Li cells. For longer trips when a recharger is called for, so are the Li cells, if you have them.
UPDATE on Firmware update
The firmware update went smoothly. Now the SE synchs as planned. I'm leaving the rating for the SE at a four, however. The device itself deserves a stellar five, but the associated DeLorme web sites and the Earthmate app are sufficiently annoying and cranky to keep the over all rating down a notch. This is a very good product.
I've been using the SE for nearly half a year now, and I really like it. I'm used to the cranky DeLorme web sites now. Maybe you can do it too. I've bumped the rating to 5.
Open issue: SOS. Will GEOS really dispatch the right help when you need it? No way to test this without having a real emergency (or getting in trouble with the rescue folks).
Side issue: Apple issued iOS 7 since, and that broke the ability of the Energizer device to easily charge an iPod. The workaround is to turn off the iPod (or, I suppose, the iPhone) and then turn on the charger. The 'Pod will complain, but it will charge.
The recent firmware update installation took two tries, but represents real progress. The most obvious improvement is the addition to the SE's menu screen of a "Location" icon, clicking which gives your current location, bearing, speed, and elevation, all of which we wanted ever since the initial announcement of the SE. Before, you could get that from the Earthmate app on a Bluetooth device, or you could send a tracking point and look at it in "History". Now location is directly available at the top menu level -- good for standalone use.
About the Earthmate app. It's showing its age. Earthmate was written for the early inReach devices, but is out of sync with the SE, both literally and figuratively. I've been suggesting to DeLorme Support that they start over and write Earthmate anew to work seamlessly with the SE. The non-SE inReach users will benefit too. In short, you should be able to do everything using Earthmate that you can do on the SE, plus the map stuff. Having a smartphone type keyboard is nice, but in very cold weather the four-way controller text entry of the SE may work better. You don't have to take off your gloves. Also, delicate little smartphones or iDevices may not work well in very cold conditions. I've tried. My iPod (5th gen) has to be kept close to body warmth in subzero conditions. The SE works fine when cold, a big plus. I keep it (tethered) in an upper outside pack pouch, where it's away from my head and body. There is no significant delay in sending data to the Ir sats, and the GPS data are glitch-free. Lots of sky visible in the Rockies.
With a good new version of the Earthmate app and a cleaned up web site, the SE would deserve highest honors (above the "5" awarded in this review).
UPDATE: June 5, 2015
As detailed elsewhere on this site, iOS 8.3 is incompatible with the inReach. I updated from 8.2, which worked perfectly, to 8.3, and the GPS data stream from the inReach was not available to my iDevice (an iPod 5g), despite being paired via Bluetooth. This is a known problem and applies to a number of other GPS devices paired through Bluetooth. In my case, the problem was solved by going back to iOS 8.2. Be warned. The problem will be fixed by Apple some day soon. The next update of iOS should include the fix.
The current Safety Plan offered by DeLorme includes unlimited Preset Messages. These are pre-written and pre-addressed and include current location. They are like manual tracking points. Almost all the messages I send are Preset. You can define three distinct Preset Messages.
I am no longer using the Energizer recharger which is powered by two prime (throwaway) Li AA cells. Instead I use a lightweight charger/recharger for an 18650 Li-ion rechargeable cell. Same weight, same capacity, but rechargeable. It quickly recharges both the SE and the iPod in the field. Each Panasonic NCR18650A Li Cell weighs 45 g and has enough power to recharge the SE once or the iPod twice.