Rating: 2 / 5
I used the Spot (original version) on a backpacking trip and
a long and fast day hike.
The good news is that the Spot transmits reliably from the
road when placed on my auto dash board. It also worked well
when placed on the ground for 20 minutes with a clear view
of the sky. (I've not used the unit under overcast skies,
however.) Unfortunately, there are lots of bad news.
My unit didn't send anything after being left out, faced up,
for 5 minutes with a wide open view of the sky. I attempted
this about 4 or 5 times during the day hike, and got
nothing. This is a bad limitation for my hike because I
didn't rest for more than 5 minutes at a time. I had a
10-minute lunch, but forgot to set the unit out until half
way through. Sat phones that I have used acquired and
connected to satellites in under a minute, so why does Spot
take so long?
The design is inappropriate for hiking use. These units
don't work well if they are not facing up. This is a bad
limitation because I can't hold it face up while using
hiking poles. My pack doesn't have a reliably flat,
up-facing surface to strap the Spot to. Even if I could
mount it face up on the top of my pack, I'm not sure I want
a strong electromagnetic signal being emitted that close to
my brain every 10 minutes. Although the clip seems to imply
that you can hang it vertically, the manual and my
experience clearly showed it would not work that way.
My unit got the wrong coordinate at a very critical time. I
was doing a one-way hike of the Ohlone Trail (SF Bay Area)
and told my wife I'd exit at either Sunol or Fremont,
depending on where I am when I send the help message. She
was told my coordinates were 99999,99999, which the Google
map said was in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Those were clearly
invalid coordinates, so why didn't the unit try again to
acquire correct coordinates?
The unit eventually sent the correct coordinates, but by
then, my wife was already off guessing where I was. I had
the message sent to her phone, but I'm not sure how one
would easily find my location based on a text message. She
arrived an hour late, but the worst part was not knowing
whether the battery was too weak, the unit was
malfunctioning or maybe my wife had some emergency.
Some of these problems could be easily be remedied by better
feed back from the unit. I'd like to know: Did the unit
successfully send a message? Can I put it away and continue
hiking? Did it get the correct GPS coordinates? A
coordinate display would be extra useful because it would
replace basic GPS coordinate finding. I thought this was a
no-brainer until someone explained to me that the company
considered this feature but did not implement it because of
the added complexity of making the display waterproof. I
still think a display would be worth it.
I hope the second generation device works better.