Review: DeLorme Earthmate PN-60w with SPOT Satellite Communicator

By STEPHEN REGENOLD

Send a Tweet from the backcountry, track your GPS position anywhere on the globe, text-message a friend out of cell-phone range, or blip out an SOS signal in an emergency situation via a roving satellite network. Those are the touted features of a to-be-released bundled GPS/satellite communicator product from DeLorme and SPOT LLC.

Announced last week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the device — official name: DeLorme Earthmate PN-60w with SPOT Satellite Communicator — is the “first handheld GPS navigation device capable of sending customized text messages,” according to a press release.

The product, available in May for $549.95, requires two separate devices — the DeLorme PN-60w and a small, second-generation SPOT device — that are sold together. They communicate with each other via a Bluetooth-like wireless protocol called 802.15.4. The result is a full deck of GPS tools on the PN-60w along with the ability to send custom messages and rescue notification on the SPOT satellite network. (Cell phone range is not required.)

DeLorme GPS with SPOT.jpg

DeLorme Earthmate PN-60w with SPOT Satellite Communicator

The companies call it a “rugged, handheld GPS and satellite communicator product.” For outdoors users, the two-in-one gadget gives GPS tracking tools and the ability to send messages and waypoints, including live updates to social-networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, Geo-caching.com, or SPOT LLC’s SPOTadventures.com. The PN-60w device has a graphical color display screen and an internal keyboard for typing out communiqu├ęs.

For emergency situations, the SPOT transmitter can work as a stand-alone device to send location-based information to a response center. (The small SPOT unit has just two buttons: On-Off and SOS. The buttons are protected so they can’t be inadvertently triggered.)

A final interesting feature: According to Delorme’s Charlie Conley, the 802.15.4 wireless protocol will enable multiple PN-60w users to see each others’ positions and exchange GPS data and files or text messages in the backcountry. The wireless signal will have a range of up to one mile, Conley said. This functionality won’t be available upon the targeted May release, but will come in a free firmware update potentially by fall 2010.

—Stephen Regenold is founder and editor of www.gearjunkie.com.

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