Field Test: SPOT Connect with Smartphone

By STEPHEN REGENOLD

The sailboat bobbed in swells, our view to land obscured by a thick fog. It was early one morning this spring, and I was sailing along the Californian coastline en route from San Francisco to LA. Beyond cell-phone range, and out of touch with the world, I woke up my iPhone and started to type.

Moments later a simple communiqué was being sent around the Earth — “Sailing this week! Off coast of Calif.” — and with it a notation of my precise place on the planet: 34.00024 latitude, -118.76839 longitude. Further, a link appeared with the message, which was seen on Facebook and Twitter, where anyone interested could click to zoom to a Google map and view in real-time my position in the Pacific Ocean swells.

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SPOT check-in integrated on Google map

Among my arsenal of stay-in-contact communication devices, the SPOT Connect is unique. As described above, this small device links to a smartphone to provide a connection to a satellite network. The phone and the SPOT communicate with each other via Bluetooth wireless signals. Your phone is the messaging device, and the SPOT is the uplink, a GPS communicator device that’s got a line to a network of atmosphere-roving Globalstar satellites.

New this spring, the SPOT Connect costs $169.99 plus a required subscription service starting at $99.99 per year. Functions include custom messaging typed from a phone; GPS tracking; remote connection with social-media sites and email inboxes; and, for emergencies and rescue, an SOS function that uploads your location and a typed message to the GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Center.

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SPOT Connect and smartphone

The Connect device is small and waterproof, and there are only a couple buttons for operation. It weighs about 5 ounces with batteries, and it’s made with a rugged case that can withstand temps to about minus-10 degrees F and altitudes up to 21,000 feet.

It works with Apple iPhones, iPads, and the iPod Touch as well as a variety of phones that run the Android operating system. I downloaded the free SPOT Connect app for my iPhone and was up and running in minutes.

For the sailing trip, before leaving my hotel in San Francisco, I’d logged in on my laptop to SPOT’s site (www.findmespot.com) to designate where I wanted my remote messages sent. I selected Facebook and Twitter, and I also pre-loaded a couple custom messages for quick sending aboard the ship.

Like other products from SPOT LLC that work on Globalstar’s satellite network, there are geographic limits. Explorers in the polar regions are generally out of luck, and much of Africa is “off line.” Big swaths of the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean are cited as having “reduced or no coverage.” But much of the rest of the globe is covered.

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Up close: Screen shot of iPhone on deck of the boat

Aboard the ship off the Californian coast, getting a signal was not an issue. I typed on my iPhone and uplinked as our boat rocked on the water. A tiny blinking LED on the SPOT Connect device signaled a connection to a satellite above and, by extension via the Internet, my remote connection to the world.

—Stephen Regenold is founder and editor of www.gearjunkie.com. Connect with Regenold at Facebook.com/TheGearJunkie or on Twitter via @TheGearJunkie.

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Spot Connect GPS

Posted by David Haines - 06/23/2011 01:33 PM

Super Cool Device! It might be a little overkill for us weekend regional explorers, but for places without cell phone range or for extended trips in the wilderness this makes getting a message to a loved one pretty easy (as you have shown).
Any word if Blackberry users can or will be able to use this device?

Posted by Lisa - 06/23/2011 01:45 PM

Will it also work without the phone for emergencies if your cell phone batteries die?

Posted by Capt. Suz Wallace - 06/24/2011 11:52 AM

Yeah, we’ve been using these SPOT devices for two years when we’re in expedition mode in long distance sailing. Folks back home can follow the race and/or keep track of us girls ‘out there’. I’ve passed this device info on to several expeditionary sailors and they are using them to collaborate with social networking sites/blogs as the high-tech contemporary version of Captain’s Log strategies. Back in 2001, I published my MFA thesis on the history of visual logs and communication tools for global sailors~ Great little device!

Posted by Mac - 06/25/2011 08:55 AM

The Connect will still work as an SOS device without your phone. Only SOS though, no other features work.

Posted by Spot LLC Marketing - 06/28/2011 11:45 AM

Hi folks, chiming in to answer a few questions from the readers here.
@David, a Blackberry version of the app is on our schedule for later this summer. We wish we had an accurate date but it should be within the next month or so.

@Lisa, Yes! SPOT Connect has a standalone SOS button. As well, all of the functions can be engaged on the smartphone and then you can turn off the smartphone to save battery life. This is very useful in Track Progress (tracking mode) for example. This works because the command is sent to the SPOT Connect device via Bluetooth and then the SPOT Connect is in transmit mode with the function you selected. Just to clarify on Mac’s point, yes, SOS is the only function that can be solely activated directly on the SPOT Connect. The rest of the features need to be activated, at least preliminarily on the app.

Posted by Lloyd - 06/28/2011 12:17 PM

I don’t understand how it can communiate with the smartphone device when it is powered down. Also, can you confirm that it will will work with all vintages of iPod Touchs’?

Posted by Eric - 01/05/2013 11:21 AM

Has anyone tried the Spot Connect in South America? With a couple of tours coming up, I don’t want to mess with buying/learning all this only to find out it doesn’t work in the Andes Mountains.

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