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DeLorme/SPOT test

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GearJunkie.com’s Ryan Dionne is reporting live this weekend, June 3 – 6, from the Teva Mountain Games in Vail, Colo.

We covered it earlier this year on the site. But the SPOT/DeLorme lovechild that is the “DeLorme Earthmate PN-60w with SPOT Satellite Communicator” won’t be out until July. At the Teva Games, Gear Junkie was offered the chance — along with a small handful of people in Vail — to give the unit a trial run.

As the story goes, DeLorme, known for its GPS units, partnered with SPOT, a company that makes satellite communications devices, to couple technologies and create a hybrid unit that can send satellite text messages with typical GPS functions. It is touted as the “first handheld GPS navigation device capable of sending customized text messages.”

Spot/DeLorme satellite messenger

In my two days using the units at the Teva Games, both were easy to operate and very intuitive. DeLorme’s PN-60w handheld GPS device allows users to send 40-character geotagged messages to anyone via Facebook, Twitter, e-mail or text message. The linked SPOT device uploaded the text via a satellite connection, where it was then ushered online.

Throughout my time at the Games, I sent regular tweets in and around Vail. (Examples: “About to walk part of the mtb course,” and “Heading to bouldering finals.”) Each tweet had either a link to a map or my GPS coordinates to show my exact location.

SPOT map with “geotagged” Twitter message embedded

During my mountain bike race, I had the DeLorme unit track me in real time. Besides mapping my location, it gave elevation gain, average and max speed, ride time and more data from the race.

To make sure a message is sent, the system transmits messages three times each. The messages are spaced about seven minutes apart. While the message is only sent once to your friends or your account, the other two sends are backups to make sure the message is communicated.

One gripe: For messages, 40 typed characters — the max allowed per message — isn’t much. This is especially true considering that most people are accustomed to longer text messages or 140-character Tweets.

Spot communicator screen

Be prepared to drop some serious cash for the SPOT/DeLorme product. When it comes out, the combined price tag will hover around $550 for the devices plus $100 per year for the SPOT service plan. On top of that, to send 100 messages, it’ll cost $30. Up that to 500 messages and you’ll pay $50. The other option is to pay 50 cents per message.

Price might make this combo unrealistic for the casual outdoors user. But I could see it being great for someone on an expedition or a long wilderness trip. Text messages from the backcountry — or Twitter or Facebook updates — could give loved ones peace of mind when you’re in an area that cell signals don’t reach. SPOT’s satellite network lets you stay in touch — no matter where you are on the globe.

—Ryan Dionne

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