With the Gen4, SPOT introduces its first update to its satellite GPS messenger line in 7 years. We took it out in the wild to see what changed and what improved.
An excuse to disconnect is one of the most compelling aspects of a trip into the wilds. Still, the ability to check in, track location, and, in a pinch, summon help, remains critical for serious adventures. The SPOT Gen4 one-way GPS Satellite Messenger marks one of the latest solutions.
The Gen4 is the newest model in a long line of satellite messaging tech from SPOT. In terms of functionality, it’s virtually identical to its predecessor, the Gen3. They both offer GPS tracking and outgoing satellite messaging. But the Gen4 marks SPOT’s first upgrade to the line since 2013.
And while much of the Gen4’s enhancements are cosmetic, there are a few noteworthy upgrades in the tech that enhanced my experience during a 2-month test this fall. Read on to learn about the key features that separate the Gen4 from other GPS satellite messengers.
SPOT Gen4 Satellite GPS Messenger Review
- The gear: SPOT Gen4 Satellite GPS Messenger
- Price: $150 (now on sale for $100)
- Service plan: $12-18 per month with an annual subscription
The most obvious difference between the Gen4 and its predecessor is the aesthetic. Despite being slightly heavier (5 ounces instead of the Gen3’s 4 ounces), the Gen4 comes in a squarer package that felt less bulky in my pocket. It also includes a new strap and a locking carabiner that makes it easy to strap to a pack.
At 3.5 inches tall, 2.7 inches wide, and 0.9 inches thick, the new, mostly black device is sleeker, albeit less noticeable, than the bright-orange Gen3. One downside of this look is that it’s easier to forget about and leave behind at camp, which I did during an alpine start on one occasion and had to backtrack a mile to retrieve it.
Another design tweak with the Gen4 is its increased IP rating of 68, meaning it’s about as water- and dust-resistant as most modern smartphones.
The Gen4 features two basic options for outgoing messages — a custom message button and a check-in button — both of which can send pre-programmed, custom messages and coordinate via email or text to two sets of up to 10 contacts.
The upside to having both is the ability to send different messages to different sets of contacts. So for example, I could send an “I love you” note to my girlfriend and simultaneously send “you’re missing out!” messages to friends who bailed on the trip.
On the other hand, you can’t customize messages and contacts on the fly; they must be preset from an internet-capable device before entering the wilds. Also noteworthy, though obvious: The Gen4 can only send messages, not receive. For a two-way messaging device, upgrade to the SPOT X with Bluetooth.
Like its predecessor, the Gen4 allows users to log and share waypoints in near real time. The tracking interval can be preset at 2.5, 5, 10, 30, or 60 minutes, and coordinates can be shared with a preset list of email and phone contacts, who can follow your trail using the Shared View on SPOT Mapping.
Another nifty feature is the ability to set up alerts that auto-send when movement is detected after a dormant period, or upon entry and exit of a specific area.
Say, for instance, you’re stuck at base camp waiting for the weather to improve before attempting to summit. When the window finally arrives and you rush out for an impromptu send, the Gen4 can notify contacts that the mission is underway.
SPOT released a few improvements to its mapping software in concurrence with the Gen4, offering more shareable, robust data capabilities through the online interface. The SPOT Map, which can be viewed in “Live” or “History” mode, is now mobile-device friendly and allows users to store data for up to 3 years after a given trip.
With this increase in functionality comes a more complex interface. Don’t skip the tutorial during setup like I did on my first trip with it, or the mapping system can seem intimidatingly cryptic.
In a non-life-threatening situation where assistance is needed, this button allows you to request help from a preset contact list without triggering an emergency rescue.
For $3 extra per month, it also enables roadside assistance, sharing your help message and location with nearby professional transportation services. It’s a welcome option for a pavement-bound mission.
This is the most important and (hopefully) least-used button on the device. A touch of the SOS button alerts the GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Center (IERCC), which then notifies the appropriate emergency responders based on your GPS location and personal information.
This is the “eject” button we love to have but hope we’ll never need. It’s equipped with a protective covering to help avoid false alarms.
Thanks to a vibration sensor that allows the Gen4 to track and send location info only when the device is in motion, the Gen4 is able to save battery when not in motion. This translates to industry-leading battery life that SPOT claims will last for roughly 1,200 check-in messages, or 436 hours when set to 10-minute tracking intervals.
It runs on four AAA batteries that come with the purchase and embed beneath its back cover — this requires a tool (penny, knife, or flathead) to remove.
What I’d Like Better
My biggest issue with the SPOT Gen4 was the inability to adjust settings on the fly. This is more of an operator-error issue, as I’m by no means a tech guy, and the learning curve with the mapping software and tracking setup felt steep to me.
But after a few rounds of trial and error, even I was able to dial it in. Like most things wilderness-related, it’s all about proper preparation.
SPOT Gen4: The Takeaway
The Gen4 is a reliable, no-frills messaging device that I felt comfortable relying on. Of all the features, the SOS button was the most reassuring, although (fortunately) I never had to use it! And giving my friends FOMO with the custom message was just icing on the cake.
The Gen4 retails for $150, not including $12-18 service plans. But we’ve seen it on sale for $100 — check the prices below.