Saturday, July 27, 2013

SPOT 3 is out!

SPOT has finally released its SPOT 3 device, an upgrade to the SPOT 2.  It addresses some of the limitations of the SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger (aka the SPOT 2) while retaining its strengths.  I think it's still a much better choice for bush travel tracking and emergency signaling than the GPS tracking units that pair with smartphones, like the original DeLorme Inreach (the new generation of which is the DeLorme Inreach Smart Phone) or the SPOT Connect.

Here's what the new SPOT device looks like:

It's got the same basic buttons as the SPOT 2, although the power button has been moved to a location less likely to be pushed accidentally.  It's a hair smaller than the SPOT 2, and a tad lighter.  I like that it now has slots on the frame to make it easier to strap down or otherwise attach to, say, a sled bag (an ongoing headache when using SPOT devices to track sled dog races), a backpack, etc., rather than relying on an external case to hold it.

It's a little more expensive than the SPOT 2, but at $169 still not even close to being as spendy as the DeLorme stand-alone InReach ($299).

New features include

  • Settable track rate options, varying from preset intervals of 2.5 minutes to 60 minutes.  This gives better tracking resolution when you want it or better battery life when you're moving slowly or out there for a loooooong time
  • Motion-activated tracking.  This is a huge win, since the tracker will stop sending out updates when you haven't moved for awhile.  That is to say, it won't be doing expensive (in terms of power consumption) radio operations.
  • Some new, kind of confusing service plans.  The same old $100/year plan is still available, but if you want motion-sensitive tracking (it stops updating if you stay in the same place for awhile) you need to subscribe to the new $150/year plan.  I think this means that you cannot subscribe to the old $100/year plan with a SPOT 3 device, but only with SPOT 1 and SPOT 2 devices.  Don't hold me to that.  Apparently setting the tracking interval to something other than 10 minutes costs extra on top of the $150/year, but I'm not really sure about that.  The plan info is here.
I still think that having a very basic device with a limited user interface and some simple functions is the right approach for wilderness travel or tracking in remote locations.  There are always going to be tradeoffs between function and power consumption, and I'd prefer to err on the side of basic functions and lower power consumption, myself.  For people who use GPS trackers to stay in touch with sponsors, etc., while in remote locations, something like the InReach or even the SPOT Connect makes sense.  But for my own purposes, and for those of many people I know, having a reliable basic tracker and emergency signaling device that doesn't do much else gives a little extra peace of mind.

As a side note, SPOT continues to provide evidence that it's a bad idea to let hardware people write software.  Their website, tracking pages, and device management interface remain hot messes.

I can't find my own SPOT 2 anywhere (I know, right?), and I think I'll be picking up one of these to replace it.

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