There is little doubt that technology has made the world a smaller place. Between the internet, smartphones, tablets and other devices it is now possible to stay connected from just about anywhere, including some of the most remote places on the planet. Sure, satellite technology has made this possible for a long time, but until recently sat phones were expensive and cumbersome. But carrying a satellite phone is no longer the only option for staying connected while off the grid. The inReach satellite communicator from DeLorme is an affordable alternative that is featured-packed, easy to use and rugged enough to take anywhere.
In its basic form, the inReach resembles a compact walkie-talkie, albeit a thick one. The front of the device has four buttons, one to turn the device on and off, and separate buttons for sending tracking information, pre-canned messages and an emergency SOS. Several lights indicate when the inReach is powered on, whether or not it has acquired a satellite signal and when it is broadcasting a message back to the world. The device also includes a lock-switch for the SOS button which prevents the user from accidentally sending out a call for help.
DeLorme's little device connects to the Iridium satellite network to provide Pole-to-Pole coverage across the globe. That means that pretty much no matter where you are on the planet, you can use the inReach to send messages home to loved ones or call for assistance in an emergency. The device also requires a service plan, which range in price from as little as $9.95 per month up to $64.95, depending on the number of text messages, inReach network messages and tracking options. The lower priced plans are designed for casual users who only need coverage from time to time, while the more expensive options are the best choices for adventurers who venture into the field on a regular basis.
If the inReach only offered remote tracking, pre-set messages and the ability to call for help in an emergency, it would still be a great device to have with you when traveling to dangerous and remote places. But this little gadget has a few extra tricks up its sleeve, thanks to its ability to wirelessly connect to smartphones and tablets via Bluetooth. DeLorme created companion apps, called Earthmate, for both iOS and Android. When the satellite communicator is paired with another device running one of those operating systems, it is suddenly capable of much more than it can do on its own.
For instance, the app allows you to send text messages or short emails directly to anyone in your contacts list by typing them out on the onscreen keyboard. It also allows for posting updates to Twitter or Facebook. It also provides the ability to configure settings on the inReach itself, including how often it shares location points with those following along back home. Earthmate also has the ability to send an SOS message simply by swiping a switch on the screen and it can communicate with other inReach users directly, provided you have their device's unique identification address.
But the functionality doesn't end there. The smartphone-satellte communicator combination can also work as a full-blown GPS navigation system. The Earthmate app allows the user to download a base map of the world that provides solid details across the globe. More detailed maps for certain areas can be downloaded as well, provided your device has enough free space to store them. This GPS functionality is fast, accurate and works great, and while it doesn't provide navigational data, it does track your route and displays it online for friends and family to follow.
The inReach is powered by two AA batteries, which was a bit surprising at first. I've gotten so use to most modern devices including a high capacity rechargeable battery, that I was afraid anything else wouldn't provide enough power for extended use. But since the satellite communicator doesn't have a screen to keep powered, the AA batteries are supposed to last for up to 125 hours of use. I'll have to take DeLorme's word on that one however, as I didn't run the batteries out of juice while I was testing it. The other great feature of using AA batteries is that they are cheap, lightweight, easy to pack and can be found just about anywhere on the planet.
DeLorme has built a product that is incredibly useful and versatile but also quite tough. The inReach is dustproof, waterproof and even floats. It is impact-resistant and weights just 8 ounces (227 grams) including batteries. It has also been rated to operate at a temperature range of -4ºF to 158ºF (-20ºC - 70ºC), all of which means that the device can survive just about anything you throw at it, in just about any environment on Earth.
The inReach comes with an MSRP of $249, which makes it an affordable option for those looking for the functionality that it provides. Throw in an iPod Touch to run the Earthmate app and connect via Bluetooth, and you have a high-tech, fully functional, satellite communications tool for under $500. Considering everything that combo can do, it'll be hard to justify not taking it on your next adventure.
Hits: Affordable, rugged, easy-to-use, satellite communications from anywhere, well-designed app
Misses: Monthly subscription fees a bit expensive, limited capabilities without iOS or Android companion device
This review first ran on The Adventure Blog.