Delorme inReach SE Long-term Review

Monday, 26 August 2013
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A couple of weeks ago inReach Canada loaned me a new Delorme inReach SE to take along for my trip around Michipicoten Island on Lake Superior.

The new SE is an update to the Delorme inReach and released to market this past spring and includes a pile of new features to make (what I feel) the best satellite communicator on the market today.

Before we get into the full review, let’s look back at the evolution of backcountry satellite messengers/communicators. First on the market in 2008 was the Spot Messenger powered by the Globalstar satellite network. At the time the technology was revolutionary in that it gave paddlers the ability to send home pre-configured messages with a link to a map of their current position. This type of technology was available before of course this but it was typically associated with a $1000 satellite phone purchase.

The biggest problem with messengers was that they were essentially one-way communication. That changed a couple of years ago when both Delorme and Spot both released units which allowed you to send and receive messages when paired to your smartphone via Bluetooth. The great advancement in technology now allowed people outside of cell phone coverage to communicate back and forth with home. Of course the new problem was that the while units themselves used very little power and would last a long time it was a different story with the paired smart phones request to type up the message. I don’t know about you but my Android phone seems to only last about 6 hours before it is begging me for a recharge.

This brings us up present day and I believe that the inReach SE solves a large number of problems in previous versions. The biggest improvement is the addition of a small LCD colour screen and built in virtual keyboard. Now, you can gossip with the family back home without needing to depend on the limited battery life of your smartphone (though you can still pair them if you wish).

Another very cool feature (that gladly I need to test) is if you need to trigger the SOS and summon help in the event of a life and death situation, you can interact back and forth with the search and rescue monitoring centre. The ability to tell them via text message the extent of the emergency or get an updated response ETA could be a huge benefit.

Delorme inReach SE

Daily Use

For the trip on Lake Superior I was guiding a small group of people in sea kayaks around Michipicoten Island and then paddled back to Wawa. The total distance was approximately 175km (108 miles) and included an 18 km (12 miles) crossing from the island to the north shore of Lake Superior.

Because of the extreme remoteness and high risk of the crossing itself, both the guiding company and participant family members back home were obviously anxious for our safety throughout. The inReach SE was a huge help in keeping everybody informed of our current location The text messages automatically posted to my Facebook wall as well as Delorme’s interactive allowed casual friends to follow along as well. Throughout the day I generally updated our position at lunch as well as our final stopping point for the day.

I was also able to take advantage of the two-way communication and check in with the guiding company itself and let them know how things were going. It ended up being a really good resource when I needed to get a more precise wind/weather forecast then what was available at the time via the marine radio. That type of information and near-instant communication was invaluable as it allowed us to make a more educated decision if we should cross that day or not.

Delorme inReach SE Message Screen      Delorme inReach SE Keyboard

Tracking

Like many of the other satellite messengers on the market, you can set-up live tracking and automatic location posting of your route. Knowing that tracking does eat up battery life a touch faster we really only used that feature during our crossing. In the settings you can set the time between location updates from 10 minutes all the up to a couple of hours.

Earthmate App - Message Window      Earthmate App - Tracking Window

Free Earthmate App

A very cool side-feature is you get access to their free Earthmate App for both iPhone and Android Smartphones.

The app pairs via Bluetooth with the inReach SE and turns your phone or tablet into what’s described as a global satellite communication and navigation tool.

The app overlays your current tracks or messages over their own mapping software so you can see exactly where you are. Both topographic and NOAA (US) charts are available free of charge. It also allows you to send and receive messages directly within the app which is a very nice feature.

 

Battery life

The unit is powered by an internal rechargeable lithium battery that is advertised to last up to 100 hours. In our case the unit was still going strong right up to the end of our eight day trip so I was pleased with that. Keep in mind that I turned the unit off in between sending and receiving messages to stretch batter life out as long as possible.

One of my few beefs with the unit is the fact that the battery is built-in and you are unable to exchange them out in the field. If you were on a long trip or planning on doing a lot of tracking, you are going to need to come up with a recharging system for the unit. The inReach SE recharges using a micro-usb port so there are plenty of options out there from solar powered chargers or external battery packs. Having the option to drop in extra batteries would be a killer feature.

 

Pricing

The MSRP for the inReach SE is $299 (US) and requires a monthly subscription. The subscription pricing is different depending on if you live in Canada or the US. Since I’m in Canada I will speak to those plans. Pricing ranges between $14.95 to 49.95 a month depending on how many messages you plan on sending or receiving. You can switch between plans at any time so one advantage is that if you know you have a big trip coming up you can jump up to a higher plan for that month. Once the season is over you can also put the unit in a hibernation mode for only $3.95/month. Again, those are the Canadian plans so if you live in United States, Australia and New Zealand, the plans and prices could be different.

 

Final verdict?

I was really blown away with the unit to be honest and exceeded by expectations. Like I said above, the integration of the built-in keyboard makes the unit a workable solution for two-way communication in the outdoors (also with good battery life). Before this, everything on the market has looked to me like some sort of cobbled together device that left me disappointed so this was a nice change.

I also really like the ability to change monthly plans compared to other companies where I’m required to pre-pay for a full year. That being said, if you are on a cheap plan, sending messages back and forth to your friends can add up quickly so figure out what you will realistically use on a trip since extra messages beyond your monthly allotment can be expensive.

If you are looking to increase your piece of mind in the wilderness (or your husband’s back home) I would say yes, check it out. It’s a good one.

More info: inReach Canada

 

Advertised features:

  • Send and receive free-form, 160-character text messages outside of cell phone range.
  • Trigger an SOS and interact back and forth with GEOS, our 24/7 search and rescue monitoring center.
  • Turn on tracking to share and view GPS coordinates.
  • Color screen and virtual keyboard with predictive text.
  • Intuitive LED indicator for satellite availability.
  • Audible message notifications.
  • Long-lasting internal rechargeable lithium battery for ultimate convenience and portability. 100 hours of battery life in 10-minute tracking mode with a clear view to the sky.
  • Designed for maximum durability in harsh environments (waterproof, dustproof, and impact-resistant).
  • Post to social media.
  • Built on award-winning technology pioneered with our first inReach device.

Specifications:

  • Rugged, durable housing that is waterproof/dustproof (IP67; standard submersion to 1 meter for 30 minutes) and impact-resistant (Mil-STD-810F for vibration/shock)
  • Length: 62 mm (2.44")
  • Width: 26 mm (1.02")
  • Height (including antenna): 149 mm (5.87")
  • Weight: 190 g (6.7 oz)
  • Operational temperature range: -20°C to 60°C (-4°F to 140°F)
  • Storage temperature range: -40°C to 85°C (-40°F to 185°F)
  • Battery charging temperature range: 0°C to 45°C (32°F to 113°F)
  • GPS accuracy to +/- 5 meters
  • GPS fix reports position, speed, course, and elevation with each track or message sent
  • Internal, rechargeable lithium battery delivers about 100 hours of operation in tracking mode
  • Color screen with predictive, virtual keyboard for standalone two-way messaging
  • SOS locking mechanism complies with RTCM SC-128 for satellite emergency notification devices (SEND); prevents false alarms and supports one-handed gloved operation
  • Pairs via Bluetooth with Apple iOS or Android devices
  • 100% global coverage via the Iridium satellite network
  • SOS messages are received by GEOS, a worldwide emergency response coordination center with 24/7/365 staffing

MSRP: $299 ($US)

 

David Johnston

David Johnston

David Johnston has been introducing people to the sport of sea kayaking for the past 15 years. He is a senior instructor trainer with Paddle Canada and teaches for several paddling schools in Ontario, Canada. Full Bio.

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