SPOT Satellite Global Phone Review

Thursday, 08 May 2014

When it comes to two-way communication in the wilderness, a satellite phone is one of the better items to have as it allows you to talk directly to the authorities during an emergency. One of the problems with sat phones is that they are expensive to purchase typically costing between $600-2000 for just the unit itself.

SPOT, makers of the very popular satellite GPS messenger, have just introduced the SPOT Satellite Global Phone and with a suggested price of $499, it's one of the first sat phones aimed (and priced) for the recreational outdoor enthusiast.

In a nutshell, the Global Phone is a sat phone with many of the same features that you would expect from any cell phone before the iPhone came out. Along with standard telephone features, you can send and receive short text messages (up to 35 characters) and receive voicemail.

With the optional data kit you can connect your laptop turning your Global Phone into a modem for internet connectivity. One word though, don't expect to surf the Facebook very quickly as standard download speeds are only 9.6 Kbps. There is the option to upgrade your plan to a higher speed version which jumps up to a whopping 28.8 Kbps (or roughly the same as basic dial-up from the mid-1990's.

Conor making a call with the SPOT Global Phone in Georgian Bay, Ontario.

SPOT sent me a demo version of the phone to play with on a recent kayak course I taught and I got to say, I was impressed with it. Its super simple to use and anybody could figure out how to dial-out in an emergency. As I mentioned earlier there are not a lot of bells and whistles but I'm ok with that. The engineers have clearly scaled things back in favour of a longer battery life.

Speaking of batteries, it comes with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery with a stand-by time of 36 hours and 4 hours of talk before it needs to be charged again. Since it's removable, you could also consider the purchase of a spare battery to keep charged for even more talk-time throughout your trip.

The unit itself is fairly small measuring 5.3" (13.5 cm) by 2.2" (5.6 cm) by 1.5" (3.8 cm) deep and at only 7.1oz (201g) you could easily forget that you are carrying it in your backpack or kayak.

One unique feature with this phone is if you dial 911, rather than your call going to the local 911 operator, the call is rerouted through the Globalstar network itself and sent directly to the GEOS International Emergency Response Center who will notify the appropriate emergency responders on your behalf. The GEOS response centre is the same group of people who handle any SPOT messenger emergency response stuff as well.

Connecting to the network after a cold start-up pretty easy and on average, I was able to get a strong enough signal to make a call after about a minute and a half. The manufacturer suggests that a clear view of the sky works best and I found this to be the case though the phone also worked fine when I tested it in downtown Toronto surrounded by skyscrapers.

Keep in mind that the phone isn't waterproof so like any electronics used outdoors, make sure you store it in a waterproof case and don't stand in the rain when ordering pizza to be delivered to your campsite.

SPOT GLobal Phone

Purchasing a sat phone is all about that live link to help when something goes really wrong. So to me, it would be one of those things that kept turned off until I actually needed it. The problem before this was that the high cost to purchase a phone was always a prohibitive factor. With the upfront purchasing costs now significantly lower, it's something that I would start to consider for sure.

SPOT's monthly plans are also fairly reasonable and depending on how much you intend to use it. They offer several 12 month plans with included minutes per month. If you go over the allotment you're your cost to talk per minute ranges from free up to $2.50.

If you are the type which would only use it for short time each year and don't want a contract (say that big two-week trip you do once a year) then you can prepay for minutes which would last for between 30 days and one year depending on the number of minutes you purchase. Of course there is lots of small print so read it and figure out the best plan for you.

More info:

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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