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This Just In (at REI): DeLorme inReach Satellite Communicator

Is it a communication device that offers peace of mind to backcountry visitors, or is it a wilderness-tainting tool created by The Dark Side?

Most off-the-grid explorers, I'm guessing, will take the cheerier view and welcome the arrival of the DeLorme inReach Satellite Communicator, just now reaching many REI stores and

A big attention-getter when it was previewed at the summer Outdoor Retailer trade show in August, the inReach device is noteworthy because:

phone screen• It is the first satellite text communicator capable of 2-way communication from remote wilderness locations. It can receive texts as well as send them.
• It is reasonably light (8 oz.) and compact (palm-sized).

This makes the inReach device one of the most anticipated new outdoor gear arrivals this holiday season. It has already been the subject of much chatter and recognition:
• Popular Science magazine, Best of What's New: 2011 
• National Geographic Adventure Gear of the Year Award
• Outside magazine Gear of the (Outdoor Retailer) Show Award
• Gear Junkie Best of Show Award
• Consumer Electronics Association Innovations Award, 2012 ("Personal Electronics" category)

Two separate inReach devices exist. In order to transmit and receive text messages, each must be paired with a specific partner device:
1. An Android-based smartphone.
2. The DeLorme Earthmate PN-60w GPS receiver.

Note: This is an either-or deal; inReach text communicators work only with an Android phone or the DeLorme GPS. They are not interchangeable.

message screenI can already hear howls from iPhone owners who feel slighted: What about us?

Here's what DeLorme rep Chris Noble told me in August: "We had to choose an operating system to start with. We've chosen the Android, and there's certainly been a lot of feedback from the public. Our management team is definitely listening closely. We started with Android because it was a faster development cycle for us." Another DeLorme executive offered me this update last week: "We're currently exploring inReach development for other phones beyond the Android platform."

One-way text messaging was introduced in 2010 (to similarly big fanfare) by the SPOT Connect Satellite Communicator. How do SPOT and inReach differ?

• SPOT can work with Android and iPhone operating systems; inReach so far is compatible only with Android phones.

• SPOT can transmit outbound (1-way) text messages of up to 41 characters; inReach can send and receive (2-way) texts of up to 160 characters. So if you text "I forgot my hat," with inReach a friend could potentially respond, "I'll hike it out to you tomorrow."

• SPOT uses the Globalstar satellite grid system, which at the moment offers no coverage at the poles, in southern Africa or Hawaii; inReach uses the globe-blanketing Iridium satellite constellation, covering the earth from pole to pole.

• Both can operate as stand-alone units and transmit pre-composed text messages to contacts of your choice.

• Both offer a "911" button that when activated sends an SOS message to the Houston-based GEOS International Emergency Response Center, a private company that serves as a national dispatch service for search and rescue operations. The inReach device notifies users when SOS or pre-composed text messages are received.

Why not just use a cell phone? Experienced backcountry explorers know that when deep in the boonies cell phones can rarely acquire a signal. So attempting to use one in a remote wilderness is almost always futile.

Satellite phones exist, but they are expensive, bulky and weighty. So sat text communicators such as inReach are good alternatives for backcountry fans who want to keep their loads light yet still want the security of having a communication link to urban contacts.

The inReach device requires an annual subscription plan; 3 types of monthly fee plans are available:

• Safety: 10 monthly messages (either incoming or outgoing) and SOS capabilities, $9.95/month. (Tracking: 25 cents per track. Overage charge: $1.50 per message.)
• Recreation: 40 messages, unlimited tracking and SOS, $24.95/month. (Overage charge: 50 cents per message.)
• Expedition: 120 messages, unlimited tracking and SOS, $49.95/month. (Overage charge: 25 cents per message.)

Notes on payment plans: If you choose, say, the Expedition plan during you busy months but want to switch to the less-expensive Safety or Recreation plans during your less-active months, you'll incur a $24.95 downgrading fee. No fee for upgrading, though.

This product description published by DeLorme elaborates in greater detail many of the points discussed above. It also spells out DeLorme's limited warranty on the product.

Part of the attraction of text satellite communicators such as inReach is the implication of enhanced safety in the outdoors. We at REI strongly emphasize that your safety is your responsibility, based on your knowledge, your preparations, your prudence and your skills.

Devices such as inReach can potentially be a boon to a personal safety plan if you understand its functions, but REI offers no promises that simply having this product in your possession assures your safety. It is vital that you or any user of the device study the product's manual, understand how to operate its functions and manage its interface with an Android-based smartphone or the DeLorme Earthmate PN-60w GPS receiver.  

Some wilderness purists, meanwhile, will lament that all electronic devices tarnish the backcountry experience, that technology has no place in wild environs where self-reliance is an integral part of the adventure. Alas, the tech genie is already out of the bottle and the entire globe is fair game for products such as this.

Ultimately, if used with consideration of others, electronic devices can be compatible with 21st century wilderness exploration without diminishing the self-affirmation of going one-on-one with the raw, natural world. For a look at what devices are available to backcountry travelers, check out the REI Expert Advice article Electronic Devices Overview.

Images of smartphone screen images courtesy of DeLorme.

Posted on at 5:57 PM

Tagged: DeLorme, Spot and inReach

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If you are interested in viewing your current location and route on your Android device, while linked to the inReach, you are still dependent on the GPS in your phone. This device will post your progress ONLINE, but not on your Android phone. You can message, so, I suppose you could text your friends to look online and tell you where you are?

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