Continue our Adventures with Less Stress

SPOT X in the snow Last Sunday, my wife and I went to the Outdoor Show. Two presentations about canoe trips were of interest. One covering the Trent-Severn Waterway and the other the Georgian Bay. Both destinations in a reasonable distance from Mississauga Ontario to consider them for our next long weekend getaway.

We also passed the SPOT booth and asked about the current pricing. We immediately learned about the new two-way SPOT X device and this is of great interest. We were considering a satellite phone to get at least text messages while travelling off the grid. Needless to say, the price was very attractive and we walked out with the new SPOT X bought from Production Walkies.

This here is not a feature review of the SPOT X device, there are plenty of them out there. We got the SPOT X for the two-way text messaging and the tracking feature with the option to download the pgx file. So here we go.

UPDATE Oct 2019: The unit had a faulty key and was in need of service. Monday evening, I submitted a warranty claim on Tuesday I got an email requesting pictures from the keyboard. Wednesday morning I received a shipping label to return the unit. Friday I got the new unit delivered to my home. Thank you SPOT, great service.

Sending a Message
SPOT X display in wet weather Sending a message took about 7 minutes, receiving the reply was within seconds. I'm sure I could repeat this several times and get different numbers. From reviews I found on the Internet, 7 minutes to send a message is about the average.

I was happy with the result since the weather conditions were not good. Heavy cloud coverage and rain or snow will affect the satellite transmission.

However I had another struggle. The snow was slowly melting on the screen and thus making it very difficult to read and find the navigation icons. I had to constantly wipe the snow and water off the screen and eventually put on my reading glasses. In my defence, this is a new interface and I had to read and interpret the screen first.

SPOT X test in back yard This was done during a heavy snowfall and about -9 Celsius. No obstructions like trees or tall buildings within 10 meters. The snow cover in the picture accumulated within less than 5 minutes.

Two-Way Messaging
SPOT X interface The Create Message Interface is simple enough, once you understand the icons on the screen. Check the boxes to include Elevation (e) and/or Coordinates (c). The icon on the far right (s) is the send.
The character count is on the bottom left, starting with 140 and counting down as you type. I was out on Lake Simcoe in full sun and I struggled to read the screen. I left the screen protector on the device but may take it off at a later time.

SPOT X Check-In Message The message recipient is either an email (right) or a phone number (below). The email formatting has all the information and links to the maps from SPOT or Google.
When sending to an email recipient, the Check-In Message has the same formatting as the Custom Message. Only the Subject is different and the message text of course.

Spot X Android message Android creates some strange hotspots for the Latitude and Longitude. The URL works ok.

Accuracy of Coordinates
The Coordinates show 5 decimals. This translates to about one meter. Using only 4 decimals, then we're in a ten meter range. Just for fun, take a reading on the SPTO X and your smartphone from the same location. Before taking the reading, leave both devices untouched for about 20 seconds. It takes time to lock in the GPS satellites. You'll notice that the two devices may agree on four of the 5 decimals.

Car GPS claim to be accurate to about 30 meters. There are some improvements announced for 2019, but I don't expect them to be available in phones any time soon.

Yesterday, I marked a spot on Lake Simcoe where I found three mussels attached to my lure. Yellow Perch feeds on mussels and I hope to get some perch next time. We'll see if I can find the same spot again based on the coordinates.

Export Coordinates
The coordinates download is on the website. Go to My Locations you find all the information right there.

Choose from different file formats, the example below is the XPS format.
<trkpt lat="44.28911" lon="-79.48694">
<cmt>0-9876543 @ 03/01/2019 09:29:48 AM</cmt>
This file can be imported as-is into "Google Maps - Your Places". Click the "Maps"-Tab, select "Create Map" and follow the prompts.

More Thoughts
With the one-way devices it was clear, the SOS button started a search and rescue. But with the two-way SPOT X device, how can I notify the authorities WITHOUT launching a rescue operation?
The GEOS Search and Rescue service clearly states: "S.O.S. Mode should only be used during life threatening emergencies"

Car Accident or Breakdown On our travels we encountered situations that may need a tow truck. Keep in mind, this is all cellular free country. We arrived after the passengers were already rescued. A note taped to the bumper informed the passer-by that everybody is ok and the car will be recovered the next day. This note was very helpful and we didn't have to worry about providing help.

Forest Fire ignited by Lightning We also passed a burning tree. The weather was overcast and lightning started the fire. There was heavy rain in the forecast, but reporting the fire is still something that should be done.

Back home, I contacted "Ontario Forest Fires" on Twitter and received the answer on the right. It makes sense, the burning tree in the picture above didn't move for several hours and got extinguished by the rain that drenched the whole area the same evening.

FYI: The BC Website has a checklist when reporting a wildfire:
Location: Where is the fire? How far up the hillside? Closest intersection?
Size: Metres? Hectares? Size of a house? Size of a football field?
Rate of spread: How quickly is the fire spreading?
Fuel: What is burning? Grass, bushes, trees?
Smoke/flames: What colour is the smoke? Are flames visible?
Wind Speed and Direction: Where is the wind coming from and how strong is it? The smoke is an indication.
Threat: Are there any people or buildings at risk?
Action: Is anyone fighting the fire?
Campfires: If reporting a campfire, can you tell if it is wood burning or is it a propane campfire?

I tested and reviewed all the features that are important to us and SPOT X performs as expected. Read reviews from publishers in your field of interest, such as hiking, climbing, canoeing, kayaking and more. They tested the device in areas that are more suited to where you will take your device. Our backyard completely lacks a vertical rock wall or white water to get some meaningful results for your outdoor adventures.
Keep in mind that this is not a BlackBerry keyboard like interface. The SPOT X keyboard is awkward to type and the buttons are difficult to press. The buttons are best operated with your fingernail, they are too small for my fingertips. I read may complaints about dropped/lost messages which was not my experience during the test. Be aware that it can take several minutes for a message to be delivered, either way.

UPDATE October 2021: As we learned on our China Head Mountain trip, the SOS button response time is at least two hours. Read the subscription document regarding the level of help carefully.

bulletMake sure everybody in your adventure party is familiar with the basic steps. It may be YOU that needs help and you don't want them to guess how the SPOT X works.
bulletIf you require reading glasses, bring them with you. Test the interface in the rain, bright sun, at night and low light conditions.
bulletObstruction by trees can mean many things. Go into a forest and push the limits until it does not work anymore in an acceptable time. Only then you know what works in an emergency.

First published on February 27, 2019 Contact Us  Help