With the Gen4, SPOT presents the first update of its satellite GPS messenger line for 7 years. We took it out in the wild to see what changed and what improved.
Having an excuse to break up is one of the most compelling aspects of a trip to the wild. Still, the ability to check in, track location, and call for help in an emergency remains vital to any serious adventure. The SPOT Gen4 disposable GPS satellite messenger is one of the newest solutions.
The Gen4 is the latest in a long line of satellite messaging technologies from SPOT. In terms of functionality, it is practically identical to its predecessor, the Gen3. Both offer GPS tracking and outbound satellite messaging. However, the Gen4 is SPOT’s first upgrade to the line since 2013.
And while many of the improvements to the Gen4 are cosmetic in nature, there are some notable improvements in technology that enhanced my experience during a two-month review this fall. Read on to learn more about the key features that the Gen4 from other GPS satellite carriers.
SPOT Gen4 Satellite GPS Messenger Review
- Equipment: SPOT Gen4 Satellite GPS Messenger
- Price: $ 150 (Now on sale for $ 100)
- Service plan: $ 12 to $ 18 per month with an annual subscription
The most obvious difference between the Gen4 and its predecessor is the aesthetics. Although the Gen4 is a bit heavier (5 ounces instead of the 4 ounces of the Gen3), it comes in a more square package that feels less bulky in my pocket. It also includes a new harness and locking carabiner that makes it easier to strap onto a pack.
At 3.5 inches tall, 2.7 inches wide and 0.9 inches thick, the new, mostly black, device is slimmer, if less noticeable, than the bright orange one Gen3. One downside to this look is that it’s easier to forget about camp and leave behind what I did once during an alpine start and had to backtrack a mile to regain it.
Another design tweak to the Gen4 is the increased IP rating of 68, which means it’s about as water and dust proof as most modern smartphones.
The Gen4 Provides two basic outgoing message options – a custom message button and a check-in button – both of which can send preprogrammed custom messages and coordinate via email or text to two groups of up to 10 contacts.
The benefit of both is the ability to send different messages to different contact groups. For example, I could send my girlfriend a “I love you” note and “You’re missing out!” At the same time. Messages to friends who went on bail on the trip.
On the other hand, you can’t customize messages and contacts on the fly. They must be preset from an internet enabled device before entering the wild. Also noteworthy, if obvious: the Gen4 can only send messages, not receive them. For a two-way messaging device, upgrade to the SPOT X with Bluetooth.
Like its predecessor, the Gen4 allows users to log and share waypoints in near real time. The tracking interval can be preset to 2.5, 5, 10, 30 or 60 minutes, and the coordinates can be shared with a preset list of email and phone contacts who will follow your trail using the shared view for SPOT mapping can.
Another useful feature is the ability to set up warnings that are sent automatically when motion is detected after a period of rest or when entering and leaving a certain area.
For example, let’s say you’re stuck in base camp waiting for the weather to improve before trying to reach the top. When the window finally arrives and you hurry to send it on the spur of the moment, the Gen4 can notify contacts that the mission is on.
In line with Gen4, SPOT has released some enhancements to its mapping software that provide shareable and more robust data capabilities via the online interface. The SPOT card, which can be viewed in Live or History mode, is now mobile compatible and allows users to save data for up to 3 years after a specific trip.
With this increase in functionality comes a more complex interface. Don’t skip the tutorial during setup like I did on my first trip with it, otherwise the mapping system can look intimidatingly cryptic.
Help / SOV message
In a non-life-threatening situation where help is needed, this button allows you to request help from a preset contact list without triggering an emergency rescue.
You can also provide roadside assistance for an additional charge of $ 3 per month and share your help message and location with local professional transportation services. It’s a welcome option for a sidewalk mission.
This is the most important and (hopefully) the least used button on the device. Touching the SOS button notifies the GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Center (IERCC), which then notifies the appropriate emergency services based on your GPS location and your personal data.
This is the eject button we love to have, but we hope we’ll never need it. It is equipped with a protective cover to avoid false positives.
Thanks to a vibration sensor that allows the Gen4 to track and send location information only when the device is in motion, the Gen4 can save battery when it is not in motion. This results in industry-leading battery life, which SPOT says is around 1,200 check-in messages, or 436 hours with a 10-minute follow-up interval.
It runs on four AAA batteries that come with purchase and are embedded under the back cover. A tool (penny, knife or flat head) is required to remove.
What I want better
My biggest problem with the SPOT Gen4 was the inability to adjust settings on the fly. This is more of an operator error issue as I am by no means a technician and the learning curve with the mapping software and tracking setup has been steep for me.
But after a few rounds of trial and error, even I was able to dial in. As with most things to do with wilderness, it’s all about proper preparation.
SPOT Gen4: The takeaway
The Gen4 is a reliable, no-frills messaging device that I could rely on. Of all the features, the SOS button was the most comforting, although (luckily) I never had to use it! And giving my friends FOMO with the custom message was just the icing on the cake.
The Gen4 costs $ 150, with no service plans for $ 12 to $ 18. But we’ve seen it on sale for $ 100 – check prices below.
Check the price at Cabela’s. Check the price at REI