SPOT II Review: Don’t Look Further for Personal Tracking

Overview

The SPOT 2 is a satellite GPS messenger and the second generation of the very successful SPOT (considered the first satellite messenger). The SPOT 2 offers the same worldwide tracking ability thanks to the two networks on which It operates: the standard GPS satellite network and SPOT’s own network. The SPOT II has five powerful functions that give you customizable options for greater comfort and security during all your travels around the world.

They come as follows:

SOS/911: This function is triggered by the push of a button, which immediately notifies your predetermined emergency contacts. This function should only be used during situations where your life is in danger. Your specific coordinates will be sent to the GEOS International Emergency Response Center every five minutes for as long as the SPOT II is active or until you press the SOS button again.

Help: The difference with the aforementioned function is that this button is meant to be used in dangerous but non-emergency situations. Your coordinates are sent via text and email to your pre-selected personal emergency contact that you can set on the online account linked to the device. The message will be sent every five minutes for up to an hour or until you cancel it by pressing the button again.

Check-in/OK: Use this function to let people (up to 10 different contacts) know that you are okay. The SPOT will send a standard message featuring a link to your location on Google Maps.

Custom message: Just like the previous function, your contacts will receive a message and your location on the press of this button. However, you can here write in advance any personalized message that you want to communicate.

Track Progress: This is probably the most advanced function as it enables your pre-determined contacts to track your progress in real-time on Google Maps. Your device communicates your position at regular intervals so as to be visualized on Google Maps. It also saves a tracking history of your whereabouts.

The SPOT II was designed to propose great security and comfort to its user. Now let’s see if it also lives up to our expectations.

Design and features

As we open the box containing our new SPOT II GPS tracker device, we have to salute the efforts made in terms of packaging. The box (8.0 x 5.5 x 1.8 inches) has an attached fold out magnetized information leaflet. It features general info about the device and some tips of how best to use it. Pictures of the device being used help to better understand how the SPOT works. The whole box has a really nice design and provides useful information for first time users.

          

The black and orange device itself fits in the palm of your hand (about 3.6 x 2.5 x 1.0 inches). The gripping surface on the side of the device is optimized to prevent it from slipping out of your hands, even though the device looks like it could take many hits and falls before breaking. The small robust design will have you neither worrying about it getting damaged nor uncomfortable of carrying it around. Sent with the device, comes a User’s Guide, a set of three AAA Ultimate Lithium batteries (which we will test out later), an arm-strap pouch so that you can carry the SPOT around without thinking about it or having to hold it in your hand the whole time.

     

Before using the SPOT, you will need to create an online profile.

Creating a profile

The online account takes so time to get used to. Before turning on the tracker, you need to create a profile with contact information (cell phone number and e-mail address) for both the “OK” message and the “Custom” message. It is required to have a SPOT account (used for billing and subscription) and a device profile, which at first, can be slightly misleading as to how to access the second one (a “Profile” tab would have been useful).

In case you have multiple profiles, we found that, the only difficulty was to find how to activate the right one. You may need to set up multiple profiles for each member of your family and indicate different contact information. Or you may also have multiple devices linked to the same account.
When you are starting to use the SPOT II real time GPS tracker, make sure that on the left hand side of the setup screen, the green “check” sign is next to the profile that you want to use. You can only change it in this little box called “Available Profiles” by clicking to the left of the profile you want to use. We would have preferred something more obvious and better indicated.
More generally, once you found the right page, setting up the device so that it can be used is a rather straightforward procedure.
Once the account is set up and the right profile selected, your SPOT II is ready to be used.

Understanding the SPOT

To turning on the device, you have to press the power button for 2-3 seconds. Once it is on, it will blink green every other second. The same goes for any button that you use. Every time you use a function button on the SPOT II, you will first see the small GPS indicator light blink green as it acquires a GPS fix. Then, the message light will start blinking in unison with the GPS light to indicate that the message is being transmitted. Finally, after the message is sent, the function button that you pressed will keep blinking for one hour to leave you more time to see that the message was sent successfully.
In case the GPS Indicator light blinks red, it means that the SPOT does not have a clear view of the satellite and cannot transmit from the current location.
All this information is clearly described in the User’s Guide (small booklet), which you may want to carry around if it is your first time using the SPOT.

Product testing:

We proceeded to two sets of tests during the month of July 2011.
The first test was a several days trip to Sudan, in a very remote area. The second test was a little North of New York City.
Both tests are featured in the following screenshot of the historical tracking page of the SPOT II online mapping software. From this page, it is also possible to download your tracking information in multiple formats or even share it on different social networks and communities.

1. Sudan

In Sudan, we wanted to test the device’s precision and international capabilities. During the trip, both the tracking function and the “OK” button were used.

Here is the historical track back over several days:

Also, at checkpoint n°10, you can see a slightly different logo on the map. This is the exact location from which the “OK” message was sent. Every event is represented by the same logo as the one on the related button on the device.

Here is a very detailed satellite view of about seven hours of tracking in a small village in Sudan.

 

As you can see, the SPOT GPS positioning system can accurately determine your location anywhere in the world with a precision of up to a few meters. This area was far away from any cellular phone network or any other type of wireless network but the SPOT was able to reach its satellite GPS system and deliver its information very efficiently.

2. New Rochelle, NY

Our second test took place a little outside New York. The SPOT would not work in New York because skyscrapers and tall buildings would most probably obstruct the sky view.
The tracking process shown below was taken on a short trip by foot (20 minutes) during which the SPOT signaled its position twice (numbers 12-13):

Battery Life:

While our tests in New Rochelle have not been long enough to bring the SPOT’s batteries to their limits, the continuous tracking we performed in Sudan gave us satisfying results. We used the original AAA Ultimate Lithium Batteries provided with the SPOT and have been able to use the device for about four to five days during which long periods of tracking were performed and a few messages sent. For any trip of up to four-five days, a single set of batteries should prove sufficient for continuous tracking. If you decide to leave for longer than that, you may want to consider bringing three extra batteries. If you only plan to use the SPOT for messaging rather than progress tracking, the SPOT will be able to send hundreds of messages before the batteries run out.

Results

Overall, using the SPOT tracking devices proves to be a satisfying experience. It provides great information and great precision to anyone who follows you from home. Using the device itself is rather straightforward and the buttons need little explanation. Maybe the most difficult part concerns the online software. The first time you set up a profile and use the online mapping software, it may seem confusing but after a few moments, the interface starts to make sense and browsing through your tracking history becomes easy. We regret not having been able to use multiple SPOT devices on the same account to test the possibilities of crisscrossing the tracking data.

Pro Cons
Customized messages are great
Keeps up to 10 contacts informed in real time
Small & handy and good battery life
First time using the online software is confusing

Overall 5-star Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Tested Element Result
Software: Rating includes features, accessibility, user set up, multiple device management, test reports, historical playback, alerts…  
Accuracy and performance: Rating includes live updating, location accuracy, network coverage, placements in vehicles, international ability, battery life, power consumption…  
Appearance: External design, water-proofing, magnet strength, durability, weather resistance, buttons, lighting and aesthetics,  
User-Friendliness: ease of use, learning curve, instruction manual, quick start guide, activation, device set up, hardware and software friendliness…  

Tech Specs:

Manufacturer: SPOT
Price as tested: 149.95
Dimensions: 3.6 x 2.5 x 1.0 inches
Weight: 147.4 grams (5.2 ounces)
Computer interface: Online account and mapping software
External Power: None
Batteries: Internal battery compartment requires 3 AAA batteries (one set is included with the product)
LED’s: ON/Off, SOS, GPS Acquired, Message Sent, Check-in/OK, Track Progress, Help
Emergency Response Center: Open 24/7/365
Operating Temperature: -30° C to 60° C (-22° F to 140° F)

GPS Tracking Review