With our tiny island almost completely covered by a cloud of GSM coverage, it’s easy to forget that there are plenty of places in the world where there isn’t any access to a mobile network.
If you’ve got a taste for trekking in these remote, godforsaken corners of the earth, the lack of a ‘phone a friend’ could put you in serious danger if you have an accident. But not if you’ve got a ‘satellite messenger’ like the Spot locator.
We’ve seen UK-centric devices like Send4Help before, but the rugged and waterproof Spot is the first international satellite safety messenger we’ve got our mitts on. Even when you’re miles out of mobile phone range, it keeps you linked directly to a global matrix of GPS satellites, SMS and the web.
It offers three levels of communication: OK, Help and Rescue, which respectively translate as ‘I’m fine’, ‘Could do with a hand’ and ‘I’m stuck down a ravine with a snapped fibula’.
The ‘OK’ button is really a handy way for your friends and loved ones to keep track of your progress and assure them that you haven’t fallen victim to a Touching the Void-style disaster.
Press it and a message is sent to your pre-selected list of e-mail addresses and phone numbers (you get 200 free texts, after which they cost 10 eurocents each).
The Google Maps option
But it’s not just an elaborate form of texting – subscribe to the €39 (£30) ‘Tracking Upgrade’ option and the messages will contain a link to Google maps where your past and current position is plotted. Whenever you send an update, your expedition support team, jealous girlfriend or mum can see exactly where you are, and where you have been.
If your trip isn’t going as smoothly as planned, you may need to hit the “Help” button. Do this ans your co-ordinates and a different message goes out to the list you’ve chosen as you’re A-Team-style back-up boys. Again, you get the option of writing this before your trip, so it could be “I’m sinking” if you’re planning to sail the Atlantic or ‘we’re out of beer’ if you’re camping in the Cairngorms.
In more serious circumstances, the SPOT really could be a lifesaver. Press and hold the distress ‘911’ button for more than 2 seconds and an alarm call will go out to the GEOS International Emergency Response Centre. After checking out your GPS co-ordinates, they will then notify the appropriate emergency responder – be it local police, a Coast Guard, highway patrol or embassy.
Naturally, we couldn’t test this feature to the full, but unlimited ‘911’ usage comes as part of the cheapest SPOT plan and your GPS co-ordinates will be sent every five minutes to let you keep moving if, say, you’re been hunted down by a tornado.
We were also assured that, even if the SPOT can’t find your GPS signal, it will still send out a distress signal and there’s the added comfort of knowing that the unit performs a self-assessment test to make sure its faculties are in order every time you turn it on.
The only slight downside to Spot is that its coverage isn’t completely global. Really out of the way places like Africa and some of south east Asia aren’t covered, so you’ll need to check this before you go.
That said, even the UK has mobile phone black spots and if a SPOT gets you out of trouble when you crash on a mountain biking trip in the Pennines or loose a paddle sea kayaking its price and service cost will seem like pittance.