Garmin released the inReach Mini 2 Satellite Communicator this week. This video presents my interview about the new inReach Mini 2 with Garmin’s Chip Noble, the Senior Product Manager responsible for the Outdoor Traditional and inReach device product lines.
Chip and I discuss several new features of the Garmin inReach Mini 2, including:
- improved battery life
- the new user interface
- changes in how TracBack works
- the new electronic compass
- integration with Garmin Explore.
In the following sections, I will discuss the primary differences between the 1st generation Garmin inReach Mini and the inReach Mini 2 and how important they are to me. The commentary that follows is my own and is not influenced by my conversation with Chip or Garmin. Instead, it relies on my extensive experience with radio and satellite communications devices during my expeditions and 34 years of outdoor guiding experience. In addition, I have spent hundreds of hours of study and testing into how the Garmin inReach works, which led to the development of our How to Use the Garmin inReach Mini Masterclass.
Commentary: Significant Updates
Here are what I perceive to be the significant new features of the Garmin inReach Mini 2:
New Core Processor
The processor upgrade is the most significant change from the 1st generation Garmin inReach Mini and the inReach Mini 2. The practical impact for the user is that the device will run more powerful (feature-rich) software, run it faster, and save battery life.
Improved Battery Life
Expect at least three times more battery life than the 1st generation inReach Mini (for similar tracking settings, messaging, and navigation use. It is important to note that the improved battery life is primarily the result of a silicon upgrade (the processor chip). Therefore, you will see improved battery life across the board and not just while tracking.
Garmin Explore Integration
The Garmin inReach Mini 2 satellite communicator says goodbye to Garmin Earthmate and joins the Garmin Explore software family. Earthmate, the legacy inReach software, never entirely made it to the modern age of UI/UX design. In contrast, Explore is more capable, powerful, and easier to use for trip planning, navigation, and analysis on mobile and desktop devices. Both pieces of software are addressed in our inReach Masterclass.
In our How to Use the Garmin inReach Mini Masterclass, I recommended turning the TracBack feature off to save battery life. However, this is a valuable feature for beginners or off-trail travelers exploring dense vegetation. Hikers who like to wander (hunting comes to mind) in timber may appreciate it. I have used TracBack when camped in forested areas when I have had to hang my bear bag (or find an eco-friendly spot to poop) at night, far away from camp. TracBack allows me to quickly find my way back to my tent without wandering.
On the Garmin inReach Mini 2, TracBack is always on and running in the background. The new battery optimization of the inReach Mini 2 will be a welcome safety feature for some users. Knowing that they will not have to remember to start the TracBack program when they begin their trip will come as welcome relief.
Commentary: Minor Updates
The inReach Mini 2 also received some minor updates worth noting:
- Electronic (digital) compass. A true digital compass that does not require motion to orient direction (unlike older GPS-based compasses).
- Higher screen resolution. The Garmin inReach Mini 2 has a screen resolution of 176 x 176 pixels, up from 128 x 128 pixels on the 1st generation inReach Mini.
- Improved user interface and user experience (UI/UX). More straightforward device navigation, more akin to outdoor watches from Garmin like the Instinct and Fenix product lines.
- USB-C for charging and data transfer. The 1st generation inReach Mini uses a micro-USB port, and the new inReach Mini 2 uses a USB-C port. The port upgrade will primarily impact charging in the field. The hiker may need to pack a new cable type (i.e., USB-C) or may already use USB-C rechargeable devices. I am looking forward to when I no longer need to carry multiple USB cable types for my battery charger.
The Garmin inReach Mini 2 satellite communicator gets a user interface (UI) facelift familiar to Garmin Instinct and Fenix outdoor watch users. Photo: Garmin.
Other Issues of Note
In addition, there are some other changes that most users will not perceive to impact their user experience, including:
- Satellite networks: The ability to communicate with a wider variety of worldwide satellite networks may speed up your location fix time in complex geography for North American users. However, access to Galileo, QZSS, or Beidou satellite networks will primarily impact users outside of the Americas. In addition, reliable GLONASS support will not likely be introduced with any satellite communicator that uses the Iridium network for communications because of the known susceptibility to interference between the GLONASS L1 band and the Iridium frequency. This interference has been known for more than a decade [source].
- Use as a standalone device: Most users will pair their Garmin inReach Mini 2 with a smartphone to maximize efficiency and ease of use, especially when typing messages. However, updates in the UI/UX, the addition of a digital compass, and the ability to see tracks on the device may tempt more hikers to use the device unpaired.
I already own the Garmin inReach Mini (1st Generation). Should I upgrade to the Garmin inReach Mini 2?
Every hiker has to answer this question for themself. For me, the ability to use a device on a long trip without recharging is an improvement. In addition, the upgrade from Earthmate to Explore makes for a more enjoyable pre-trip and post-trip experience on my desktop. Explore is also more user-friendly to use than Earthmate on a mobile device. The other features do not play into my decision to upgrade. I use a digital compass primarily on my watch. I use the TracBack feature sparingly (e.g., perhaps one or two times during a 10-day expedition). More satellite support is not a significant need for me because most of my hiking is in the mountains of the North American west. Improved battery life and Explore integration are enough to justify the upgrade for me.
Will the 1st generation inReach Mini get a firmware update that will make it compatible with Garmin Explore?
While the 1st generation inReach Mini will still be supported by Garmin with firmware updates as needed, forward compatibility with Garmin Explore will not be possible. The 1st generation inReach Mini uses a different Bluetooth protocol that is not compatible with the Explore app. In theory, it’s possible, but because the Mini 1 has so little unallocated memory, it doesn’t have enough memory margin to support the new protocol.
I do not yet own a satellite communicator. Is the Garmin inReach Mini 2 the best entry point?
I will not say that it is the best because “best” will always depend on users’ needs. However, the inReach Mini 2 is undoubtedly the most powerful and capable standalone satellite communicator available. That is a critical designation because it gives me duplicity of function in case of a smartphone failure. Plus, the opportunity to leave the smartphone at home is always welcome. That said, there are other capable satellite communicators on the market, and you will find our current recommendations in the Gear Shop.
Should I buy a 1st Generation Garmin inReach Mini?
With the introduction of the Garmin inReach Mini 2, the 1st generation inReach Mini’s will start flooding the used gear market. They will (likely) be closed out by retailers at sale prices. At a price of less than $200, the 1st generation inReach Mini would be a very good deal. However, suppose you are interested in pre-trip planning or post-trip analysis or want the most positive user experience possible with desktop and mobile apps. In that case, Garmin Explore (Mini 2) is more capable and user-friendly than Garmin Earthmate (Mini 1st generation). In addition, Earthmate is now a legacy package. It will receive minimal maintenance and support from Garmin, having reached the end of its development cycle. Look for continuous development and improvement of Explore.
Zoleo or Garmin inReach Mini 2?
I would only recommend the Zoleo if you need seamless message threading across satellite, WiFi, and cellular networks. I would recommend the inReach Mini 2 if you want a smaller, lighter package more capable as a standalone device. In addition, the inReach may be a better option if you want to integrate your satellite communicator into a Garmin ecosystem that includes Instinct or Fenix watches and Explore software. Other differences between the two communicators are otherwise relatively insignificant.
- Learn how to use all Garmin inReach models, including the Mini series, in our How to Use the Garmin inReach Masterclass.
- Read our review of the Garmin inReach Mini.
- Research & discover more about the Garmin inReach Mini 2 in the Backpacking Light Gear Shop.
Where to Buy
- The Garmin inReach Mini 2 is currently available at REI (REI Membership Required).
DISCLOSURE (Updated November 7, 2019)
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