This gear guide summarizes the category of satellite messaging-centric devices, i.e., devices that focus on satellite messaging as its primary, rather than secondary, function. This is in contrast to navigation-centric devices (which usually offer integrated mapping on the device), such as the Garmin inReach Explorer or Garmin GPSMap.

Context: types of satellite messengers

1-way vs. 2-way messengers. Satellite messengers are categorized in many different ways. The most common is to characterize them as either 1-way or 2-way messengers. A 1-way messenger can send messages out but cannot receive messages. The SPOT Gen4 is a typical example.

Standalone vs. paired messengers.¬†Standalone messengers provide basic messaging functionality, including the ability to send a preset check-in message or initiate an SOS response. However, pairing the messenger to a smartphone (and the messenger’s companion app) is the only way to access a messenger’s full capabilities. The Garmin inReach Mini 2¬†is a typical example of a standalone messenger, but pairing it with a smartphone and the Garmin Explore app provides easier access to messaging features and more robust mapping. On the other hand, the Zoleo Satellite Communicator and Somewear Global Hotspot provide minimal functionality as standalone devices and require pairing to their companion apps to use them productively as messaging devices. The Garmin inReach Messenger falls in between these two extremes.

Messaging vs. tracking, mapping, and navigation. All messengers can send messages, but only 2-way messengers can receive them. Some messengers provide the mapping and navigation features of standalone GPS devices or apps. Also, the tracking and location-sharing features available in satellite messengers vary widely.

Comparison: inReach vs. Zoleo vs. SPOT vs. Somewear messengers

The following table compares the Garmin inReach Messenger (the newest device) to the Zoleo Satellite Communicator, SPOT Gen4, SPOT X, ACR Bivy Stick, Garmin inReach Mini 2, and Somewear Global Hotspot. This collection of messengers spans the range of both 1- and 2-way satellite messengers that offer different capabilities with messaging, tracking, mapping, and navigation – and their functionality when paired with a smartphone or not.

Scroll to the right to view all columns of this table.

Garmin inReach Mini 2Garmin inReach MessengerZoleo Satellite CommunicatorSPOT Gen4SPOT XACR Bivy StickSomewear Global HotspotMotorola Defy Satellite LInk
battery life (active tracking at 10-15 minute intervals, 8 hr/day)10-14 days20-30 days6-8 days20-40 days8-15 days3-5 days7-10 days4 days
battery typerechargeable lithiumrechargeable lithiumrechargeable lithium4xAAArechargeable lithiumrechargeable lithiumrechargeable lithiumrechargeable lithium
interfaceUSB-CUSB-CMicro USBMicro USBMicro USBUSB-CMicro USBUSB-C
reverse chargingnoyesnononononono
group message conversationsnoyesnononononono
send check-in messages from device*yesyesyesyesyesyesnoyes
send custom messages from device*yesyesnonoyesnonono
send custom messages from app*yesyesyesnoyesyesyesyes
activate SOS from deviceyesyesyesyesyesyesyesyes
seamless messaging (network-independent)**(coming soon)yesyesn/anoyesyesyes
trackingyesyeslimited (Location Share+)yesyesyesyesnot yet
start/stop from deviceyesyesyesyesyesyesnon/a
track retraceyes (TracBack)yes (TracBack)nononononono
satellite networkIridiumIridiumIridiumGlobalstarGlobalstarIridiumIridiumInmarsat
plan costs$15 - $65$15 - $65$20 - $56$12 - $15$12 - $30$20 - $70$8 - $50$5 - $30
weather forecasting (integrated)***yesyesyesnonoyesyesno
view forecast on device***yesyesnononononono
mapping/navigation on deviceyesnononolimitednonono
mapping/navigation in appyesnonolimitedlimitedlimitedlimitedno
visual displayyesyesnonoyesnonono
show incoming messages?yesyesnonoyesnonono
smart watch integrationyesyeslimitednonononono
user rating @ REI4.2 / 5.0n/a4.2 / 5.02.9 / 5.03.0 / 5.0n/an/a3.3 / 5.0
companion appGarmin Explore (Garmin Messenger support coming soon)Garmin MessengerZoleoThe Spot AppThe Spot App, Spot X BluetoothBivySomewearBullitt Satellite Messenger
App Store rating3.9 / 5.0n/a4.1 / 5.02.1 / 5.03.0 / 5.03.6 / 5.04.2 / 5.02.6 / 5.0
dimensions3.9 x 2.0 x 1.0 inches3.1 x 2.5 inches3.6 x 2.6 x 1.1 inches3.5 x 2.7 x 0.9 inches7.5 x 5.8 x 2.0 inches4.5 x 1.9 x 0.8 inches3.0 x 3.6 x 0.8 inches3.4 x 2.5 x 0.5 inches
weight3.5 ounces4.0 ounces5.3 ounces5.0 ounces7.0 oz3.4 ounces4.0 ounces2.5 ounces

* For this comparison, we define a “check-in” message as a preset¬†message that can be sent to a group of contacts you specify and a “custom” message that can be specified on the device to say whatever you want it to say (via a physical or online keyboard). Some devices offer the ability to send more than one type of preset message (e.g., the Spot Gen4¬†calls these two message types check-in¬†and custom¬†messages, but neither are customizable without configuring them via a live internet connection).

** Seamless messaging refers to a device’s ability to maintain message conversations in one place (i.e., inside the device app on your smartphone) across cellular, WiFi, and satellite networks.

*** Some devices (e.g., Garmin inReach Mini 2) offer integrated (built-in) weather forecast requests and display on the device and in-app. Other devices (e.g., Spot X) do not, but third-party services may be used to deliver text-based weather forecasts via satellite messaging features).

**** IPX7 – Can withstand incidental exposure to water up to 1 meter for up to 30 minutes. IPX8 – can withstand continuous immersion of water exceeding 1 meter in depth (devices are usually hermetically-sealed).

DISCLOSURE (Updated April 9, 2024)

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