If you track these sorts of things, you probably heard Delorme is coming out with a personal locator beacon (PLB) that’s based on satphone technology and allows some form of 2-way comm. The unit is called inReach. First impressions:
A couple of positives stand out with this rig. First, inReach does two-way communication. As a stand-alone, if you trigger the “SOS” button you’ll get an indicator light coming back to you showing your help request was received. In my view this is super important, as in an emergency situation one needs to reduce the fiddle factor, and pressing the help button over and over again on a PLB “just to be sure” is yet another distraction. With the inReach, press it once, wait for the return signal to come back, and you’re done (and, I suspect, press it one more time anyway for good fortune if nothing else.)
More good, inReach does allow brief (160 character) two-way text messaging when coupled with either an Android smartphone or DeLorme GPS. The unit also does tracking, though functionality of that needs extensive testing since we’re not exactly big fans of DeLorme’s previous user interfaces we’ve experienced with their mapping software and GPS units.
While bulky (4.78 inches high including antenna, x 2.85 inches x depth of 1.73 inches) the inReach does float and is of course waterproof enough for anything but diving. Front panel switches look intuitive, and DeLorme actually had the Einsteinien intelligence to include a physical and obvious lock so false triggering will be impossible. The controls do look a bit vulnerable as they’re not recessed or otherwise protected. Seems like these things should be designed to be beat, as in rolled down a scree field or tumbled in a backpack with a rock climbing hardware rack. Recessing or otherwise protecting the controls and indicators would seem to be logical in that sense. Perhaps in next generation.
Weight is unknown, once production units are out we’ll add a real-world weight here. I’d estimate it to be around 6 ounces. The display unit I handled felt light for its bulk. It does have to float.
I guess we owe Apple for making folks want to name their products with capital letters in the middle of the word. So inReach it shall be, la-De-dah.
Inquiring minds out there will want to know what satellite system the inReach uses. Yes, Iridium, which is pretty good. In my experience as an Iridium satphone owner, their swirling constellation of satellites are nearly always available (they’re said to cover the whole planet.) Yet be it known that unless you’ve got a level horizon and no vegetation or structures blocking the sky, Iridium connectivity can be spotty. That’s where texting comes in, which is done in data bursts instead of a constant duplexing flow like trying to use voice comm. Thus, texting and sending SOS with the inReach should be fairly reliable, but texting might occasionally require a wait up to 4 minutes or so if you’re in a canyon (you have to wait for a sat to sail overhead), and I suppose the SOS function could take just as long to trigger.
In all, a good effort by DeLorme which we look forward to working with.
The inReach is said to start shipping in October. Service plans start at $9.95 a month, MSRP $249.95.
Delorme blog has a good Q&A regarding the inReach.