Glenn Charles

Adventurer | Photographer | Connector

Today I am a Time Traveler with a Camera... Tomorrow, who knows

Delorme InReach – The good, the bad, and the UGLY

I had hoped to do a full-blown review of the unit, but I find myself incredibly busy with a few other projects right now.  So in an attempt to at least get some useful information out to the community, I thought I would throw out some quick observations.

First some background.  I have traveled for 3 years using a generation one Spot unit so I have a good feel for the whole concept of how I, as an adventurer, want & need to use these units.  I am also one of the lucky few that have had the pleasure of initiating a full blown rescue by accidentally hitting the emergency button on my unit while out in the middle of the Bay of Fundy on a sea kayak expedition. Not something I would recommend by the way :-)

For me I am looking at main features in a tracking device:

  1. The ability to send ‘OK’ messages and leave bread crumb trails
  2. The ability to send ‘pre-canned’ messages
  3. The ability to request emergency assistance
  4. The ability to carry on a two-way conversation

When my Spot unit finally died, I was forced with making a decision on what to do.  I could go with the new Spot device or I could give the InReach unit a try.  I had been watching the Delorme unit for a while, following the threads and patiently waiting for iOS support before jumping in.  Why the InReach? Primarily because I wanted the two-way communication feature when paired with either an iPhone or an iPad.  I knew that for the trips I was doing, the ability to have a two way conversation was critical and I did not want to have to use a Sat Phone.  These criteria led me to choosing the InReach unit for my recent Alaska expedition.  In short, here is what I learned, in bullet form. 

The Good:

  • The unit is rugged and dealt with constant exposure to temps in the -36 range, snow, sleet, etc. in brilliant fashion.
  • Virtually impossible to hit the emergency button accidentally as a slider is required to initiate the button press
  • Battery life was on par with what I expected for a device used in these conditions.  I like that it supports lithium batteries for cold weather usage.
  • The buttons worked well, and I did not mind the mechanism by which you manually transmitted the pre-programmed messages.
  • Messages seemed to go through fine with no apparent lost messages.  Something that I always had difficulty with on my gen 1 SPOT device.
  • When paired successfully, the mapping feature of the Delorme App was very nice and useful.  Unfortunately it did not pair often enough for me to comment on how it may have helped on battery life, a claimed benefit of using the InReach as your GPS receiver versus using the GPS receiver in your iOS device.
  • Integration with social media worked.

The Bad

  • Setting up integration with social media was the most convoluted, painful process I had ever gone through.  That was until I experienced the pain of trying to pair the unit with my iOS devices.
  • The web interface for setting up your device and account is oh so painful.
  • In my opinion, the pairing with a iOS device is absolutely worthless.  I mean ABSOLUTELY worthless!.
  • Yes, when it worked it was ok, but the frequency that it worked was so low, that I could never rely on it.
  • Each time I turned the unit back on I was forced to go through the very painful process of attempting to pair the devices, which more than not either never worked or required so many power cycles and weird permutations that I would eventually give up!!

Conclusion

Since I don’t like to do negative reviews I will stop here because I get too frustrated and would just continue to rant about the negatives of the iOS side of things…  For the life of me I don’t understand how companies do this.  It just seems like with some moderate beta testing they could produce a completely useable product, but alas, that does not seem to be the case. Heck, even this unit has had a major firmware upgrade, which should have allowed for any and all major issues to be fixed.  Its not like Bluetooth pairing is a new thing!

So, if you want to use this as a standalone unit, well, things seem to work well.  If you want to use it as an integrated messaging device, it, well, not so good.  If you want to use it as a GPS receiver for your iOS device, the same is true, not so good.  If you can actually get it to pair, then it works nicely, but oh the headaches.  When I am out in the wild, especially the cold, this is just too much to deal with.  I will be going back to a SPOT.  Thank goodness for paper maps…

 

Anyone want to buy a used InReach device?