This article first appeared on TheTrek.
One of my favorite pieces of adventure technology in recent years has been the two-way satellite messenger. With its ability to provide tracking and emergency communications in the most remote parts of the world, it’s a highly valuable tool usable by anyone venturing into the backcountry. The market for these items has historically been dominated by powerhouse companies like Garmin (formerly DeLorme) and SPOT, but increasingly there are new entrants that are providing suitable alternatives with impressive features. One such competitor is the Somewear Global Hotspot.
Somewear Global Hotspot At-a-Glance
Weight: 4 ounces
Size: 3.6 inches.
Price: $350 (plus data plan of $8-50/mo).
Durability: Waterproof (IPX7), shockproof, floatable
Battery Life: Send/receive 1,000+ messages on one charge, or send a location pin every 10 minutes for 11 days
Features of the Somewear Global Hotspot
Texts: While the Somewear does not offer the ability to send preset messages like the SPOT or Garmin products (such as “I’m OK,” “Send Help,” etc.), it does provide two-way communication abilities through the Somewear smartphone app or web browser.
Smartphone connectivity: All functionality, with the exception of activating the SOS function, is performed via the app via Bluetooth connection as there is no display screen or keyboard on the device itself. Capabilities within the app include collecting weather reports, sending text messages, and tracking. The interface is smooth and extremely easy to navigate.
Weather reports: From the app’s “Weather” tab, you can easily gather forecasts based on your current location. The report provides current, hourly, and seven-day forecasts based on the Dark Sky application for the cost of one text message.
SOS: The emergency feature is triggered fromthe device by removing the light blue cap and pressing “SOS.” This sends a signal to the GEOS Emergency Response team, which will dispatch local providers to assist you. Once triggered, a new text thread called “Emergency Responders” is automatically created in the “Messages” tab, which will allow you to communicate directly with dispatchers to relay specific information about your condition or location.
Tracking: From the “Tracking” tab on the app, you can view the map of your location and any pins dropped during your activity. From here, you can start/stop your tracking, download maps for offline use (if data is available), update the tracking interval (10-30 minutes) and share your tracking information with friends and family. You can also enable or disable tracking directly from the device itself by rapidly pressing the on/of button three times.
There are two annoying caveats with sharing your trip: you must select each person from your Contacts list and they must create an account with Somewear. They will also get a notification each time you begin. For basic navigation, a compass shows bearing and distance. You cannot set routes or waypoints.
Web browser: In addition to the app, you can also access tracking and messaging from a web browser, which enables you to view data from your trips based on date and also download your tracking information. This requires a login and so everyone who accesses this information will need to sign up for an account.
Maps: The device uses MapBox Openstreet maps, which are downloadable from the “Tracking” tab for offline use. No USGS or other topographical maps are available.
Subscriptions: Somewear offers some of the most competitively priced subscription plans of any two-way satellite messenger, which range from $8-$50 per month based on the amount of texts and pin drops you want to have available as well as how far in advance you pay (one year contracts offer lower prices).
Size and weight: The device is 3.6 inches long and weighs 4 ounces, which is much more compact than most full-sized satellite messengers but nearly identical to that of the Garmin InReach Mini.
Battery life: Claimed the Somewear Global Hotspot can send/receive 1,000+ messages on one charge or send a location pin every 10 minutes for 11 days. This assumes a clear line of sight to the sky.
Smart routing: This feature helps you save on satellite data by sending messages, updating location, and retrieving weather reports over Wi-Fi or cellular networks if they are available. The transition is seamless and requires no toggling on the device itself.
Using the Somewear Global Hotspot
I used the Somewear Global Hotspot on a four-day hike in South Africa (pre-COVID-19) and was impressed with its functionality and features, but it also has some drawbacks that hinder its usefulness.
- Excellent and streamlined app that is easy to use and understand
- Premium weather forecasts do not cost extra as with other services (looking at you, Garmin!), although they are only available for your current location
- Smart Routing works well and seamlessly switched between satellite and cell service to save on data when network was available
- Less expensive service plans make it more affordable
- No way to set routes or waypoints (Note: newer versions of the app do have this capability, but the version I had in February 2020 did not)
- No on-device functionality except SOS and start/stop tracking, thus you are beholden to smart phone use and limited by its battery
- Not convenient to share location or route—everyone needs to create an account
- No indication on the device itself that a message was received. Instead, you either have to be connected via Bluetooth at all times or remember to connect and check in.
The Somewear Global Hotspot certainly has its place in the satellite messenger market. For the features it has, it performs well; its flawless app, premium weather information, and low-priced data plans offer significant advantages over competitors such as Garmin and SPOT. However, its complete dependency on a smartphone, thirst for battery, and requirement for those tracking to create an account signal to me that it’s best used for shorter off-grid trips where a power source is regularly available to charge both the device and your phone.
For long-running adventures or weekend hiking trips without cell service, I would not hesitate to use the Somewear Global Hotspot. For thru-hikes or FKT attempts where sharing of tracking data must be easy and seamless, it may not be the ideal choice.