Thursday, November 19, 2015

Gear Review: DeLorme InReach Explorer Two-Way Satellite Communicator

Being stranded in the wilderness is not my idea of a good time, so I have a backup system in place for each time I head into the forest. After hearing about many hunters switching to the DeLorme InReach Explorer Two-Way Satellite Communicator, I contacted an industry friend who had much more insight into how it works. After discussing it with him and getting an introduction to the staff at DeLorme, I was sent a demo unit to test out for a month. It was right at the start of deer season, so I figured it was a great time for the full test. 

First off, want to thank Josh Moremen and Dan McFetridge for all of their guidance and assistance with information and getting me a unit to field test. You guys were awesome to work with and I appreciate you guys taking the time to answer each and every question I had. Thank you!

Disclaimer: Unfortunately, due to time constraints of my hunt, the demo unit was sent out quickly to get it to me before I left for my hunt and it wasn't cleared of the settings from the people who had used it prior. The staff at DeLorme said they would go over the setup with me to be sure I understood it, but I wanted to field test it as a typical user. (I am sure DeLorme doesn't walk each customer through the entire setup process over the phone and I wanted the review to be authentic.)

The InReach is an electronic GPS unit that you use in conjunction with your smart phone. You have to download the Earthmate app to your phone. Be sure to download the higher profile maps or you will find it difficult to find anything. On the low profile maps, you cannot see the elevation for each line until you zoom all the way in. 

Here the Technical Specifications and Important Information (as provided on the website):
  • Includes digital compass, barometric altimeter and accelerometer
  • Includes an odometer and displays useful trip statistics while in the field, such as trip time, max speed, moving average, trip distance
  • 100 hours of battery life in 10-minute tracking mode with a clear view to the sky. Extended tracking mode can extend battery life even more for long-haul trips.
  • Color screen and virtual keyboard with predictive text for standalone two-way messaging
  • GPS accuracy to +/- 5 meters
  • Water rating: IP67 (withstands incidental water exposure; tested for submersion at one meter for 30 minutes).
  • Rugged, dustproof and impact-resistant (Mil-STD-810G for shock; IP67 for dust). 
  • Impact-resistant (Mil-STD-810G for shock)
  • Internal lithium polymer battery (2,450 mAh capacity at 3.7 V)
  • SOS messages are received by GEOS, a worldwide emergency response coordination center with 24/7/365 staffing
  • Weight: 6.7 ounces
  • Email, SOS and tracking functions work anywhere in the world; SMS availability may vary by country.
  • 100% global coverage via the Iridium satellite network, which is the world's furthest-reaching satellite communications network.
  • Maintains a satellite signal lock even in difficult GPS environments and embeds precise location coordinates in sent messages.
  • Pairs via Bluetooth with Apple iOS, Android, or Kindle Fire with bluetooth (smartphones and tablets)
  • A contract-free (minimum 30-day commitment) or annual satellite subscription plan is required for use; plans start at $11.95 per month. See plan details.) 
I tested this system out on multiple occasions. I tested it in high elevation, low elevation, and sitting inside a house.

The Cons:

Error Messages: Unit not connecting. In the parking lot, before our steep hike in, I confirmed the unit and my phone were paired via Bluetooth. After hiking in a couple miles, I saw a message saying they were not pairing. I tried to reconnect a few times and on the third try it seemingly connected. A half hour later, I went to look up a map and it wasn't connected again. I was sitting on a wide open hillside. When I got home, I connected the unit to my phone via Bluetooth at my house. More than a few times, I had error messages from the Explorer stating it could not locate my phone. The funny thing is, they were less than one foot apart each time. I am not sure what was going on there, but the DeLorme staff thinks I had a bug in the unit. No matter what, I wasn't thrilled with the result. My hunting partner was a witness to all of this, too and will back up my frustration.

Texting Issues: When texting, the messages come from a generated number, not your own. More than half the people I sent messages to didn't answer me because they had no idea who it was. You either have to set the unit up at home and test the feature (thus expiring one of your allotted messages) or you have to add a signature to each message.

Public/Private Land Boundaries: As a hunter in SoCal, I need to know where the public land stop and the private land begins, and vice versa. The InReach maps don't show public/private land boundaries like my current GPS added software. I put a lot of value on maps that show the boundaries.

Screen Size: In my opinion, the screen is too small for viewing. I am used to a larger screen where it is easier for a guy with glasses to see the screen and not have to hold it close to see everything. Like I stated, it's my own issue with the small screen.

The Pros: 

Service Options: You can set up a month-to-month plan or pay for an annual plan for service. This is really great for those of use who may only use the unit 4-5 months a year. You can suspend service without any extra fees or issues. I loved this feature!

Battery Life: The battery life was excellent on the Explorer. I was impressed with the internal battery and the ease of charging it.

Coordinates When Texting: You can text someone what is going on and it will attach your current GPS location with the message. That's a pretty cool feature, unless you don't want them knowing exactly where you are (i.e. giving up your secret spot). Something to consider before sending that text.

As you can probably figure out, I wasn't too thrilled with the DeLorme InReach Explorer. I also know I am one of the few who don't care for it. I did show the unit and my findings in the field with my hunting partners. They were witness to the issues I experienced. We all agreed that if two of us each had an InReach Explorer, we could probably locate one another very quickly. We did not have the opportunity ti test that out. At $379.00 for the unit and then having to pay for the service, I want something that will not only function as a standalone unit, but also is easier to use and update. I don't want to have to use and charge my phone and worry about a GPS unit, too. Personally, the current DeLorme InReach Explorer is not for me, but don't just take my word for it. There are plenty of other reviews that go deeper into the functionality and usage. Until I see an improved benefit and connectivity, I will not be buying one.

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