Spot X Satellite Messenger: SOS and Personalized Text Messages

Jun 08, 2019 View Comments by

Spot X: A Two-Way Satellite Messenger

With the new Spot X communication device, riders can send SOS messages, but now thanks to a full keyboard and display screen they can personalize content, too. Information travels in both directions, enabling riders to both send and receive text messages from anyone because the Spot X comes equipped with a hardware circuit that can listen to messages coming directly from the communication satellites hovering above in space.

The underlying satellite infrastructure and technologies are the same that were used with the older Spot 3 device: low-orbit Globalstar communication satellites, with coverage of most parts of Earth’s continents, act as the communication backbone. But the similarities between the Spot X and the previous devices stop there.

At a first glance, the Spot X looks like a 2007 Curve 8300 Blackberry, but with orange insets and a bulky antenna. On top, there is a black-and-white nontouch LCD screen with backlight. The QWERTY keyboard below offers all the English characters, as well as special characters that are available with the ALT key. Although small, the keys have a good tactile feedback. Between the screen and the keyboard, a little joystick is used for menu navigation. The menu system throws you back in time to the early 2000s with its nested menus and options.

The main upgrade of the Spot X is its ability to send and receive messages using a familiar inbox paradigm. Messages can be sent either as texts to another phone, or as emails to an email recipient.

Ingeniously, each Spot X device has its own phone number! No audio conversations can be initiated, but the number is used with text messages. Recipients who are using a smartphone will see the Spot X’s phone number as the caller ID. Similarly, smartphone users can initiate conversations by sending a text message to the Spot X number, which is very convenient and often costs nothing (given the unlimited text phone plans commonly offered today).

Messages can be made to include the device’s GPS altitude and location. A three-second hold of the track button, to the right of the joystick, activates Tracking Mode, which repeatedly broadcasts the device’s location on a configurable time interval. The feature also allows family and friends to follow and monitor the rider online as he or she travels.

There is also a very cool “Check In” option that connects to Facebook or Twitter social media channels. Under the navigation menu, there are numerous useful tools including a digital compass and programmable waypoints with trip info metrics.
The nonreplaceable battery is rechargeable via a micro B USB port that is popular with many smartphones and Bluetooth devices.

As much as I like the Spot X, it is not perfect. The biggest gripe I have is with the screen, which is dim even indoors and especially outdoors in full sunlight. The black-and-white menus can be quite frustrating, since it is hard to figure out which button or control is selected or active. Other devices and phones today have much better and brighter color TFT touch screens. (Given that this is a hardware component, we can only hope that the Spot X2 will get this improved.) On top of that, the screen fonts are tiny. Despite having reasonable vision, I found it difficult to read the characters and sometimes had to resort to using my smartphone camera as a magnifying glass.

For messages to be properly sent or received, it is critical for the antenna to be pointing up to the clear skies. In recent years, we were spoiled with smartphones and Wi-Fi devices that work from virtually any angle, but with the Spot X one needs to pay especially close attention.

Lastly, messages are not instantaneously sent or received. Delivery times can vary between one and 15 minutes, and the process often requires some patience. Again, this is in contrast to SMS or social messaging apps that are immediate.

Despite its flaws, the Spot X has the potential to become a game changer because it could drastically affect how riders communicate while traveling and how they handle difficult situations. The device does provide critical and unique functionality features that can be very handy, even lifesaving, under adverse circumstances and emergencies.




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