In the last week I have had a few comments on my blog post about the SPOT GPS Messenger and Personal Locator Beacons. The comments and the information sent to me is just too important not to post, especially for those thinking about purchasing one of the devices. Comments from Max have shed a lot of light on the questions that I asked a few months back, and those I left unanswered. Max gave me a thorough breakdown of the differences between the two devices- battery life, transmission wattage, transmission frequencies, satellite differences, and coverage, and how his experience with both devices. He uses both the SPOT GPS Messenger for tracking his route and carries the ACR SARLink for emergency use. You can follow the above link to read then entire comment thread, or visit the Desert Explorer website where I will repost all the text to read it there.
There was also a comment from Mikele with a link to the latest feature available from ACR- an optional subscription service compatible with all their 406 MHz units that allows the user to send an “okay” message- read more about that here. This sounds exactly like one of the features of the SPOT device. ACR offers only this single message transmission option, sent to up to five email addresses or as texts, at a price of $59.95 a year. I am not clear how many messages you can send with that option. More importantly, I could not find any data on how much power it takes to send such messages- a very important factor considering the battery replacement cost for the SARLink is about $160. Back to the comparison- the SPOT GPS Messenger service costs $100 a year, but has a few message send options, and the tracking option for another $50 a year.
Another new addition to the ACR website is their comparison of SPOT and PLB’s, and a wealth of information about the differences in the two devices (much of it exactly what Max had sent me- word for word- maybe he works for ACR?). All of this data is exactly what I was looking for when I wrote my blog post back in November of 2009. Strangely neither ACR nor SPOT could tell me about their competition at that time. Now the information is official, coming right from ACR. It even confirms my suspicion that it is not truly accurate to compare the two devices, that it is essentially “comparing apples and oranges” (my wording and theirs). If you have any doubts about which device is right for your needs, or the differences in the two, read the information on that page and you will be perfectly clear.
Finally, in support of what is on the above mentioned ACR web page, it should be noted that SPOT has recalled the SPOT 2, aka the SPOT GPS Messenger, because of power issues. I called SPOT about two weeks ago and asked about the recall. They told me that it was still underway, but that units were still being sold by some companies, and they actually recommended not buying them. The person I spoke to said to call back in a couple of weeks and that new units should be available for sale then.
At this point it is clear that the two units, while appearing to have the same features, are very different in their function. If you want a device that will insure your safety in the bush just about anywhere in the world, then you should look at a PLB such as the ACR SARLink or MicroFix. If you want a device that will probably keep you safe and will, under normal circumstances in many parts of the world, allow your friends and family to follow your progress online, then look at the SPOT device.