Spot Global Phone Review - A Satellite Phone For The Masses (Part 2)

9/25/2013 11:13:41 AM

Call quality and the quirks of texting / data use

I called and received calls from a variety of remote locations: deep within the San Bernardino National Forest, Joshua Tree National Park, Mohave National Preserve, Zion National Park, uninhabited canyons outside of Page, Ariz. and Mesa Verde National Park. It is important to note that each call I made was in a place where neither AT&T nor Verizon Wireless provided any service whatsoever.

Each time, I was able to connect to someone on the other end within around 20 seconds – usually much faster. I called folks on a variety of cellular networks as well as conventional landlines, and by and large, no one had any issues hearing me. Indeed, it sounded like I was on a typical mobile phone call most of the time.

Global Phone’s data use

Global Phone’s data use

Nevertheless, the handset does not do a good job blocking wind noise, as told to me on numerous occasions while attempting to have a conversation atop some sort of mountain or mesa, and performance seemed to suffer when moving or when used between canyon walls. I started a call with a clear view of the sky in Zion National Park, and attempted to walk down a trail that placed me between mountainsides; the deeper I went, the harder it was to hear the person on the other side. Unfortunately, the Global Phone - much like a DirecTV satellite - really needs a clear view of the sky to function normally. This means that I was not able to make a call while standing 128 feet below the surface in Upper Antelope Canyon, and perhaps more seriously, it means that you could not either if you happened to fall down there while walking pass.

I was disconnected for about 3 minutes, even though I was calling for 5 minutes already. In fact, I doubt that the Global Phone’s users would need more than that for an emergency call. One more time, you are not buying this phone to talk to your friends while making candy under the Fuji Mountain. This phone is used as a safety gear – alike a tool to announce the changes of condition or making emergency calls in the places that your normal mobile phones are useless.

 In an interesting change, Spot has discontinued the support of two-way SMS (texting) as of June 2013. Previously, these phones could send and receive 35-character messages like any other mobile phone, but I was told by a company representative that the cost for these transmissions was so high that support was abandoned. I am also guessing it simply was not used very often. As it stands, you can alert your loved ones prior to leaving that they can visit this website in order to send a text to your number. That is a free service that anyone can use, but be aware that this is a one-way communication platform. Even if you receive a text through this method, you cannot text back. For what it is worth, I sent a short message using my browser, and the handset received it within a few seconds.

How about the data transmissions? With those who cannot live without an email while you are in a bush, the company provides the users a $20 data kit. Technically speaking, it allows you to tether Global Phone with the laptop, and then you can connect to the internet. You will only reach the maximum speed of up to 28Kbps, though, so you will need to be really desperate to even think about trying it.


Global Phone’s coverage

Global Phone’s coverage

This is definitely a thing that will surprise you a lot. Global Phone will not be working everywhere. One of the most confusing facts about the sat phones is that they do not support the phone calls everywhere on the planet. In fact, there is a large variety of locations in the world that this phone cannot cover. All of the United States, Central America, as well as a huge portion of the oceans surrounding them, are supported. But if you go further to the North Canada or Greenland, you will be out of range. Also, some huge areas in Africa, India and Asia are not covered, and also the oceans surrounding us. The map below describes exactly where the Global Phone can be used, so, have a look at it carefully before expecting the phone would work where you are heading to.


Considering that a proper mountaineering outfit, backpack, sleeping bag, stove and water purification system are apt to run you well north of a grand, spending $499 for a device that could very well save your life is not a big deal at all. Best of all, Spot provides us a month-to-month plan that does not have any strings attached; all you need to do is paying $50 to activate the service and then choose a suitable plan for you and then get start on your trip without worrying about anything else. With approximately $40, you can call for 80 minutes ($0.99/minute), free to compress your data and the peace of mind that can only be achieved by having something like this within your hands.

For those who want to cut off more, there is a $25 plan which gives you 10 minutes of calling, with each additional minute priced at $1.99. To be honest, those rates are really acceptable for those who are left alone in the forest or be facing with the dangers lurking around. In fact, I am pretty sure that someone fearing imminent death in the wild would be willing to pay a whole lot more for just 60 seconds of talk time with 911. Naturally, those who need coverage on an annual basis have options as well, with a $300/year plan providing 120 minutes talking.

There is such a sat phone for normal commercial use.

There is such a sat phone for normal commercial use.

The main complaints that we received about the Global Phone are: the unfortunate charging problem, because of the large size of the charger, it is so inconvenient to carry it around. An option for USB charging really should have been included. Secondly, the disappearance of the SMS support is truly a big disadvantage. Certainly, you can still phone your family or your friends once a night for a while to tell them you have reached your next waypoint, but being able to type in a succinct text to accomplish the same would have been more comfortable. Particularly for those leading up group hikes - Philmont, I'm talking about you -- having one of these around is no doubt. The $499 price tag is really worth the very first time you actually need to use it.


·         Price: $499


·         Allowing you to make a call to almost everywhere on the planet

·         Long battery life

·         Quite compact


·         Unnecessarily huge charger  

·         Do not support two-ways SMS

·         Still not function well in some locations


·         Finally, there is such a sat phone for normal commercial use. The price of $499 is really worth it when you are in the situations that any little helps are essential.



·         Height: 13.5 cm

·         Width: 5.6 cm       

·         Depth: 3.8 cm

Calling Features

·         Any key answer

·         Standard international dialing ("+" prefix)

·         User configurable ringtones (8)

Data Network

·         Send emails, surf internet, transfer files easily and quickly

·         USB data cable (port speed up to 38,400 bps) (sold separately)

·         Express Data provides up to 28 kbps throughput (Uncompressed speed 9600 bps)

Usage Control Features

·         User-configurable call timers

·         "Minute alert" to manage costs

·         Keypad lock and security lock code


·         4-line, 12-character LCD

·         Volume, signal and battery indicators


·         99 entry internal address book

·         Call history - received, missed & dialed calls


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