Personal GPS tracking

In exploring handheld GPS units I came across something that was really interesting and has a lot of fun promise. It is the SPOT Personal Tracker.

The Personal Tracker is a device that you can carry with you while traveling on remote, or not so remote, adventures. It uses the same GPS satellite systems that other GPS receivers do, which means that it will work globally, and in places where cell phone coverage is limited or non-existent. The devise promises several nifty features that could be very handy and fun.

For example, you can set the unit to track your progress every 10 minutes and send a message back to friends and family to let them know your location. You can even allows people to follow your progress on a website—a fun way to share someone’s adventure with them. I can see those intrepid individuals who climb mountains or sail solo across the ocean, or even something less grand like driving across the country, making use of this for family.

You can have the unit send an “all OK” message to a list of people to give them periodic evidence that you have not fallen off a cliff. And in the case of a real emergency it has a 911 button which transmits your location to rescue operations and lets them know you need immediate help.

These all sound like great features, especially when the unit costs only about $100. However, in reading reviews and exploring the SPOT website, it may be an idea whose time has not quite come.

Reviews of the device are mixed, with more positive reviews than negative to be sure, but the negative reviews are consistent in topic. Mostly the complaints are that the unit does not obtain satellite lock as well as regular handheld GPS units, so in places with forest cover or in canyons that have limited access to the sky, the unit may not be able to transmit the location. This might not be so bad if it lost connection periodically, but seems to be a consistent issue.

The second issue that negative reviewers mention is that the website interface that SPOT provides is often, well, “spotty.” In order to use the device you must pay a subscription fee (basic fee looks to be about $100/year, with additional options available). And there are many complaints about the unit not being able to correctly contact the web system to update it. For example, if you arrange to send an “OK” message everyday at a certain time as a check in, the system might well not register it, leaving those tracking you wondering if it was a system error or something more serious.

Out of curiosity I visited the SPOT webpage to look it over, and I must say I was not impressed with what I saw. For a company offering a “high-tech” service, I could not get the webpage to function correctly. It may just be my browser, but the pull-down menu items flashed on and off and I could not navigate—it did not inspire me with confidence.

So, I guess I have to agree with the reviewers that this unit might be fun to play with, and it has great promise, but it might not be something to risk your life with. Although if this brand does not fully meet expectations I bet one will sometime soon—it is a great idea. If you know of other brands out there let me know and we can look into them.

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