So a satellite phone, a Blackberry and a GPS walk into a bar. It's $1 shot night, they get plastered, have a three-way and somehow produce a child. That child is the SPOT X, one of a handful of satellite messaging devices that will track your travels, provide text-style two-way communication and, should something go terribly awry, allow you to call for extraction just by holding down the big SOS button.
We normally like our reviews to stand on their own, but since there are really only two major players in this product space, Garmin and SPOT, let's just get the inevitable comparison out of the way up front. Compared to the Garmin inReach devices, the SPOT X has three clear advantages: cost, standalone functionality and battery life. The SPOT X is quite a bit less expensive both for the hardware – $350 for the inReach Mini and $450 for the Explorer, versus $199 for the SPOT X. On the service side, prices for both start at $11.95/month for a year or $14.95/month to month with a $19.95 one-time activation fee. However the Garmin base plan includes only ten text messages while the SPOT X includes twenty, and SPOT X charges 25 cents for extra messages versus 50 cents for Garmin. SPOT X also includes tracking in its base plan, unlike Garmin.
The second point in favor of the SPOT X is its standalone capability, starting with the fact that it comes with a dedicated phone number so your people can text to it just like they text to any other phone. The SPOT X has a dedicated keyboard as well, and it even supports illumination for night use, although it's a bit clunky and the tiny keys are not really usable with gloves on. On the usability side, the SPOT X is fairly straightforward, although with any piece of equipment that crams a lot of functionality into a tiny non-touch screen, you'll want to read the quick start guide first and eventually the detailed instructions.
The third point is battery life, which at about 240 hours is head and shoulders above the competition. This will decline somewhat if you decrease the tracking interval, but it's still great. Know that the SPOT X doesn't use standard replaceable batteries so on a longer trip you'll need to bring a solar panel and/or some kind of power bank, which wasn't a big deal to us since we usually have one along anyway.
So if you're focused on cost and/or you can't/don't want to bring a smart phone into the backcountry with you, the SPOT X is a solid choice, albeit one that comes with a few caveats. First, although the tracking feature works to accurately show you your location, altitude and time, and you can even connect it to social media accounts, it won't tell you your distance traveled. The SPOT X also doesn't support maps on the device, limiting you to basic waypoints and compass headings, although this feature makes good use of the small screen and is surprisingly usable, even telling you the distance to destination.
Other minor nits include the fact that if you send updates to an email address, you're still limited to 140 characters, and that includes the reply. So when your significant other replies without deleting the text in the original message it will fail to send but s/he won't know why. Finally the fact that the SPOT X doesn't work with a smart phone is both blessing and curse, since you can't crossload contacts or use maps on your phone. There is an app, but we couldn't get it to download messages or anything else even though it was logged into our account at www.findmespot.com.
Overall the SPOT X is a solid contender based on those three factors: cost, standalone use and battery life. It brings a certain peace of mind to backcountry travel, both to you and the people in your life who even if they don't care about your latest epic adventure still like knowing that you'll show up to the next BBQ.