Gadling Gear Review: DeLorme inReach Satellite Communicator

Thanks to cheap mobile phones and the proliferation of the Internet, it is now easier than ever to stay in touch while traveling, even while visiting foreign countries. But there are still certain places on the planet where cellphone coverage is nonexistent and technology of any kind is at a premium. In those destinations, satellite communication remains the best option, although it can be cost prohibitive for many. Enter the inReach satellite communicator from DeLorme, a piece of equipment that can help travelers stay in constant contact from virtually anywhere on the planet and do so without breaking the bank.

Somewhat resembling a two-way radio that needs to go on a diet, the inReach is built to be durable enough to survive nearly any environment. The device is dust and waterproof, designed to float when dropped in water, and while it weighs just 8 ounces, it is also impact resistant. DeLorme built this gadget to operate under extreme conditions, and as such, it functions in temperatures ranging from -4° up to 158° Fahrenheit. In short, the inReach is built like a tank and can withstand nearly as much punishment.

DeLorme designed the inReach to be easy to use and provide functionality that will keep travelers safe no matter where they go. The device uses GPS technology to track its location at all times and has the ability to share that location with friends and family back home via the web or SMS message. It is also configured to be able to send a variety of predefined messages as a text to let others know that the user is okay or that they are in need of assistance. The inReach also features a dedicated SOS button that can call for emergency evacuation should the need arise, providing a measure of security no matter where our travels take us.As a stand-alone device, the inReach satellite communicator is a useful safety net that provides a measure of security for those traveling to remote corners of the planet. But when paired with a smartphone or tablet device via Bluetooth wireless connectivity, it becomes a communications tool that is far more versatile and useful than it is on its own. DeLorme’s Earthmate app is available in both the iOS app store and the Google Play store, and by adding it to your iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch or Android powered gadget, the full capabilities of the inReach are unlocked.

The Earthmate app allows the user to move beyond simply sending pre-set messages from their satellite communicator. Instead they can use their smartphone or tablet’s keyboard to type anything they want and then send it to contacts in their address book as a text message. The app can also post updates to Facebook and Twitter, while simultaneously sharing GPS locational data. You can even send messages directly to other inReach users provided you have the unique address assigned to their specific device.

The app also includes the ability to download detailed maps for most parts of the world. Those maps, when combined with the inReach’s built in GPS capabilities, turns your iPhone or Android device into a navigational tool. When paired with one another, the maps show the users location at any given time, making it easy to navigate through the high Himalaya or the streets of Rome with equal aplomb, without using expensive data plans while abroad.

The DeLorme inReach costs $249 and the Earthmate app is free. The company does require a monthly subscription fee to access the satellite services, providing options that range from as little as $9.95 up to $64.95 depending on the amount of text messages you want included in the package. Considering most of us already own a smartphone these days, that makes this an affordable and powerful communications tool for frequent travelers who simply want the ability to stay in touch from virtually anywhere on the planet. The device uses the Iridium satellite network to communicate, which gives it coverage at both the North and South Pole and just about everywhere else in between.

Powered by two AA batteries, I was concerned that the inReach would need to replace its power cells frequently, something that can be a real drag while traveling abroad. But DeLorme says that battery life is good for about 125 hours and I have a hard time taking umbrage with those numbers. While testing the gadget, I never managed to completely drain the batteries, although I did appreciate the ability to quickly and easily replace the AA cells, which also have the advantage of being readily available in just about any country in the world.

While putting the inReach through its paces, I found that it performed exactly as advertised. I was able to send text messages to contacts in my address book and they arrived within a couple of minutes. I could also send locational data, which came through as clickable links, taking friends to a webpage that displayed my current location. I can only assume that the emergency SOS feature works just as well, although for obvious reasons I didn’t test that particular aspect of the device.

Whether you’re backpacking through the Andes, sailing the South Pacific or simply wandering around Europe for a few weeks, the inReach can be a powerful communications tool to let friends and family back home know that all is well on your most recent adventure. It can also be a potential lifesaver in times of need, giving users the ability to call for help when necessary. Add in GPS navigational options and you have an incredibly useful travel companion that you won’t want to leave home without.

The DeLorme inReach also makes a perfect holiday gift for the adventure traveler in your life. If you worry about a friend or family member every time they head off on another trip, then perhaps this device is just the piece of mind you’ll need the next time they announce their plans to drop off the grid for a few weeks. Its ability to stay in contact and call for help when needed will have you sleeping much better at night.