AVAILABLE FROM: garmin.com.au
RRP: $499 (with Iridium plans from $25/month)
WE SAY: Reliable; easy to use; plenty of options.
I REGULARLY travel where thereís no phone reception, sometimes by myself, so had been contemplating purchasing a satellite phone for some time but was put off by the initial purchase price and the monthly expense of sat-phone plans.
I couldíve bought a basic PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) but I wanted to have the ability to easily and quickly send personalised messages when I was out travelling to let interested parties know I was okay. Of course, I also wanted the ability to instigate a rescue operation if everything wasnít okay, such as in the event of a medical or some kind of catastrophic mechanical emergency.
When I spotted the Garmin inReach Mini online, I was intrigued; here was a two-way satellite communicator that cost much less than a sat-phone to purchase and operate, yet allowed for texting from anywhere in the world. Better yet, by downloading an app and connecting to my phone via Bluetooth, it would be super-easy to use.
The Garmin inReach Mini retails for $499; although, some online retailers offer a discount. I got mine from Wild Earthís eBay store for just $460 and, although I initially subscribed to Garminís $55/month Recreation Plan, Iíve since downgraded to the basic $25/month Safety Plan due to my recent infrequent travel schedule.
THE Garmin inReach Mini uses the Iridium satellite network, which offers worldwide coverage so long as it has a clear view of the sky. The device is small, lightweight and rugged, measuring 99mm x 52mm x 26mm and weighing just 100g.
An IPX7 water rating ensures the inReach Mini can endure extreme weather conditions and the tough outer case is bright orange so, despite its diminutive size, itís easy to find. Itís also supplied with a carabiner clip so it can be attached to your belt or a backpack, or stored in a specific spot inside your vehicle until you need to use it.
The inReach Mini has an internal lithium-ion battery that can be recharged using any micro-USB cable. Battery life is an impressive 50 hours with 10-minute tracking intervals activated, and up to 20 days when run in power-saving mode. The battery level is clearly displayed on the deviceís LCD home screen, as is the time, date and Bluetooth status.
PRIOR to using the inReach Mini, users need to choose and set up a subscription plan at explore.garmin.com, of which there are several annual contract plans as well as casual monthly plans. The next step is to take the device outside, turn it on and wait for it to start communicating with the Iridium satellite network.
As well as the on/off button, the inReach Mini has up and down keys on its left side and OK and Back keys on the right side. You can use the up/down buttons to scroll through pages on the device including: Messages, Mail Check, Tracking, Location, GPS status and Bluetooth status.
Press OK when on the Messages page to access preset messages that are already loaded on the device, or you can key your own preset messages into the Garmin website and upload them to the device. Alternatively, texts can be sent using a compatible Apple or Android smartphone once the Garmin Earthmate app has been installed and the phone connected to the inReach Mini via Bluetooth.
To send messages from a phone via the Earthmate app, ensure the Bluetooth connection is up and running (once set-up connects automatically to your phone when in range), select your message recipient, key in your message and hit send. The person you send the message to will receive a message with a link that will take them to a website on which they can then reply to your message. Itís not quite as instant as sending a traditional SMS, but itís still a convenient way to communicate.
You can also track your location using the Earthmate app; it displays your position, speed, heading and elevation. You can also choose for other people to access this information. The Earthmate app can also provide information such as waypoints, routes, history, weather and SOS.
IN THE event of an emergency, thereís an SOS button that can be accessed by flipping open a clearly labelled cover on the right side of the device.
Once the SOS function has been activated, the inReach Mini will send an interactive SOS to the GEOS 24/7 searchand-rescue monitoring centre, which in turn will alert emergency responders in your area and send you a confirmation to let you know that your message has been received. It will also update you on the status of the response team, and the two-way messaging capability of the inReach Mini also allows you to communicate the nature and status of your emergency to rescuers.
Despite being located under a cover, if you need to cancel an SOS alert, simply hold down the button until a Ďcancelí message appears on the screen.
THERE are several Iridium satellite subscription options ranging in price from $25 per month to $149 per month, and these can be suspended indefinitely if you donít plan on travelling for a period of time.
On a casual basis, the basic $25 per month Safety Plan includes unlimited SOS messages, 10 text messages per month and unlimited preset messages. If you want the device to track your route it will cost 0.15c for each point.
The casual $55 per month Recreation Plan includes unlimited SOS messages, 40 text messages per month, unlimited preset messages and unlimited tracking at 10-minute or greater intervals.
The casual $99 per month Expedition Plan includes unlimited SOS, text and preset messages, and unlimited tracking at 10-minute or greater intervals, which is upgraded to unlimited tracking at two-minute or greater intervals on the casual $149 per month Extreme Plan.
Users can save money by subscribing to an annual contract, and plans can be easily set-up or changed at explore.garmin.com