SPOT X Two-Way Satellite Messenger Review

It’s not your grandpa’s Blackberry: The SPOT X Two-Way Satellite Messenger is a contender for one of the best personal GPS/communication devices on the market today. What sets the SPOT X apart is its independence from smartphones. While it is blue tooth compatible and has some cool features when paired with a smartphone, the SPOT X is able to communicate with the outside world entirely on its own. Just whip this little fella out anywhere there’s a little overhead clearance and you can dish out texts, emails, and even tweets. The SPOT X is packed with all kinds of additional features as well. Let’s check them out.

Spot X 2-Way Satellite Messenger At-a-Glance

  • MSRP: $249.95
  • Weight: 6.8oz
  • Contract Plan (one year commitment) monthly costs: Basic – $11.95, Advanced – $19.95, Unlimited – $29.95
  • Flex Plan (month-to-month) costs: Basic – $14.95, Advanced – $29.95, Unlimited – $39.95
  • Battery life: 240 hours (rechargeable)
  • Bluetooth compatible? Yes (but not necessary)

spot x

Circumstance of Review

I have tested my SPOT X in a handful of locations around the country over the last few months. My SPOT X has seen action in slot canyons in Southern Utah, the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho, and the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina. I’ve tested it on the move and laying still, under tree coverage, and on top of peaks. Pretty much all the testing has been done where I haven’t had cell service.

The SPOT X works great where and when it says it is supposed to work best: sitting still with a direct path to the sky. With enough patience, I could typically get out a message in a thick mountainside forest, but I clearly had the best results when I was totally unobstructed. The same was true for movement. Getting to a clearing and hanging out for a few minutes was a surefire method to get a message out. I occasionally had success on the move, but only if I was in a particularly clear area, like a ridgeline.

spot x

SPOT X Features

SOS

So sure, this one is a given with a device like this. Once the button is pressed on the SPOT X, communication begins with the 24/7 rescue team. You’ll actually be live chatting with the rescue team and receive updates along the way. SPOT X has a track history of over 7,500 rescues.

Message

This is the main function you’ll probably be interacting with. The SPOT X is set up as its own independent “phone” line. Each device has its own number that will be used when messaging. Custom messages can be typed out with the full keyboard and then sent as either a text to any cell phone or as an email to any email address. The SPOT X even has the capability of connecting to Twitter and Facebook to post updates on social media if you’re into that kind of thing.

In addition to the custom messages (which you may have to pay for depending on your plan), there are also predefined messages that can be programmed. These don’t detract from your potentially limited custom message pool each month and are sent as a singular piece of data, assuring the entire message will be sent. Up to 14 of these messages can be programmed.

spot x

Spot X App

The compatible app lets you do basically the same things you can do with the actual SPOT X device from the familiarity of your smartphone. The home screen has the exact same buttons as the actual device itself, but it can be a bit easier to use than the manual buttons of the SPOT X itself. Most notably, the SPOT X does not have backlit buttons, so to use it at night you either need a headlamp or smartphone with the app.

Tracking

You can choose from a variety of interval options (2.5, 5, 10, 30, 60 minutes) which will post your whereabouts to a SPOT Share Page. The SPOT Share Page uses Google maps to create a shareable live feed of your whereabouts while using the SPOT X. This can be great a cool tool to text to friends and family to be able to keep track of your adventures.

Check-In

The user can set a predetermined check-in message to send out any time the check-in button is pressed. This feature can also send coordinates to keep loved ones informed of your whereabouts.

Compass

The SPOT X has a compass feature that can be engaged when an adequate GPS signal can be found. Waypoints can also be programmed into the device.

Plan Options

To avoid bouncing back and forth between the SPOT X website and here, I’ve included all of the plan options for the SPOT X below. There are two categories for plan options: a Contract Plan and a Flex Plan. The Contract Plan has you commit to an entire year at whichever tier you desire, while the Flex Plan allows the user to only pay for the months they intend to use their SPOT X. For most people reading this, that Flex Plan is going to be ideal. Section and thru-hikers will only be spending anywhere from a few weeks to six or seven months on the trails. Any of the plan prices are going to be significantly cheaper if you’re only paying for one to seven months rather than the full year.

There are also a couple of other fees to note. First, regardless of which plan you choose, there is a one-time activation fee of $19.95. Then, if you choose any of the Flex plans, there is also an annual $24.95 “Flex Charge.” This charge covers the user for the year so that between activating and deactivating the device they won’t have to continue to pay that activation fee (though they will still have to pay it initially in addition to the Flex Charge).  Finally, there is also an option just to pay for the entire contract plan upfront. The benefit to paying upfront is the ability to “roll over” texts from month to month. Otherwise, paying monthly on a contract plan, unused messages will just expire at the end of each month.

Basic

Contract – $11.95/month

Flex – $14.95/month

Annual (Contract) Upfront – $143.40/year

  • Custom messages: 20/month (or 240 for the year)
  • SOS usage: unlimited
  • Check-in messages: unlimited
  • Predefined messages: unlimited
  • 10, 30, 60 minutes tracking (and must reset after 24 hours)
  • Movement alert not included

Advanced

Contract – $19.95/month

Flex – $29.95/month

Annual (Contract) Upfront – $239.40/year

  • Custom messages: 100/month (or 1200 for the year)
  • SOS usage: unlimited
  • Check-in messages: unlimited
  • Predefined messages: unlimited
  • 5, 10, 30, 60-minute tracking
  • .5, 1, 4, 12-hour movement alert

Unlimited

Contract – $29.95/month

Flex – $39.95/month

Annual (Contract) Upfront – $359.40/year

  • Custom messages: unlimited
  • SOS usage: unlimited
  • Check-in messages: unlimited
  • Predefined messages: unlimited
  • 2.5, 5, 10, 30, 60 minute tracking
  • .5, 1, 4, 12-hour movement alert

How I Actually Used the SPOT X

The SPOT X has a lot of bells and whistles, but ultimately I didn’t find many of them necessary. I tried to interact with as many different features as I could, but at the end of the day, I didn’t do much more than send check-in messages and the occasional custom message. In this section I’ll dive into what was great about the SPOT X and what I thought was fluff.

The Handy

Messaging: Sometimes the basic features are the best. Having a full 14 predetermined messages sets up a nice range to operate within before having to craft your own messages. The full keyboard is then easy to use when you do need to write out your own messages. It’s a pretty straightforward system that’s easy to use, and that’s enough.

Flex Plan: The payment options here are really handy, particularly for backpackers who are only out in the backcountry for so many months each year. Don’t know if your thru hike will take 4 months or 6? No problem. Only have time to take 3 weeks off for backpacking this summer and another 2 weeks in the fall? Easy. The Flex Plan is an excellent option for those with an inability to commit to year-long plans (i.e. most backpackers).

Check-Ins: These are another example of simple being best. All you have to do is mindlessly click the little “Check In” icon on the SPOT X screen and you’re set for the day. You can choose exactly what that message is going to be and who gets it ahead of time. Any time you have computer access you can also plug in and edit when your family gets tired of that witty check-in message you made up three weeks ago. Checking in will also send your location, so again, no need for precise tracking throughout the day.

SOS: This has been my first set of experiences actually carrying my own emergency device like this. While I fortunately never had to use this feature, I did sleep better at night knowing it was always within reach. Merely having this emergency bail-out option at my fingertips made all my remote trips a little less stressful.

The Fluff

Waypoints: The waypoints features is cool, but it isn’t enough to solely rely on. I’m a big fan of using maps on my phone, which is easier to use than this waypoints feature anyways. So if the user is bringing a phone (which is already encouraged with the SPOT X app) I don’t think there is too much use for the waypoints or compass features. Sure, they’re a decent backup, but at this point, they’re even a little dated.

Tracking: This is another feature I didn’t find particularly helpful. I can certainly see the validity of having this as an option, but I found the occasional manual check-ins to be plenty. The SPOT share page, however, is a really cool feature. And while this can include your interval tracking, it will also just keep up with your daily check-ins when you post them.

The SPOT X App: For the most part I found the SPOT X app superfluous. It has virtually all of the same options as the device itself has. The only bonus here is the ability to send a message to any of the contacts already in your phone. But even this is doable without phone connectivity directly on the SPOT X. You can add contacts at any time manually without having to sync to a computer or smartphone.

Pros

  • Flexible payment options
  • Simple messaging system
  • Straightforward to use the basic features
  • Functions independently of auxiliary devices (no smartphone needed)

Cons

  • Some superfluous features
  • Not backlit
  • Needs open space to communicate
  • A bit on the heavier side compared to the lightest options on the market

Final Thoughts

The Spot X is a mostly-straightforward personal GPS/messaging system. The basic features on it are user friendly, and the non-basic features don’t get in your way if you don’t want them. The payment plans seem fair and can be flexible around hikers’ schedules. It’s nice to have a device that doesn’t have to rely on a less durable smartphone to function when you’re really out in the backcountry. I’m pretty happy with my experience testing out the SPOT X. My family had a fun time zooming in on Google maps to check out the lakes, canyons, and mountains I got to camp around. The SPOT X is a straightforward device that is reliable, easy to use, and an excellent option for anybody wanting a little extra safety insurance when venturing out into the backcountry.

Shop the SPOT X Two-Way Satellite Messenger

Similar Devices

Garmin inReach Mini

  • MSRP: $350
  • Weight: 3.5oz

Read our review.

Garmin inReach Explorer+

  • MSRP: $450
  • Weight: 7.5oz

SPOT Gen 4

  • MSRP: $149.95
  • Weight: 5oz

ZOLEO Satellite Communicator

  • MSRP: $200
  • Weight: 5.3oz

This product was donated for purpose of review

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 2

  • Russ1663 : Feb 12th

    Hi Stan. First, good article. You gave an in depth review but not too techy, good balance. I looked at the SPOT X a couple of years ago but ultimately bought the SPOT Gen 3. Lot of the same functions without the keyboard and screen. That said, I do like the ability to have preset messages even though on the Gen 3 you must plug into the website to set them. Tracking interval is useful to me. I give friends and family the access code required so they can keep track. All in all both are good products and serve hikers well in the field. Thanks for a good overview.

    Reply
  • Mike : Aug 10th

    There is a backlight. Tap the power button and the screen and keyboard will light up.

    Reply

What Do You Think?