(NOTE MY UPDATE AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS REVIEW BEFORE BUYING)
I bought a Spot GPS Messenger 2 in May 2010, mainly to use when I travel in my airplane (if you go to my Flickr account, "SouthwestUSA" or Google "Flickr, SouthwestUSA Spot GPS Messenger" you'll see my Spot resting on top of the panel in my airplane over New Mexico where it always managed to send a message) or RV. This product has received more than it's fair-share of less than favorable reviews, and I too had earlier given this product a 1 star review here on Amazon, about 7 days after I received it. I was so frustrated and mad at one point, I was close to cutting the Spot in half on a band-saw and posting a video of the severing on YouTube. I wasn't a "happy camper" the first week I owned this little jewel.
Here is the "meat" of some issues that need to be considered before you order this product.
#1. (Like most people advise) It is not a substitute for a full-fledged ELB.
A "full-fledged Emergency Locator Beacon does not require an annual contract, the Spot Messenger does. So, A ELB might be a cheaper alternative to the Spot if you need such a device for 5 years or longer.
#2. The website, where you must activate the Spot and purchase a service plan is complicated and convoluted. It is difficult to navigate and understand. It took me more than a week to finally get their BIZARRE website figured out in order to get my Spot GPS Messenger 2 set up and working as I need it. The manual that came with my Spot 2 is TERRIBLE. I should cut the manual in half, and post a video of that on YouTube. These folks need to produce a better manual. IT'S TERRIBLE!
#3. If you buy this little jewel, you'll have a boatload of questions once you open the package. Rest assured, if you go to the "Follow Me Spot" website and look at the "FAQs" be advised that 90% of your questions will NOT be addressed on the website's FAQs.
#4. If you call their customer support people, be prepared to wait for up to 20 or 30 minutes for a real human-being who you can actually talk to. I only have a cell phone and it was annoying wasting my "minutes" while on-hold.
#5. Don't even think of sending a question to these people VIA e-mail... You MIGHT be lucky if you get an answer in 7 to 10 days by e-mail.
#6. The tiny buttons on the Spot provide NO TACTILE FEEDBACK (click) and it's somewhat difficult to determine if your button ("I'm OK" or "Send Help") was actually activated and worked... The button you push for the specific message eventually lights-up and blinks when they have been "activated and sent" however when viewing these very tiny buttons in sunlight, they hard to see and determine if the message was indeed "SENT." If you are 6 years old, your little finger can get to the small buttons. If you are a Baby-Boomer like me, your fat, old fingers might have trouble pressing these little buttons in order to send a message. I have to use the fingernail on my "pinky" or a ballpoint pen in order to press the button to make it engage the electronic contacts. I suspect if I fell down a cliff or were injured in some way, I might not be able to get the tiny buttons to work because they are so small and awkward to access with my fat and stubby fingers.
Once I FINALLY got my account established and my emergency contacts set up, I'm having more confidence in my Spot as a device that can contact my wife when I am in a remote area not having cell service. My iPhone has a couple of WONDERFUL apps where I can press one button and ask for 9-1-1 assistance and another app that I can press, to send my wife (or anyone having an e-mail account) a message showing my GPS location on Google Maps... but the iPhone doesn't work everywhere, and I love going into remote areas to tour ghost towns and old mining camps where there is NO CELL SERVICE FOR MILES. (You'll see on my Flickr account my Spot GPS Messenger in a few Ghost Towns.)
The SPOT GPS MESSENGER can easily beam your pre-determined message to a satellite, when my iPhone can't work. And so far (after learning the pain-in-the @$$ website for SPOT, I now am confident I can go nearly anywhere and be able to get my pre-programed message to my contact list. PLEASE NOTE... You can not create "tailor-made" messages with the spot while out in the boonies. You have to get on-line with your computer, go into your "Follow Me Spot" account in advance and create a pre-determined message. You get a choice of 3 messages with the 3 different buttons on the Spot. Below are examples I programmed into my "Follow Me Spot" account. You will probably want something entirely different.
There are three options for sending messages... #1. (Which goes to my wife) is "I am safe, here is where I am." She is able to then click a link and it takes her to Google Maps and shows her my location. Each time, the accuracy of this seems to be around 150 feet, which is accurate enough for a SAR team.
#2. I need help and this is where I am. (I'll probably modify this message prior to going off on an adventure to tailor the message if I am traveling in my airplane or my RV.) #3. For my emergency message that would be sent to the nearest 9-1-1 responder, I set this up with text to advise the 9-1-1 responder "O-Positive Blood Type. This person is an aircraft pilot and might have had an unplanned, emergency/forced landing in remote area and could possibly be injured as a result of the forced landing. The emergency contacts for this person are ***** ****** ****** (this is where I list three names and cell phone numbers for my wife, sister in-law and brother in-law.)
Some of the criticism about the Spot is when the emergency 9-1-1 button is pressed, some 9-1-1 responders in "less sophisticated regions, a-k-a "Hootersville" have no idea what a latitude/longitude is or what a Spot or ELB emergency might be, thus the reason why I say I am a pilot, and might have had a forced-landing, and advising of my blood-type and general health issues. (You can make up your own message, maybe saying "This person is on a hiking trip and might have fallen. 58 year old male, blood type is ??? and allergic to ????. Next of kin is ???????."
LAST BUT NOT LEAST....
My Spot GPS Messenger 2 does things an ELB can not do, which is to allow my wife to have some peace-of-mind with my "I'm OK message." Additionally, if I do have a forced landing and I DO NOT have a life-threatening emergency, I have confidence I can just send out a simple "need help message" and the local responder will show up, having called my wife first who will advise the color and type of my airplane. I can tell him "Hey, the engine quit in my airplane, and I just need a lift out of here to contact a mechanic." If that is the case, I sure don't want the folks at 9-1-1 calling Army Blackhawk helicopters with Airborne Rangers swooping down from ropes. Although I did purchase the insurance to reimburse the responders, should they show up in a helicopter.
WHAT I LIKE ABOUT THE SPOT...
The Spot fits nicely on my arm with the enclosed arm-band that came with the unit. It also fits in my shirt pocket and isn't too heavy. I can Velcro it to the glare-shield (dash) of my airplane where it has a clear shot at a satellite.
It has worked well in sending out my test messages when sitting on the dash of my pick-up and while strapped on my arm. The ability of the unit to send out a "bread-crumb" trail of where I have been isn't a big deal to me, and although I've tried this feature a couple of times, be advised it sends out a message to your contacts about every 10 minutes and it DOES NOT exactly provide a trace of the trail (or route) you have been on. But, it still can be useful for tracking in an emergency. When I tried this "bread crumb trail" feature while driving my pick up on country roads, the device, when sending a "blip" every 10 minutes will show up on a Google Map and will not trace the road you are on, and it will "hodge-podge" across a map making what looks like leaps over hills, rivers and across valleys, instead of tracing an actual road or trail you are on. Not a big deal, but for those of us who are used to high-end GPS units that actually trace every foot of your path on long distant trips (my Garmin 496 does this in my airplane) it can be a bit distracting.
There are several features that I'll never use and I can't comment on them, but as a "pseudo" ELB, I think I will be very satisfied. And, as a way for me to communicate with my wife (since I often travel alone) it will give her peace of mind as I check in when in locations where my cell phone can't work.
I plan on making a video showing how this unit works in my airplane, my RV and my pick-up to put on my YouTube account. The videos I've seen on YouTube about the SPOT don't cut to the meat of the subject and the heart of the capabilities of this nice little unit. I'll also show on my YouTube video, what a pain in the @$$ the "Follow Me Spot" website is... Stay tuned, my moniker on YouTube is "tuutuutango" where you can see a video of an airplane I built in my backyard and flew for the first time.
After spending just over $300 for the Spot and all of the features they offer to include RESPONDER REIMBURSEMENT INSURANCE (I bought everything) I feel good about my decision to go with this unit over a full-fledged ELB, because the Spot can do more than an ELB can do... It is lightweight and small but the company website and their manual are almost a joke and a royal pain in the neck.
Remember Steve Fossett, the millionaire pilot who was lost in the Nevada wilderness? Search and rescue teams spent nearly two months looking for this guy ([...]) and they never found him. Maybe, if he had a SPOT GPS MESSENGER (and a survival kit) like I do, he would have been found alive. I just hope if I have an emergency landing somewhere, someone doesn't stumble across my boney-fingers pressed on the 9-1-1 button, years after I crashed. I have to admit, I don't have total confidence in my Spot working, when I need it the most, thus the reason why I will probably also buy a ELB to go in my airplane survival kit as well.
(UPDATE SEPTEMBER 5... I returned home from a 12 day adventure in my airplane. All my "Check-In, I'm OK" messages went to my assigned e-mail contacts while the Spot was sitting on top of the panel (dash) of my airplane. Battery life was OUTSTANDING. HOWEVER, many of the "I'm OK, check in messages" did not show where I was after about 7 days. All they revealed (once "stale" after 7 days) was a gray screen and NO MAP. So, I reduced my "star" rating of this product from my earlier "5" stars to 3 stars due to these issues and the LOUSY manual and TERRIBLE, difficult to understand website. (GOOGLE "GPS Magazine Spot GPS Messenger Review) and you'll see an editor's comment about the poor documentation... )