Spot Messenger 2

Handheld Satellite Data Transmitter

August 12, 2010

By: Sam Penrod

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The Spot Messenger 2 is the new and improved Spot Messenger, which has been on the market since early 2007.  The new Spot 2, addresses many of the weaknesses of the original model, but operates nearly the same, and is smaller and lighter than the first version.

The Spot is marketed as an emergency beacon, but also offers the ability to allow family and friends to follow your location.  In an era of social networking, people are finding the Spot to be appealing for allowing others to track their hike, run or vacation.  You can even have your location posted to a Twitter or Facebook account.  Unlike other and by some accounts more reliable beacons, which offer only a distress signal, the SPOT units provide you the ability to send "I'm Okay" updates and also for family and friends to follow your location, with signals sent out every ten minutes, through the optional tracking feature.  It also has the HELP function, allowing for a message to family or friends to come give you help, but it is not an emergency  There is also the new custom message button, which is essentially the same as OK, but can be preprogrammed for a specific message, or you can choose different recipients.  Overall, we have found the Spot 2 to be a reliable and easy way to keep in touch with those back at home.  It retails for $169 dollars and requires a $99 yearly subscription.  Check discount prices on the unit here.

Original Spot vs. Spot 2

In comparison of the two units side by side, they seemed to operate identically, as far as transmitting messages.  Over an eight hour period with the tracking feature enabled, the same number of tracking messages were received.  The new Spot 2 does seem to acquire a GPS fix easier and maintain it.  


Spot 2 on left                                                              Original Spot on Right

Reception/Coverage Area
The Spot 2 has a high sensitive GPS receiver.  It seems to get a lock within a couple of minutes, even if it hasn't been on for several days.  If you are in a place where you can't get a GPS lock, the LED labeled GPS will blink red, which means you need to find a better location.  I have only seen it blink red once and I was in an office building.

While Spot advertises a coverage area for much of the world, we can only verify use in the United States.  Click here for a coverage map from SPOT.  I have tried the Spot 2 in  many locations, including a narrow canyon, tree cover and in my house. GPS acquistion appears to be quick and within about 3 minutes of powering the unit up and sending an OK message, I have received the email and text message.  I had the unit on the dash in tracking mode while on a 500 mile trip, and it appeared to have 95% of the messages sent out, received on the website.  

Spot Messages

The Spot 2 is capable of sending out five separate messages, including one for emergencies.

This is for emergency help, in a life threatening situation.  It is equivalent to calling 911.  Once activated, it will transmit the distress signal with your location, every five minutes or until it is shut off.  These messages go to a center in Houston, Texas, which SPOT says is staffed around the clock.  This center will then find your location and contact the appropriate law enforcement agency and notify them of your location.  You can expect a "lights and siren" type response if you press this button.  This button is under a protective cover.

This is a help message for family or friends.  It means, come and get me, where you see we are at, using the link provided.  You can send this to people via text messages and or email.  This message won't go to any dispatch center.  The help message will go out every five minutes, for an hour.  You will want to have someone reliable on your list who will either come and get you or find someone to.  If you sign up for the optional $30 a year Roadside Assistance, this can't be used for friends, but is dedicated to contacting a tow truck, etc and could be handy if you travel areas with no cell service.  This button is under a protective cover as well.

OK/Check In
This is the most common use of the Spot 2 for many people.  It will let them know you are okay and where you are at.  You can send these out throughout the day on a hike, so they know your progress or just send one out at the end of the day, so your family and friends know where you are.

Custom Message
This is unique to the Spot 2.  It allows for either a separate predetermined message, such as "bring food" or "we're coming home"  You can also use it as an OK/Check in message, but have it go to separate recipients.  I use this as an OK/Check in message for people back at work, if I don't have cell coverage, so they know where I am at.

This is an optional feature, but a nice one.  For $50 more a year, you can send out a signal every ten minutes.  People can track your hike, your trip, etc and then follow your progress on a custom webpage you can give them the link to.  This feature is available in the Original Spot, but the Spot 2 has a button dedicated specifically to tracking. Tracking does not send out text or email messages, only to the "shared website" you can create in your account on the Spot webpage.

The Spot website
works well in allowing you to set up who will receive your messages, and has profiles you can switch between for different activities or contacts.

Spot Data
You can send data to cell phones, email accounts and use social networking.  You can also check your messages when you get back home, on the Spot website.

Screen of where my tracks were received as I was camping and hiked around the lake.  The orange flags show my location.

Same as above, but with satellite aerial view.

This shows you the actual lat/long, time the message was received and if it was a track, check in/ok or a custom message.  
One nice thing about the SPOT, is that you can download your data from this page and export it to popular GPS type files. (gpx, .csv, kml)  This allows you to load them into a GPS, or in Google Earth.  You can also use them to help geotag photos.

Social networking
Spot is making it easy for people to share where they are, using the Spot.  I have used Sat2Twitter, a third party option.  The Spot website now has direct ways to link to Twitter and Facebook account.  There is also Spot's own verious called  It allows you the ability to upload your travels to share with others or just your contacts.  

Screen of link that can be sent to friends using OK/Checkin or Custom message functions, so they can look online of your current location.

Other Observations

After registering the SPOT 2, I received an email telling me that the SPOT does not float and other battery limitations.  Read for more below:

Thank you for purchasing your new SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger(SPOT-2). We have some important clarifications regarding
Operating Conditions and recommendations for how to best use your SPOT.

The SPOT Team highly recommends that you keep your SPOT in its carrying case* and either attach SPOT to you or to your gear.
SPOT will not float on its own. If SPOT is in its carrying case, SPOT will float for enough time for you to retrieve the device
from the water. SPOT will stay buoyant for up to a few hours when in the carrying case alone to approximately 5-10
minutes if the armband is on the case. Whitewater conditions could shorten these times.

Testing of SPOT under common usage environments has shown that battery performance can be degraded in operating
environments where SPOTs GPS must take a longer time to acquire your GPS location. For optimal performance,
please try and utilize SPOT in locations with a clear view of the sky with the logo side up.

Specs and Battery Life and Accuracy

The unit weighs just five ounces.  The battery life appears to be very good.  The Spot2 requires three (3) AAA lithium batteries.  I am still on my original set, after extensive use during five months.  A low battery signal will blink according to Spot, when you have less than 30 percent of battery power remaining.  I did see this in my original Spot.  Follow this link of a .pdf via Spot's webpage, which will show you all of the specs and give a better breakdown of battery life.  The GPS accuracy of the Spot 2 is good.  From my tests, it usually puts me within 50 feet of where the Spot 2 is sending the message.   I have not seen any serious errors of my location.


Small and lightweight
Indicator LED's for GPS reception and transmission of messages
Ability to send messages that are not emergencies
Ability to send tracking messages
Options of allowing multiple people to follow your location online, through text message, website or email
Option of additional $30 Roadside Assistance feature (eliminates custom use of the "Help" button however as it triggers roadside help)
Good website to manage data, billing, profiles, etc.
Help and SOS buttons have covers, to help protect them from being accidentailly activated.


Yearly $99 subscription required (won't send distress signal without an active subscription)
Cannot receive messages
No way to confirm if you message was received by the satellites
Messages cannot be customized in the field, no text messaging supported
Not a true Personal Locator Beacon (no VHF/UHF tracking signal, satellite only)
Will not float
Must be facing upright to properly send messages (this is difficult while using tracking mode while hiking unless you use the armband)
No ability to upgrade firmware
No GPS readout or display to help you navigate in the field
The carabiner and case provided is weak.  I use a Pelican 1010 case to carry mine and it transmits fine while enclosed.
The buttons can be hard to activate, and requires you to hold them for 3 seconds.  The good thing is that they each have an LED, so you know if they are on/off.

In late 2009, Spot issued what it called a voluntary recall of the new Spot 2 devices, citing issues with battery and messaging.  It was not until March, that they began to issue replacement units.  We have given our replacement Spot 2 considerable testing and found no serious issues.  In our previous testing of the first Spot 2, I didn't notice any problems.  Spot was fairly efficient in replacing the unit, sending a first class envelope to send it in and I had the new one in about ten days.

Spot did run a rebate program for those already owning an original Spot unit.  However the rebate program was limited to a small window of opportunity and those who first purchased a Spot 2 when they became available last fall or during the winter, were not eligible for the $50 rebate (even though they had to deal with the recall)

Potential for Misuse?
The Spot 2 is allowing for more people access to a satellite emergency device.  This has allowed for many rescues, as authorities are alerted much faster to an emergency and to the exact location of those needing help.  There are some reports of these type of units being misused and owners of a Spot should ensure it is not used for anything but an emergency.  You can read an interesting article here  about people who thought they were ringing the butler, while on a hiking trip (although a Spot Messenger does not appear to be used.)  At any rate, most people will be responsible with the use, because you can expect a small army to come get you if you push SOS and you will want to be in need of emergency help when they show up.  Carrying a Spot 2, should be no substitute for taking the necessary provisions you may need on your adventure.

The DeLorme Spot PN-60W
As of this writing, Spot has teamed with with GPS maker DeLorme for a Spot unit.  From what we have read, there are two units, which communicate together.  One is the DeLorme PN-60W GPS, which is the interface and the Spot unit, which transmits the data.  One obvious improvement and advantage is the ability in this DeLorme unit, to actually punch in a text message from the field.  Other than that, this unit appears to operate very similar to the Spot 2.  These are said to be shipping in late August 2010.


I do like having the Spot2, and now always carry it with me, if I expect I won't have cell coverage.  We suggest if you plan a trip on the oceans or in very remote locations away from civilization and believe you may need emergency help, you may want to consider a more expensive and potentially more reliable Personal Locator Beacon. But for average hikers, hunters, snowmobilers, boaters, etc, we think the Spot 2 is a great device, allowing one way communication with those back home and it has the ability to send a distress signal and get you help. That help won't be immediate as it can take 5-10 minutes for the signal to be received at the headquarters, which then contacts the nearest emergency dispatch center to alert them to your location.  I would much rather have a Spot if I was lost and wait for help, than have searchers looking all the wrong places for me or start walking and hope I found some help.  We are of the opinion, that if you send a distress signal, at least in the United States, that help will reach you in a reasonable time.  Spot has some infomercial/promotional videos you can access here.  If you have a Spot 2, they are worth watching however to show you how to operate it.  You can learn more on the Spot 2 by going to the Spot home page.
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