While trekking through some remote places in both the Victorian High Country and the Kimberley, mapping tracks and gathering information for Hema’s new region guides, we had with us a Spot Gen3 GPS tracker mounted in a RAM mount.
Because of WHS issues we were required to have the unit track our travels, checking in every morning and night, or if anything untoward happened.
The Spot is smaller than a mobile phone and easily fits into the palm of your hand. It weighs less than 115g – most of that being the four AAA lithium batteries required to power it when not connected to a five-volt USB connection.
The Spot system relies on the GPS satellite network for location data and a commercial satellite system with its attendant ground stations for message sending. The unit tracks your movements which can be sent via SMS text or email to up to 10 pre-selected contacts, and it can be followed on Google Maps.
When required you can send a number of basic messages. These include an all-OK check-in with GPS position, a Help message for non-life threatening events, an SOS function which triggers an emergency response from emergency call centres, and a custom pre-programmed message with your GPS location.
These messages can be delivered via email to a computer or text message to a phone, while emergency notifications will go to an international co-ordination centre which is then forwarded, for cases in Australia, to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. It should be noted that messages are purely one way – Spot cannot receive a message from your contacts sent to the Spot device.
Once you have bought a Spot (cost is around $190-$220 depending on where you buy it) you need to activate the unit by setting up an account and following the instructions. It’s all pretty easy and you can dictate who receives messages from the device.
The package you decide upon will determine what tracking data you receive. For AUD$213 per year the Basic Service sends a track position every 10 minutes. This is enough for most people, although for an extra $65 per year you can upgrade to Unlimited Tracking, which allows you to trace your track every five, 10, 30 or 60 minutes. You can increase your tracking rate to every 2.5 minutes for another $195 over the basic service. There’s also a social network facility (free) where you can share tracks and photos, if you are into that.
We found the Spot very easy to use and reliable. It connected to GPS satellites quickly and easily, even when mounted inside the car behind the windscreen. This kept it out of the way but in a position with a relatively clear view of the sky overhead. It stayed connected to the GPS satellites and relayed the track info as required. The OK messages went out without an issue wherever we were and whenever we pushed the button, although we found it easier to remove the unit from the RAM mount to operate it. A 12-volt to a 5-volt USB cable (supplied with the unit) kept it powered up at all times.
There are a number of combinations with RAM mounts, so take your time and make sure it’s the right part for the equipment involved and the right length for where you want to mount it. We’re impressed with the quality of the mount and its ability to stay put once attached.
The Spot reassured our contacts that we were okay and where we were, giving us a feeling of security and safety. Yes, there are other devices that offer two-way communication as well as tracking, but they can’t match the Spot Gen3 for price and ease of operation, and you can’t put a price on peace of mind.
We’ve been thinking of buying a Spot and mount for our own travels, and now that coverage includes most continents (all but the Arctic and Antarctica) it’s definitely on the list!
Spot Available from: au.findmespot.com
RRP: Spot: $220 (approx.); plus annual subscription of $195.
We say: Easy to use, well-priced, provides peace-of-mind.
RAM mounts: www.ja-gps.com.au
RRP: RAM mounts and holder from: $65
We say: Secure and well-priced.