To start let me say I have been a big fan of the Spot Gen3 as it has allowed me to travel solo and securely over a large part of the United States on my GS. However now that there are more options how does the Gen3 still stack up?
The Spot products are good but lately there have been some articles out about how reliable they are and the fact that just because it can send tracking information is no guarantee that it can send the SOS help beacon because its a different sub system and they offer no real way to test the SOS from home to validate its working prior to a trip. The Spot products have a coverage map for tracking and a second map for 2 way communication which at first glance looks pretty inclusive and then you realize places like Hawaii isn’t covered at all.
This is where I thought the Garmin InReach Mini would be a good comparative product. 99% of the time I want something that:
- Does tracking to a website
- Can send preset Messages
- Can send an Emergency SOS beacon for help
Therefore the first part of this article will cover those main comparisons between the Spot Gen3 and the Garmin InReach mini then I will go into detail about the additional items the InReach can do and the price differences.
The first notable feature is that the Garmin InReach mini is GLOBAL and doesn’t require a coverage map because it uses full Iridium satellite constellation coverage. So for coverage the Garmin InReach Mini is the clear winner.
Tracking / Power Usage
I never used the Auto Tracking Feature on the SPOT Gen3 because of the AAA batteries and the fact I never really had any clear idea of how much battery was remaining. So I would pack an extra 4 batteries and change them out during the trip to make sure my trip was logged properly. The Garmin InReach Mini has an internal rechargeable battery that uses the exact same USB cable as the Sena headset which is coinvent because I only need to pack the one charging cable for both. The Garmin InReach Mini very clearly tells you the exact percentage of battery remaining every time you power it on. Because of that I tend to use the Auto Tracking feature on the Garmin InReach mini and would manually hit the track button on the SPOT Gen3. In short using tracking and knowing remaining power is better on the Garmin InReach Mini.
The SPOT Gen3 has tracking that updates every 5 minutes and with the plan I purchased from Garmin every 10 minutes for the InReach Mini. It should be said that the InReach has a 5 min tracking ability but the cost of that plan makes is prohibitively expensive.
I tried to make the tracking test as fair as possible, after all the tracking feature is the feature I use the most. I took a 350 mile circular route around Kansas. I did minimal low speed riding and the majority was highway speed. I had the InReach Mini on the left side of the bike and the Gen3 on the right side of the bike – both over 12″ away from my GPS and from each other and both with an equally clear view of the sky. I then went to each website and download the trip into GPX files. I took the GPX files and imported them into the vendor neutral product Microsoft MapPoint. The results clearly show that the 5 min tracking is better and provides more accurate smother tracking, but essentially 10 min might be good enough.
The first picture is the Garmin InReach mini with 10 min tracking for the 350 miles. The second picture is the SPOT Gen3 with 5 min tracking for the 350 miles. The third picture is a combination of both tracks overlaid so you can see the deltas. You can look and decide for yourself the 5 min vs 10 min update for tracking.
Both units and plan I have allow for 3 preset messages that can be sent as often as you would like. I have become accustomed to using the physical dedicated buttons on the SPOT Gen3 and got used to pushing them while riding and I miss that feature on the Garmin InReach mini. I have the messages setup the same on both and Each message includes current location. However to use the Garmin InReach I need to come to a stop to execute the sequence safely.
|I’m OK Just checking in|
|This is a cool place / Bookmark|
|Send AAA help here|
Then a list of friends and family and their
contact info so people can call each other
to help me.
The SOS features on both work almost identically and luckily I have never used the feature so I can not really speak to it. The only really difference (and its a major one) is I know the Garmin InReach mini SOS system is working because I can test it and there is no way to verify that the SOS system of the SPOT Gen3 is actually working.
The SPOT Gen3 App “SPOT App” is fairly worthless and allows you to have a map of your tracks. The Garmin InReach Mini app “Earthmate” by contrast is extremely useable with the device and communicates with it via Bluetooth. With Earthmate you can still see you tracking but you can also send email, send txt messages it has a compass you can check firmware get weather etc. Technically you do not require the Earthmate app for the Garmin InReach mini and can navigate its little screen to do all the same items however the addition of the phone makes those tasks vastly easier.
Additional features and price differences
The first major difference is price but lets’ take some time and actually analyze this price difference. SPOT says that its $199.99 a year but then they secretly add a “Maintenance Fee” brining the price up to $224.98. The other yearly price is the AAA Lithium batteries it takes and the fact you need to pack spares with you.
- Spot GEN3 Payment history
- 2015 – $149.99
- 2016 – $159.99
- 2017 – $214.98
- 2018 – $224.98
- InReach Mini yearly contract charged monthly
- $24.95 a month (Recreation Plan)
- The annual plan is paid monthly
- No Hidden Fees
- Unit Costs
- SPOT Gen 3 $149.99
- Garmin InReach Mini $349.99
- SPOT Gen 3 Batteries
- 4 AAA Energizer Ultimate Lithium $8.60
- SPOT Gen 3 Batteries
The SPOT Gen3 has a significantly less expensive entry price at more than half of the Garmin InReach Mini. The yearly costs are a lot closer as the Garmin is only $74.42 more a year than SPOTGen3 but don’t forget the $16-$20 in batteries you will need. At the end of the day its basically a 50 buck difference annually. For that price your loosing some very convenient buttons but gaining better coverage, 2 way communication, the ability to test the service and you wont need to mess around with AAA batteries ever again.
|Weight||3.5 oz.||4.0 oz.||7.0 oz.|
The Garmin InReach Mini feels smaller and is the lightest. It has a small screen that actually packs a lot of information and is easy to use.
2 Way Communication
OK this is the part of the review that’s not entirely fair and to be honest maybe I should be comparing the InReach Mini to the SPOTX because they both have 2 way communication and the GEN3 does not. However I did not run out and buy a SPOTX because its brand new, it looks like a blackberry it has the old coverage maps and I wasn’t sure is I wouldn’t be hit with “satellite maintenance fees” so this article is for people who have a GEN3 and are considering the InReach Mini even if it is an apple to oranges comparison.
I get 40 custom messages per month included in my plan after that costs me an additional 50 cents which is probably why they invoice you monthly. Now I can choose to type each message but I can also have some prefab custom messages that I can use such as
- I can’t reply now, I’ll write later.
- I’m checking in, everything is okay.
- I’m starting from here.
- I’m stopping here.
- I’m having a great time!
- I’m on my way.
- I’m going to be late.
- I wish you were here!
These go against the 40 message allotment I have but it saves you the time of typing them out. You can send the custom messages as an EMAIL or a TXT. I have found that I sort of prefer the TXT’ing because people can just respond with a text message where as the email directs them to a website to edit and send or reply to the message.
The Website Interfaces
Both products have websites that allow you to create a custom URL that can be shared and people can view your tracking. The Garmin also allows you to control if you want people not only see your location but Ping you and message you by TXT or Email. Since I only have an allotment of 40 I disabled the ability to TXT or Email me from the public shared site but people can track me and ping me as I have unlimited allotments of those in my subscription.
At the end of the day I really mis one of the dedicated buttons from the SPOT Gen3. I could be moving along and see something and just bookmark it with a custom message. The I am OK or the I need help hard buttons I don’t miss as the person can go to a web site and see my progress and know I am ok, and if I need help I should probably be stopped and can run the menu.
5 minutes tracking is better than 10 minute tracking but for the first 2 years I owned the SPOT Gen3 I had it in 10 minute tracking mode and it worked just fine so I am not overly concerned about the tracking interval.
The ability to know how much power is left and recharge without packing batteries, the ability to test the system before the trip, the ability to have compleate coverage and 2 way communication has made me a convert to the Garmin InReach Mini and I will not be renewing my SPOT Gen3 contract when it comes due this winter. I will however keep the Gen3 Ram Mount in place as it makes a great place to store your helmet.