Staying connected in the backcountry is a luxury that is becoming more and more accessible. There are currently at least 5 companies offering some sort of Satellite messaging. But which one is the best? Well for the last several months I have been using the ZOLEO Satellite Communicator and have become very impressed. But is it the best? Only you can decide. Here are the ZOLEO Pros and Cons.
Pro Number One.
ZOLEO does one thing better than anything else and that is send and receive messages. But the real pro is ZOLEO’s usability. This is a simple, intuitive device that makes sending and receiving message in the backcountry a breeze.
And that is mainly due to a well designed app that mimics the standard messaging app you use every day on your phone. You can access all the saved contacts and message them much like you normally would, but far from cell phone coverage. You even get a dedicated number from ZOLEO so the people you are texting won’t even be able to tell you are using a satellite messenger. (Except for the fact that you are using a different phone number) Not only that but it seems very reliable. Iv been using the device extensively an every message I sent from and to the device got there eventually with no dropped messages.
If the number one thing you are looking for is reliable two way messenging anywhere in the world (which it is a satellite MESSENGER what else are you looking for?) then you should seriously consider ZOLEO.
But…Before you rush out and buy one today be sure to read this post to the end.
Pro Number Two
Probably my favorite feature on this device is the ability to check the weather in the backcountry. I cannot tell you how many times this has came in handy. It uses dark sky weather service, which I haven’t had a whole lot of experience with before this…but it seems pretty reliable. Dark sky claims to gives you hyper local detailed daily and even hourly weather reports. including the chance of rain, temperature and more. I will note that Sometimes It can take a little while for ZOLEO to connect to a satellite and download the weather. And there were a few times it was a little buggy, telling me not enough time had passed when it had in fact been several days since the last time I checked. But even with those issues this is easily my favorite feature about this device.
Pro Number Three
Pro number three is the SOS feature. This is probably the main reason why you are considering a device like this because if you get in trouble you can call for help. You can send an SOS from the app but even if your phone is dead you can still send for help using the dedicated SOS button. Another nice feature is the ability to text back and forth with GEOS who will coordinate with SAR in the event of an emergency.
In addition to SOS you can also send simple “I’m ok” messages to two of your friends or loved ones. And you can do both of these with or without your phone.
Pro Number Four
This is an incredibly affordable device. At $200, This is the cheapest satellite messenger device on the market. But not the cheapest service plan. But they do have a verity of message plans ranging from $20 to $50 a month. And if you know you are not going to be using it you can freeze the account for just $4 a month and still keep your dedicated number.
Pro Number 5
Last on the pros list are just a few small things I really liked about ZOLEO. Every time you receive a message it plays a little sound. I found this very handy when I had the device clipped on to the back of my pack I still knew when I had a message. And second it’s waterproof, which I actually found out by accident, And that brings me to the cons.
Con Number One.
Even though ZOLEO can send SOS and check in messages without your phone it is still heavily dependent on your phone. This became painfully obvious to me a few weeks ago when I capsized a kayak in swift water on the Buffalo River. I had the ZOLEO clipped to my life jacket but my phone was in a dry bag lose in the boat. After a difficult struggle to get myself and my boat to shore I sat there struggling to catch my breath convinced I had lost my phone to the swift water. As I was thinking through my situation I knew I was physically safe and not in need of emergency help…but I wasn’t convinced I could float out of there and didn’t know how without my phone I was going to contact people who could help me.
Thankfully I didn’t lose my phone, somehow miraculously the dry bag stayed floating up inside the capsized boat. But I think it highlights a weakness with ZOLEO. Even if I hadn’t lost my phone the battery on my phone is still incredibly unreliable, with more and more things, like photos and videos, GPS apps and now messaging apps demanding a percentage of my battery life. It’s not getting any better. So even though the battery life on ZOLEO is good. It almost necessitates carting extra battery banks or lose a lot of the features ZOLEO offers.
Other satellite devices offer options in situations like mine. Both Garmin and Spot have the ability to send custom messages without your phone…but ZOLEO doesn’t. If you want to do anything other than call 911 or say “I’m ok”…your screwed without a phone.
Which leads me to another oversight and that is the inability to customize your check in messages. ZOLEO has preset the check in message to say “I’m ok” with no way to change it. Where most of the competition allow you at least 3 different customizable messages for different situations.
Not only that but you can only designate two contacts to receive your check in messages. And I feel like that’s an unnecessary limit. There have been multiple occasions where I have gone on group hikes and offered to add everyone’s spouses to my SPOTS’s check in list, while customizing the message to say “WE are ok.”
Con Number Two
Messages are reliable but can take a long time to send and receive. The default setting for ZOLEO is to check for new messages every 12 min. But even when you are manually checking or set ZOLEO to constantly check you still will have to wait an average of 5 min or more between sending and receiving messages. I don’t think this is ZOLEO’s fault. It seems pretty standard across satellite devices. The reality is satellite technology just isn’t there yet.
Con Number Three
I’d like to be able to change the battery. Even if it was a ZOLEO specific rechargeable battery. I’d like to be able to bring extra batteries with me. Maybe I’m worried about nothing the battery life is pretty good. Running 24 hours a day checking messages every 12 mins the battery lasted a little more than 5 days. I’m sure you could extend this by turning it off at night, or increase the refresh interval. But, that being said, When I set ZOLEO to constantly check messages it didn’t even last 24 hours. So be aware.
Con Number 4
Now maybe I’m being nit picky but I love the tracking feature other satellite massagers allow you. My family loves to go online and see where I am and where I’m headed. It helps them feel apart of my trips. ZOLEO will allow you to send one off GPS locations. But there is no tracking feature, and no map feature. And that’s just a little disappointing.
So there you have it, the ZOLEO satellite messenger pros and cons. All in all this is an impressive, easy to use, little device at an affordable price. And if you are in the market for a satellite messenger you should strongly consider ZOLEO.
What about you? What device do you use to stay in touch in the backcountry? Leave me a comment below. Or if there is something I left out comment below so others can learn from your experience. Sometimes the best information comes from members of this community. So leave a comment or respond to someone else’s.