Just another Personal Locating Beacon, or is there more to the Zoleo Satellite Communicator than meets the eye?
More than 84 percent of Australia is without mobile (terrestrial) phone service, so considering how far afield we’re all travelling these days it might be time to look at including some sort of satellite communication option in your kit whether you’re travelling across the Simpson or out the back of Lithgow. We got our hands on the brand-spanking-new Zoleo Satellite Communicator to take on a recent trip and put through its paces. Now don’t get me wrong, we didn’t head off into the great unknown; we were just down in the depth of the Watagans. Those that have been there know that reception in the valleys is spotty at best, and we were doing some rather interesting tracks, so communication with the world (read: Boss) and the ability to send an SOS was rather useful.
What is the Zoleo?
The device itself is a little satellite communicator (just a bit bigger than a deck of cards) with a port for charging (via USB), an on/off button, a check-in button, and an SOS button. It comes in a nice compact package, offers up to 200 hours of battery life (if you’re one to head away from your 4X4), and connects up to the GEOS Emergency network for SOS help, plus it allows the sending of text messages via your phone. It’s got a lanyard and clip for attaching to a bag too.
What are the standout features?
One of the greatest things about the device, is that it connects to your phone, and allows you to send a short text message (or an essay worth 900 characters), to anyone who gets the app, regardless of whether they also have a Zoleo. From your phone, you also get delivered weather reports and forecasts for your location (that’s magic for anyone, especially fishos), and the ability to communicate with the GEOS Emergency team.
As an example, say you just bust your ankle out hiking, and you need to get out, but you’re not quite at emergency stage, you can advise the people via the SOS button exactly what’s going on, how you’re doing, and how severe the emergency is. It’s not just a PLB (Personal Locating Beacon) that sends the cavalry, and they have no idea what they’re walking into. Where it gets better, is that you’re able to send an automated ‘I’m OK’ message or SOS message with the device by itself, so if you leave the phone at home, or destroy it, you’re still able to use the device as a standalone unit. It’s also covered under a two-year warranty, and there is support available 24/7 to get it set up and working for you.
How much are the Zoleo and the plans?
The Zoleo itself starts at $345 for the unit, and you can get a cradle to add on for $49.95, and a universal mount kit that comes with a cradle, RAM suction cap mount, and USB car charger for $119.95. The plans to run the Zoleo start at $32 per month which includes 25 messages, then go to a $55 per month plan that includes 250 messages, and an $80 per month plan that includes unlimited messages. As far as the plans are concerned, you’re locked in for a minimum of three months, but once you’re past that first three months, you can stop and start the plan whenever you want, so run it for a month, then suspend it for six months.
How did it work out in the scrub?
Exceptionally well. I’ve previously only ever carried the old satphone on trips, and I dare say it’ll get retired in lieu of one of these new devices. See, aside from calling my mum (and my boss), I don’t use voice calls much anymore. Most checking in I do, is via text or general messaging. Whether that be letting the better half know where I’m at on a work trip or normal day-to-day chit chat. With how seamlessly this connected up to my iPhone and sent check-in messages to the boss and the better half, I’m thoroughly impressed. It takes a moment to find the satellites when you first turn it on (this will depend on your location), but once it’s online, it’s quick and easy to use.
What’s it like against a sat-sleeve?
The only downfall it has over something like a sat-sleeve is that you don’t have general data connectivity that you do with a sat-sleeve type set-up. But at the same time, you do not have to pay $2.50/Mb of data, 95 cents a minute to chat, or 50 cents per text message either. Oh, and you’ve also not got to front up $900 for the sat-sleeve unit. So it’s swings and roundabouts. Other than that, if you just want to be able to check-in, ping your location, have quick text chats or call in the cavalry, this thing is a solid option.