Two way testing DeLorme inReachSE, plus new Explorer model & OCENS SpotCast Weather

DeLorme_inReachSE_message_screen_cPanbo.jpg“Two way” doesn’t just refer to the fact that a DeLorme inReach handheld satellite messenger/tracker will let you text back and forth with people pretty much like a cell phone. I also tested the shore side of the system by loaning the sample inReachSE model to friends Doug and Dale Bruce when they went on an adventure cruise to some remote islands south of New Zealand. So that’s me messaging from Maine when I saw where they were headed (via their MapShare track), and then Doug texting me back a few minutes later. Yes, he had a little trouble with SE’s little cursor keyboard, but heck, he was in rough seas on the other side of the planet!


I was pleased with how well I could follow the Bruce’s trip on the DeLorme MapShare site associated with the device. You can see in this collage of screenshots that it took a while for Doug to find a place near their stateroom window where the inReach could see both the GPS and Iridium satellites it uses, but from then on track points with speed and altitude were captured almost every 10 minutes. So I was already learning about the amazing geology and wildlife populations of Macquarie Island as the ship approached, and I “watched” as the Bruces went ashore at the science station and spent a night running back and forth in the island’s lee (because it can get rough between the Roaring 40’s and Screaming 60’s). It wasn’t like actually seeing, hearing, and smelling half a million penguins on a cobble beach, but it definitely brought some excitement to a cold Maine winter. (You can still zoom into Doug and Dale’s trip on the PanboTest MapShare page, which also shows many other test tracks made since 1/1/2013.)


I’ve been testing the inReach system since late 2011, when the first model came out, and I became even more of a fan as the software improved and an iPad version of the Earthmate app was added. The release of the inReachSE (Screen Edition) model about a year ago got me pretty excited, and I remain that way after a lot of time using it myself. When the inReachSE is running, my iPad mini automatically connects to it and Earthmate tracks me on freely downloadable NOAA charts and worldwide topo maps while also handling messages. Nav apps can also use the inReach GPS. And the SE is much easier to leave on and tracking because of its 100 hour lithium battery and easy USB charging (and also a nifty custom RAM mount accessory). I don’t use the color screen and keypad much on the boat, but it certainly extends the device’s standalone abilities, though it is not a standalone navigation tool.


However, the brand new inReach Explorer is a standalone navigation tool, and not just an SE with new software and trim color. It can definitely do all the satellite messaging and SOS the earlier inReaches can, and it has the Bluetooth app connection, but also inside are digital compass, barometric altimeter and accelerometer sensors for better handheld navigation, and probably more processing power…


I’m not sure the Explorer is great for marine navigation — the Map icon, for instance, only gets you to a sketch of your track and waypoints — but it could be useful on shore hikes (it has track back function, too). But the Explorer is only a $80 upgrade from the $300 SE model, and I’m also intrigued by the description of how a user will be able to create routes on their DeLorme Explore “portal” (website), which will presumably sync to their Explorer handheld. Will the users of other inReach models also get routing on their Explore portal, which might sync to their Earthmate app (when online)?


I’m happy to add that the inReachSE and Explorer models now have a worldwide weather option thanks to OCENS SpotCast (which also works with Iridium Xtreme and Inmarsat IsatPhone Pro texting). Of course it has to be quite succinct to fit the inReach’s 160 character maximum, but it looks like OCENS has designed the service cleverly. Each message covers 24 hours in four six-hour forecasts and if you’ve purchased the 72 hour option — unlimited forecasts for $8 a month or $80 a year — you can ask for 1, 2, or 3 days at once. The latter detail is nice because the messages will also come out of your service plan, but note that DeLorme started offering a very flexible Freedom Plan earlier this year.


So how does the DeLorme inReach system compare to the SPOT product family these days? The table found in the inReach brochure (download here) is a start. The only inaccuracies I can see are that SPOT covers much more ocean than “Most Land Masses” suggests and that the only Spot model that can pair with a mobile device is the older Connect. But of course the trick to comparison tables is looking for the lines that the manufacturer who created it left out. In the case of inReach versus EPIRB/PLB I think the missing lines involve international search and rescue authority management and history of reliability. For inReach versus Spot I guess the missing lines relate to cost and simplicity…


In fact, I tried a beta version of the Gen3 Spot last summer and it really is an improvement on previous models. The power options are much more flexible and batteries last a lot longer because the Spot3 stops sending track positions when you stop moving. It will also track indefinitely instead of shutting down after 24 hours. These are important changes because the Spot has become quite popular for boat tracking. But I don’t think many boaters use the other features; after all, the “custom message” button only means that you can send a message you already wrote on your Spot website and there are no return messages. I was a Spot fan for many years, but now the technology seems quite dated compared to inReach.

I was a little surprised, for instance, that the Spot3 doesn’t include the Bluetooth and app features already developed for the Connect model, so users could have both standalone and mobile options (like inReach users do). And I didn’t see many improvements in the Spot tracking and management site; it still seems complicated to use and still only saves data for 30 days (though there are workarounds like Spot Adventures). Meanwhile, the DeLorme Explore site keeps getting easier to use and yet more powerful, and it has saved years of my tracks and messages now, fun to look through. Obviously I favor inReach. Am I missing something?


Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now pleased to have Ben Stein as a very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Please don't regard him as an "expert"; he's getting quite old and thinks that "fadiddling fumble-putz" is a more accurate description.

10 Responses

  1. Ed R says:

    Would be great if you could download gribs to your iThing/Android tablet with the InReach device. Could eliminate the need for a sat phone.

  2. HenryD says:

    I would like to see Spot and DeLorme collaborate and compete. It would be really great to be able to follow friends/family from one site or have it appear on my MFD. Is there a way Jeff from Active Captain can integrate this with his BoatCards?

  3. Anonymous says:

    it would be really great to find a low cost sat method to download GRIB files.

  4. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    I don’t think that it would be easy to use the Iridium SBD (short burst data) modem in the inReach to download GRIB files. But getting GRIBS with a sat phone has certainly gotten less expensive and easier. I’m thinking of products like the Weather 4D app and the about-to-ship Iridium GO!:
    Also, the OCENS SpotCast text messages are a lot like GRIB files, except the forecasts are for one grid point — which is automatically supplied by the inReach GPS, by the way — in a form that is human readable (with practice 😉

  5. Rob says:

    Hoping the Iridium GO ships soon and isn’t lame. If their low-bandwidth API isn’t lame, they could get built in to a TON of products (chart plotters?).

  6. cf says:

    Agree absolutely. I’d pay an extra subscription for this.

  7. Anonymous says:

    This could be of interest.
    “Garmin Ltd. (GRMN) Enters Agreement to Acquire Satellite Tracking Device Maker, DeLorme”,+DeLorme/11305272.html

  8. Michael says:

    Our SE went to Europe and back and proved very helpful. If I can figure it out, I’ll try SpotCast for the trip from the Caribbean home this spring. My unit did go briefly bonkers in Holland, but a full reset got it going again. My only complaint is the quality of the documentation — I really like to have a proper technical manual.

  9. Bruce Carter says:

    Do your homework before buying an Explorer people. These glitchy devices are prone to failure and limitations that may make the device about as useful as a paper weight. What’s worse is that the customer care staff won’t care. I learned this the hard way. Like others, I too experienced an inability to sync the Explorer to my iPhone. Delorme staff told me to “…buy a new phone.” Yeah right, I’m gonna spend $600.00 so I can use your $350 device? As if that was the problem. The truth is, DeLorme has a serious glitch that prevents users from actually synching the device. They know this. It’s all over their online forum and is the number 2 issue on their Help page. Then there’s review sites such as REI where consumers have had their Explorer replaced multiple times and each time, replaced again for the same glitch I experienced. I guess the QC department at DeLorme is nonexistent. So fine. The Explorer I bought is a glitch mess and won’t work and the customer care is pathetic. I bought a paper weight.
    After months of paying for their service and getting nowhere I cancelled the charge card they were debiting monthly and tossed the explorer into the junk drawer. A year later I get a letter from a collection agency (The Thomas Agency) for the balance of the annual service fees. This is the same service is was unable to ever use because of the glitch. I was stunned. I contacted my attorney who explained to me that by failing to resolve my technical issues, DeLorme was in material breach of their own agreement and I could not be held accountable for the fees because the services were not being rendered by DeLorme. Moreover, because the issue is well documented and well known to DeLorme, any collection activity (extortion) to enforce collection of the contract would be malicious.
    If you have been turned over to The Thomas Agency for similar issues, you should advise them that Delorme has failed to uphold their end of the contract and therefore not entitled to any fees and that is The Thomas Agency pursues collection they will be in violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act which protects consumers from wrongful collection practices. All you need to provide them is correspondence with DeLorme to demonstrate the existence of the problem and thus, the reason you refused payment. I suspect there are a lot of people who are experiencing this problem and perhaps enough for a class action lawsuit. I guess it depends on how many people they are trying to force to pay for services they denied.
    So when I heard that DeLorme was purchased by Garmin I was delighted. Garmin is a great company and I have been a custom of their for eons. Never had a problem with their products or support staff. So I wrote to them, explained the problem and made a simple request…replace my Explorer with a unit that actually works and credit me for the months I paid for service but could not access it. Simple right? I even offered to prepay for the year of service if they would just credit me the months I paid for service but could not use it due to the faulty device. Well apparently Garmin failed to clean house because I got the same treatment from their customer care staff that I had experienced before pitching the Explorer in the junk drawer. Monica Goodhue was the kind of copy & paste corporate droid you hope you never encounter. Multiple email exchanges resulted in this message:
    Hello Bruce, Thank you for your reply. As we understand your frustration regarding this matter and for this reason we have supplied you with our final offers regarding this request, neither of which contain credit for service. Please see the below offers:
    1. Submit payment in the amount of $127.94 to inReach for the past due balance on account DL313741. Once payment is received inReach will ship a replacement inReach device to you at no additional cost along with a paid shipping label to ship the old unit back to us.
    2.Submit payment in the negotiated amount of $75.00 to inReach to resolve any and all past due balances associated with account DL313741. Your service will remain terminated, we will notify any corresponding agency of payment being received and no further action will be taken. We understand your request however InReach is unwilling to negotiate further.
    We apologize that we are unable to meet any type of agreement and are prepared to address any action that you feel necessary in taking. Kind Regards, Monica G. InReach Billing Supervisor DeLorme, a Garmin Brand Phone: (800) 511-2459 or Internationally at (207) 847-1165 Many answers can be found at our on-line knowledge base within the link below.
    So this is Monica’s idea of a fair solution. Pay the balance of the year for the service I never got and get a replacement unit without service. Hey, that’s great! Can I get a punch to the face with that? Now here’s the thing, all I requested was replacement of the defective unit and credit me for the months they charged me for service but was unable to use. To put it another way, I wanted to pay exactly what any new customer would if they bought an Explorer and signed up for new service. Fair right? Oh and I wanted em to call off The Thomas Agency too. Sadly this was not the outcome. So now I have a dusty ole DeLorme InReach Explorer in a junk drawer, a collection agency hounding me for money for services I could not access and a customer care department that doesn’t care. I cannot allow DeLorme to extort funds from me this way and I will not bend over for wrongful collection activity even if it means litigation.
    Fortunately I own two businesses and have eight attorney friends so I am prepared for the worst. My advice is simply this…do your homework before purchasing any DeLorme product. Read their reviews, learn the limitations of the device and and any known glitches and DO NOT EXPECT THE SAME CUSTOMER SERVICE YOU WOULD FROM GARMIN. Garmin’s people are great but apparently were not given control of DeLorme after the buyout. The DeLorme staff is useless and apparently lack all common sense. They could have easily preserved my business and goodwill but instead, chose to be “…unwilling to negotiate…” an acceptable resolution. That’s when I started writing this review. Caveat emptor…let the buyer beware. I’m now buying a Sat phone. Garmin, if you’re reading this, get some of your people on the phone pretending to be consumers and see what DeLorme’s staff is saying to people. Send em some emails and read their responses. Then fire those who harm your reputation and have someone review all the claims sent to The Thomas Agency. I am certain there are a multitude of angry customers like me there.

  10. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Well, Bruce, sorry for your pain but its pretty hard to understand what your inReach problem was.
    The #2 Top Issue in the DeLorme Help section indeed is
    “Troubleshooting inReach Sync”…
    …but anyone can see that inReach Sync is done to a computer, not an iPhone or Android device. It’s mainly used for updating firmware, moving routes to the inReach Explorer, stuff like that. I’ve done it numerous times on various PCs without problems but many PC users have never worked with a device like this so it’s no surprise extra clear instructions are sometimes needed.
    At any rate, I guess what you’re talking about is the Bluetooth connection between your iPhone and the inReach. That’s an almost everyday connection, at least when on the boat, that I’ve probably done many hundreds of times with a series of inReach models and iPads. It often provides GPS to various apps on my iPad, including DeLorme’s Earthmate, and I’d much rather do inReach messaging and other tasks via the iPad rather than the little inReach keypad.
    Yes, many people have trouble making first time Bluetooth connections too, and it’s certainly not always user inexperience. Android Bluetooth in particular was flaky for some time, but the standard and its implementation have been vastly improved in recent years and DeLorme is part of that. I did have to pair a new iPad this year, but it was easy, and now it just works anytime the inReach and iPad are powered up and near each other, just like it did with the last iPad.
    When I get a chance I’ll look into your claims about the all the “glitchy” replaced inReaches but I know for sure it didn’t have to do with iPhone Syncing. That doesn’t exist with inReach terminology. I’ve also inquired with DeLorme about your complaints.
    And as for your blanket judgments about DeLorme — “The DeLorme staff is useless” — well, that’s just nonsense. The company is highly regarded here in their home state, and I personally know some staff who smart, dedicated, and hard working. I think it’s going to fascinating to see what that team does under the wing of Garmin.
    In the meantime here’s my latest testing experience with the inReach as it is now, numerous paired iPad screens included:

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