Great Walks track tests the new Zoleo handheld satellite communicator.
What does it mean to be a responsible walker? If we stick to the messages of the Think before you TREK campaign carrying some form of an emergency communication device (especially in areas of no phone coverage) is essential.
There are two main types:
1: Personal Locator Beacons (PLB). This is the one button, one job, one-way communication beacon, that sends an SOS directly to emergency agencies in the relevant country, such as AMSA (Australian Maritime Safety Authority) for Australia; or
2: Handheld Satellite Communicators, such as Zoleo, Garmin InReach/Messenger or ACR Bivy Stick that communicate on the Iridium network, or SPOT via Global Star network. When SOS is activated from these devices it is received via a 3rd party emergency call centre and relayed to AMSA.
The main difference for consumers is that some of these devices, like Zoleo, allow us to communicate two-way with family or emergency services.
This could be anything from, “Hey, I’m having a ball, staying another night” or “Terrain tough, slow and running late. ETA at cars 11 pm. All OK,” or critically: “Dan bitten by snake 2.35pm. Applied comp bandage and immobile. Nausea, mild delirium, headache. Storm approaching, built shelter.”
The recipient can then acknowledge the message, ask further questions and/or pass your Zoleo email address and permanent SMS number to the responding Police.
Zoleo is a simple-to-use, 150 gram, water and shock-resistant gadget that can do this and much more.
It can be used stand-alone for basic communications like sending an SOS via the 24/7 Global Rescue emergency centre, or a one-touch, “I’m OK”, to your pre-programmed emergency contact person. Every message includes your latitude and longitude coordinates and a link for recipients to view your location on Open Street Map.
It was when I paired the device with the Zoleo smartphone app, that I appreciated the full spectrum of what this palm-of-your-hand bit of kit can do. Thankfully, it’s not weighed down with a bunch of functions you don’t want - like connecting to social media.
The clever people behind this have created a Goldilocks gadget with the perfect amount of functions - not too few and not too many - and as a consequence, it feels just right.
Out of the box, the account setup via myzoleo.com was straightforward. It’s here you choose a monthly plan, nominate your contacts and any optional extras you may want. You choose your @zoleo.com email address and are issued with a permanent Aussie mobile number so you can receive text emails and SMS for two-way communication.
The app interface, which mimics standard messaging apps like SMS, WhatsApp or Messenger, is super intuitive and easy to use. Screen indicators show battery status (with an impressive 200+ hours from a 2 hour charge time) and bars that indicate satellite coverage are particularly helpful.
During a test, deep in the Jamison Valley, it was interesting to watch the coverage bars go up and down as just some of the 66 Iridium satellites zoomed past at about 28,000 km/hour (that’s about 7.8 km per second) around 2,000 km above me.
WIFI, Mobile or Sat - it’s got you covered
Not only does the Zoleo not chew battery, it also works cleverly not to chew $$. When using the app, it switches seamlessly between available WIFI, mobile network or satellite, using satellite as the last resort.
This means that if I am on the basic subscription ($32/mth, 25 included SMS, 65c each additional), I’m not wasting a satellite message on something that could have been sent by SMS.
Would you like breadcrumbs with that?*
The added fries feature of a Zoleo subscription is the option to add the Location Share+ feature for $7.95 per month. If your contacts have the Zoleo App installed, they can follow along vicariously, as the armchair traveller on your adventures.
The app delivers an up-to-date 4-day forecast (for your location or a different one) included in the monthly plan and counts as an SMS.
All satellite communications need a clear view of the sky. If you’re in a narrow canyon or gorge, with only a slit of sky above you, it means there’s less time for those zooming satellites to be above you and pick up your full message. It may get it eventually, but it will take much longer.
At $345 AUD + monthly subscription of either $32, $55 or $80 (nb: all plans include unlimited Check-in and SOS Alerts) versus $540 Garmin InReach Mini 2 or $470 Garmin Messenger/ACR Bivy; the Zoleo stands above its competitors as a reliable, simple, satellite communicator.
Click here for more info.
Words and photos_Caro Ryan. lotsafreshair.com