Spot Gen 3 limitations

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Spot Gen 3 limitations

Postby Mutley » Sat 24 Mar, 2018 4:48 pm

Thought I’d share a recent experience with my Gen 3 SPOT tracker. I’ve been using this unit for several years, with overall good results. This has included many trips including a full AAWT traverse. I have never had a problem with battery life and have found the tracking and messaging to be good.

But..

The subscriptions are on the very edge of being affordable, for the average Joe. Over $200 per year means a substantial investment in your safety, particularly if it only protects you for a few trips a year.

I recently supported a mate on the Oxfam walk in Melbourne. Wanting everyone to track their position I lent him the SPOT for the weekend. I did not use lithium batteries as recommended, as the battery life estimator for these batteries is far in excess of the 30 hours I needed and instead used alkaline batteries.

Well, 15 hours into the event, they disappeared from the screen. I thought something was broken, as it was way too soon to even think about flat batteries...So wrong.

The estimated battery life for a SPOT with a 10 minute tracking interval and 50% view of the sky is 8.5 days, using Lithiums.

However, if the unit is in heavily wooded forest, this battery life is greatly reduced, so the battery FAQ states.

So in summary, walking for 15 hours and 50% through a tall mountain ash forest , using alkaline batteries with 10 minute logging will give you a battery life of 15 hours - Far shorter than the 8.5 days with Lithiums.

Don’t think the SPOT subscription will be renewed again and my SPOT will be on the market for $50 or a couple of good reds !!
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Re: Spot Gen 3 limitations

Postby wayno » Sat 24 Mar, 2018 5:01 pm

satellite coverage isnt great down under, compared in Inreach and yellobrick devices.
the satellites arent directly overhead and I don't think they are geo stationary, so it has to connect through a canopy through rows of trees instead of straight up through a single tree canopy.
i turn mine off in forest and have a seperate PLB for emergencies.
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Re: Spot Gen 3 limitations

Postby Orion » Sun 25 Mar, 2018 2:12 am

SPOT Satellite coverage isn't any worse down under. Each of the Globalstar satellites varies between plus and minus 52° latitude. So while on average satellites will be to the north at times a satellite may be directly overhead. The number of ground stations is also a factor. According to Globalstar the combined coverage in Victoria is better than in the Sierra Nevada in central California.

I'm not a fan of the SPOT. I tried one out and found it disappointing. But using alkaline batteries falls under the category of user error. The instructional manual warns against the use of anything other than lithium or NiMH. It's not the best choice for saving a little money.
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Re: Spot Gen 3 limitations

Postby wayno » Sun 25 Mar, 2018 2:33 am

if you've tried an iridium device like a garmin inreach or yellowbrick, then you'd know that their connectivity is far better, iridium has more satellites.
having said that, the spot coverage has improved but the problems still exist, devices may transmitters may not be as good as some other devices
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Re: Spot Gen 3 limitations

Postby Orion » Sun 25 Mar, 2018 5:05 am

I don't doubt that. I was just pointing out that coverage for SPOT isn't any worse in Victoria than it is in North America.
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Re: Spot Gen 3 limitations

Postby Mutley » Sun 25 Mar, 2018 8:24 am

Orion wrote:SPOT Satellite coverage isn't any worse down under. Each of the Globalstar satellites varies between plus and minus 52° latitude. So while on average satellites will be to the north at times a satellite may be directly overhead. The number of ground stations is also a factor. According to Globalstar the combined coverage in Victoria is better than in the Sierra Nevada in central California.

I'm not a fan of the SPOT. I tried one out and found it disappointing. But using alkaline batteries falls under the category of user error. The instructional manual warns against the use of anything other than lithium or NiMH. It's not the best choice for saving a little money.


Agree, but the difference in battery life is massive.
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Re: Spot Gen 3 limitations

Postby Gadgetgeek » Sun 25 Mar, 2018 8:42 am

It has to do with the battery chemistry. The alkys will keep the unit running for three days or so, but the voltage drop means the unit can't send a strong enough signal to be picked up. I tested this with our Gen1 and Gen2 units at work to see if I could use alkys in a pinch. They could send for about 6 hours before loosing strength, and the gen3 is more efficient, so I would guess that's why you got a day out it.
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Re: Spot Gen 3 limitations

Postby Orion » Sun 25 Mar, 2018 9:10 am

It's not just voltage drop. The capacity of alkaline batteries is highly dependent on current draw whereas lithium batteries are far less sensitive to that.

The Spot is actually quite nice in terms of battery life, when outfitted with lithium batteries. But unfortunately that doesn't solve all of its reliability issues. Even with a full charge its performance is... spotty.
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Re: Spot Gen 3 limitations

Postby Strider » Sun 25 Mar, 2018 3:20 pm

Alkaline primaries are hopeless in just about anything these days. It’s definitely worth investing in some NiMH cells and a quality charger - IKEA sell rebranded Eneloop Pro’s (LADDA) at a reasonable price, and unlike the current Panasonic Eneloop range they are still made in Japan.


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Re: Spot Gen 3 limitations

Postby Mutley » Sun 25 Mar, 2018 5:51 pm

Gadgetgeek wrote:It has to do with the battery chemistry. The alkys will keep the unit running for three days or so, but the voltage drop means the unit can't send a strong enough signal to be picked up. I tested this with our Gen1 and Gen2 units at work to see if I could use alkys in a pinch. They could send for about 6 hours before loosing strength, and the gen3 is more efficient, so I would guess that's why you got a day out it.


Really like the theory Gadgetgeek, but assuming this was true, the unit would still have had enough power to turn on. But no - The unit was totally dead after 15 hours.

Maybe it went flat by constantly trying to send a signal, with the lower alkaline voltage preventing successful transmission ?
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Re: Spot Gen 3 limitations

Postby Mark F » Sun 25 Mar, 2018 5:57 pm

Agree with all the comments about alkalines vs NiMH and lithium batteries. I also feel that the SPOT units (I have used a Gen 2 unit for coming up to 8 years) have a double life and I think it important that people choose between it being a SOS type device with a couple of location messages a day or a tracking device with lower expectation of it functioning properly as an SOS device due to battery drain. With lithium batteries replaced annually mine has worked flawlessly in mode 1 (SOS and occasional location messages) except for 1 lost message (about 70 nights usage per year on average) and that was in very awkward terrain.
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Re: Spot Gen 3 limitations

Postby Gadgetgeek » Mon 26 Mar, 2018 6:39 am

Mutley wrote:
Gadgetgeek wrote:It has to do with the battery chemistry. The alkys will keep the unit running for three days or so, but the voltage drop means the unit can't send a strong enough signal to be picked up. I tested this with our Gen1 and Gen2 units at work to see if I could use alkys in a pinch. They could send for about 6 hours before loosing strength, and the gen3 is more efficient, so I would guess that's why you got a day out it.


Really like the theory Gadgetgeek, but assuming this was true, the unit would still have had enough power to turn on. But no - The unit was totally dead after 15 hours.

Maybe it went flat by constantly trying to send a signal, with the lower alkaline voltage preventing successful transmission ?

Its certainly possible that the gen3 chews the battery harder, or needs a higher starting voltage to turn on. I found with our gen2s is that they would appear to be working but no longer had the grunt to get the message out, and that was in known, controlled conditions. So maybe they have a system to prevent that from happening. The discharge curve on lithiums is much flatter with a harder drop at the end. Dunno, just making guesses.
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Re: Spot Gen 3 limitations

Postby Orion » Mon 26 Mar, 2018 10:10 am

If the Spot message isn't delivered how do you know if it's the Spot failing to transmit it, a satellite failing to receive it, a lack of simultaneous ground station availability, or a system glitch in the Spot message processing?

I test drove a gen 3 (with brand new lithium batteries) and about 35% of the messages I sent failed to make it. Some of those were from locations where you might expect problems (e.g. forest cover) but most were in wide open spots. In each case the Spot looked like it was sending the message successfully. That experience made me wonder how reliable it would be if I were to push the SOS button.
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Re: Spot Gen 3 limitations

Postby Gadgetgeek » Mon 26 Mar, 2018 7:21 pm

I was able to be in a location where I could also get the notifications, so I did a test over the course of a day, and my best guess was that it was failing to fully transmit, as it locked in and transmitted immediately as soon as I put in fresh batteries. I also did some multi-meter testing on the various batteries. So best guess, not an engineer.
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Re: Spot Gen 3 limitations

Postby mikethepike » Tue 15 May, 2018 10:02 pm

I have a SPOT and used it in the past and have found this thread very interesting and confirms my own fears. I'm confused about one thing though. I always understood that the SOS function operated (and hopefully works) without the paid annual subscription. Is this correct? I can't find a definitive statement about this on the findmespot website. Thanks for you help.
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Re: Spot Gen 3 limitations

Postby Orion » Wed 16 May, 2018 2:23 am

mikethepike wrote:I always understood that the SOS function operated (and hopefully works) without the paid annual subscription. Is this correct? I can't find a definitive statement about this on the findmespot website. Thanks for you help.


By "understood" do you mean you assumed that? Or did you read it or hear of it somewhere?

I have read in a few places that an S.O.S. will not be processed without a subscription. But I haven't found anything that addresses the question on the Spot website. So I don't know either.

It's a good question. Why not send them an email and ask?
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Re: Spot Gen 3 limitations

Postby wayno » Wed 16 May, 2018 10:35 am

I READ somewhere i cant recall that someone's SOS didnt work because their subscription had lapsed on a spot. inreach could be the same.
plb's need no subscription . rescue services may require tht you register the beacon with the country of origin you are purchasing it in or going to be predomnately using it in.. its supposed to be coded for the country its sold in.
the registration is usually free and juste gives your contact details and extra contacts for rescue services to check with first to see if they can get more information before initiating a search. but even without registration, rescue
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Re: Spot Gen 3 limitations

Postby mikethepike » Fri 18 May, 2018 9:36 pm

Further to the recent discussion, I emailed findmespot as to whether the unit’s SOS function only worked if the annual fee was paid. Here is the response.

Thank you for contacting SPOT Customer Relations.
Unfortunately, Mr. Michael the SOS feature on your device will not work if there is not an active service agreement. I understand how this certain feature maybe CRUCIAL to you and for that we have created a website for all of our VALUED customers to voice their opinion or new ideas to help improve our products and services. That website is http://www.myvoice.findmespot.com.

The upper case words in SPOT’s reply are theirs not mine. I wrote back asking for further clarification and the reply was an abbreviated version of their first one. It would have been clearer if they could bring themselves to use words like fee or cost. From this I could only conclude that if you want SOS to work, then the fee must be paid and be current. And there's the rub!. The annual cost of that ‘active service agreement’ is currently US$ 174.98/year (and which includes a US$ 24.99 ‘annual maintenance fee’). That is AU$ 232.72. Think how many days in the year you’ll be using it and it would have to be of extreme duration to make me feel happy about coughing up the fee. Given the cost, it’s not surprising that they have brought in monthly payments as an alternative to an annual once off payment!

SPOT is very light and nice to use but I found that it sometimes has failed to deliver a message in open areas in forest and nowhere more open for miles around. It means that if I ever need to send an SOS, it would be a very anxious wait to finally see 'message received' window light up. More expensive initial outlay alternatives with no or only small annual fees will be much cheaper even in the short to medium term. And more reliable where terrain features and vegetation make reception poor.
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Re: Spot Gen 3 limitations

Postby Orion » Sat 19 May, 2018 1:20 am

LOL!

That's why I bought a PLB.
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