GRAND FORKS — The ability to keep in touch with the outside world can be a matter of life and death when venturing off the grid and into the backcountry.
At the very least, it provides peace of mind.
Such was the case a couple of weeks ago, when two friends and I ventured by private boat from Grand Portage, Minnesota, to Isle Royale National Park on Lake Superior for a few days of fishing.
While not completely off the grid — at least on the water — cellphone coverage on Isle Royale is spotty, at best, and mostly nonexistent on the island.
With that as a backdrop, I didn’t hesitate when an email hit my inbox several weeks ago promoting the Somewear global hotspot satellite communicator and the opportunity to try out one of the units.
The trip to Isle Royale was already in the planning stages and seemed like the perfect opportunity to put the satellite communicator to the test. The communicator provides 100% coverage anywhere in the world through the Iridium satellite network.
The Somewear unit turned out to be very useful, not because of any emergency, but for the peace of mind it provided for all of us, and especially the wives of my two married fishing partners.
They didn’t need to spend the week wondering if we’d sunk to the bottom of the lake or drifted off to sea.
The Somewear is one impressive little unit.
Through a simple setup process and the Somewear app I downloaded to my smartphone before the trip, the wives of my two fishing partners were able to track our whereabouts both on Lake Superior and back at camp. They also were able to send and receive text messages, providing further reassurance that we were OK and our trip was going fine.
Weighing in at a mere 4 ounces, the palm-sized Somewear unit paired with my smartphone via Bluetooth, and the app did everything else. Turning the communicator on every morning so we could send text messages became part of our daily routine, and we also left the unit on for several hours while fishing.
The spouses received text messages whenever I turned on the tracking function and were able to bring up a map I’d downloaded before the trip. The communicator then dropped a pin every 15 minutes showing our location on the map.
I could have set the updates for more or less time with the app, but every 15 minutes seemed about right.
The Somewear unit also provided seven-day weather forecasts for the area we were staying. That was less of an issue for us because of the marine band radio in our boat, but for backcountry travel on land, knowing the weather is always good information.
Besides messaging and tracking, the Somewear has an emergency SOS button that operates through the Garmin-powered Emergency Response Coordination Center, providing emergency satellite notification services if emergencies arise.
Fortunately, we didn’t have to use the SOS button, but knowing it was there was reassuring just the same.
Like hand-held GPS units, the Somewear global hotspot requires a clear view of the sky to find the satellites. That wasn’t a problem on the water, but I occasionally had to walk out on the dock back at camp to pick up a strong enough satellite signal. The strength of the signal was obvious by looking at the screen of my smartphone, which I kept in airplane mode throughout the trip.
I’m not the most tech-savvy guy in the world and am prone to becoming flustered when technology doesn’t cooperate — as my friends will attest — but setting up the Somewear satellite communicator before our trip took only a few minutes and was relatively painless.
That was a huge plus in my world.
While minuses were few, I didn’t realize until the trip was in progress that I could only receive text messages from people I had specifically added to the app. That turned out to be a drawback in one situation but was a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things.
In every situation, the satellite communicator worked as advertised and still had 40% of its battery life left at the end of our trip. We could have charged it with the USB cord that was included, but that wasn’t necessary.
Like other satellite communicators on the market, the Somewear global hotspot requires a subscription, with four packages that range from the bare-bones Ultralight Plan — $8.33 monthly with an annual contract required — to monthly plans ranging from $15 to $50 that can be paused if the satellite service isn’t needed. All of the plans include 24/7 SOS monitoring
I haven’t tried any of the other satellite communicators on the market, but I was very pleased with how the Somewear global hotspot performed. At a suggested retail price of $280 and a variety of affordable subscription plans, chances are good that I’ll be buying one for myself sometime in the not-too-distant future.
On the web: somewearlabs.com.