Over this past riding season I've had the opportunity to test out the Zoleo Satellite Communicator with accompanying Phone App (Android) and this article will serve as a brief overview of the company's services as well as my take on the device, Phone App, and service plans. If you are unfamiliar with Satellite Communicators they generally allow a user that is out of cell phone coverage to utilize Satellite GPS systems to communicate to someone back home or to contact emergency services. Generally the device will communicate some type of message along with your GPS coordinates. Most devices will also throw down "breadcrumbs" at designated intervals to allow your family to see where you have been and where you may be at if something happened to you and you don't have the ability to utilize the SOS functions of the device. The major benefits of using this type of device is piece of mind for you and your family at home and the fact that emergency services can easily find you if the need arises.
For the past couple several years I have utilized the Spot Gen3 Satellite Communicator so the functionality does not correlate fully with the Zoleo device. That particular version of the Spot does not offer direct 2-way communications. The Spot Gen3 has a couple pre-defined messages that you can set up on their website before heading out so you can somewhat communicate with your people at home but there is no way for them to respond or for you to give any specifics. The SOS functionality is pretty much the same between the two devices. Spot does have devices with similar functionality but since I have not used them I will not make any comparisons with those particular products. A final disclaimer, I was provided the Zoleo unit at no cost but I have been dutifully paying the monthly fees to maintain the service to the device.
Before my thoughts can be shared on the Zoleo device and the accompanying Phone App, I will give a brief overview. The Zoleo unit itself is small (3.58"x2.6"x1.06"), lightweight (5.3 ounces), and dust/water/shock resistant (IP68-4.9 feet for 30 minutes / MIL-STD 810G). The SOS button has a cover as to not allow any false alarms and the internal GPS chip is accurate to 8.2 feet. There is also a Check-In button that will shoot out a message and GPS coordinates to your designated pre-loaded contacts through your Zoleo website account. The battery is a rechargeable internal (not removable) Lithium Ion with a life of 200+ hours that will recharge in approximately two hours. The Zoleo device will operate in a temperature range of -4˚F to 131˚F with a slightly smaller range for charging the battery of 32˚F to 113˚F. The unit will connect on the Iridium satellite network through the GLONASS Global Navigation Satellite System and also through Bluetooth to your cell phone. The Zoleo Communication Device MSRPs for $199 USD.
The accompanying Zoleo Phone App is free on the Apple App Store or through Google Play. The device and App allow for two-way messaging with your contacts as well as with Zoleo's 24/7 emergency response coordination partner via satellite, cellular, or WiFi through text, email, or App-to-App. Depending on available services, the App will automatically switch to the available service. Zoleo provides each device with a unique SMS number and email address to deliver messages back and forth and if your family at home downloads the Zoleo App they will automatically get your messages there along with the ability to track your location. There is a limit on character count for messages but it differs depending on service type (the App will display and count down automatically): SMS/Text 160 characters, email 200, & App-to-App 950.
Another nice feature of the Zoleo App is the on demand local weather forecasts through AerisWeather. Forecasts include your current location and the ability to search for weather along your planned route, even when outside of cellular service. Before you head out you can download a high-resolution offline map to use to help search for weather once you are off the grid. Forget to download the offline map? You can also use a search bar to plug in coordinates or type in the name of the location to view the forecast.
Zoleo offers three different service plans (Basic, In Touch, & Unlimited), each on a month-to-month basis with the ability to suspend, change, or cancel at any time. All plans offer unlimited cellular and WiFi messages but differ on the number of satellite messages that are included. The Basic plan is $20 per month and includes 25 satellite messages per month, the In Touch is $35 with 250 messages, and the Unlimited plan is $50 with no limits on satellite messages. No worries if you do go over your allotment if you are on the first two plans, satellite messages are still available but will cost you $0.50 for each message above your limit. They also offer add-on message bundles at a reduced cost if you know you are going to be out for a while (20 messages for $8 or 75 for $15).
Another optional add-on is their Location Share+ subscription which will add $6 a month to your subscription fees. When you are out and about the check-in contacts that you choose will be able to view your breadcrumb trail on a map via the Zoleo Phone App at intervals that you designate (6 minutes, 12 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour, 2 hours, or 4 hours). This service also includes unlimited check-in and location share messages. Something to note, the more frequent the Zoleo device has to drop a breadcrumb the more juice is drained from the battery.
Overall I think the unit is small, light, rugged, and easily attaches to my riding vest with a strip of paracord (Zoleo does sell cradle kits to attach to your person or vehicle). The device/Phone App combo is an awesome upgrade from the previous SatComm brand I was using. I am really impressed with the battery life, using the Location Share set at 12 minutes. I used it over several 5 day tours, turned it off at night, and used less than 40% of the battery without recharging it at all over the ride. The simplicity of the functions on the unit itself are great. I used the Check-In button to notify my crew as well as some of our customers' families that we were leaving camp in the morning and when we made it to the next camp at night. The Phone App (Android) is also user friendly and having the ability to directly text my crew regardless of cell phone coverage is perfect for the type of Adventure Motorcycling my company performs. The weather function on the App also proved useful for us to plan our riding gear for the day (cold weather gear, rain gear, layering, etc.).
A benefit for Appalachian ADV, since we are providing Outfitter & Guiding services, is that if the State we are holding an event utilizes Text-to-911 services we can directly contact local emergency services when cell service is non-existent and provide GPS location as well as more readily communicate a potential emergency situation for our riders. This provides a piece of mind for not only our customers but also for their family’s back home. Of course if the Guide goes down, we make sure to include how to access the SOS function of the Zoleo device in our Riders’ Safety Briefings.
I was previously using a Spot Gen3. A couple things that I felt were good options with Spot: the ability to Check-In/Location Share with more than five contacts* (many more with Spot) and the ability to view the Location Shares and Check-Ins on a map on the Spot website or directly in an email/SMS/Text as opposed to having to use a dedicated phone App (*To Note: you can load an unlimited number of contacts on your website account but only two can be designated as your SOS contacts and five can be designated as your check-in and Location Share+ contacts). Restricting the Zoleo Check-Ins to five contacts that have to download the phone App is not ideal but the fact that I can directly text message anyone helps partially make up for that limitation (although I am limited to the total number of text messages I can send before being charged extra since I am not using the Unlimited plan). Compared to the fact that I could not directly communicate back and forth with the Spot, this is definitely not a deal breaker, especially since the pricing is similar. I generally have more than five customers on Guided Tours, the ideal situation is to use the Check-In to send to customers' families at home so that they don't worry about their Adventurer when we are out on the tour (without having to use my allotment of text messages and run the risk of getting caught up with a chatty family member). The Zoleo also allows me to communicate directly with local 911 services to help someone else or utilize the SOS function directly for myself whereas the Spot can only be used for my own emergency situations.
Overall, I feel the Zoleo product with included phone App is an amazing product at a reasonable price. I do believe the Zoleo to be superior to the Spot Gen3, but adding more contacts and having a web-based place for Location Share/Check-In would drastically set Zoleo apart from the competition. For our Guided Tours, I have a basecamp crew that will meet us at certain points along our routing. For our Rallies, the crew isn't moving around as much but for both of these events I could see the benefit of having a second Zoleo unit for the basecamp crew. Many of the locations we pass through, as well as some of our basecamp locations, have sporadic cell phone coverage. Having two units that the riding group and basecamp crew could use to communicate regardless of cell phone coverage would come in extremely handy.
Ever hear of "safety in numbers"? Well even if you ride solo you are never alone with a GPS communicator. ADV riding has its risks, that is why we do it, but having a device like this can be the difference between a bad situation getting worse or save you from a life-threatening scenario. At the very least, peace of mind for you and your family.
Ride Safe. Have Fun, Take Chances!
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