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Follow-up Report – Second Generation SPOT

(Click on images for higher resolution photos)

Our initial evaluation of the second generation SPOT GPS Satellite Messenger (SPOT 2) was cut short when the unit died after we immersed it in a bowl of water. While we were originally told it was a production SPOT 2, turns out it was one of the pre-production units and wasn’t waterproof. I received what I was assured was really a production SPOT 2 while on the road. Taking advantage of the hotel’s pool with a depth of five feet, I power it on and I tossed it in, waited an hour, pulled it out and it worked fine using Check OK. Once I was home I put together a 20-foot tall test rig made of Schedule 40 sewer pipe, borrowed a neighbor’s balcony and suspended the SPOT 2 at a depth of 5 meters (16.2 ft.) for an hour, the depth and duration to which the SPOT 2 is rated. That’s when things got a bit weird.

SPOT 2 depth testing

When I pulled it out the power button was flashing red. That would mean that after only about 3 hours of use and a half dozen messaging attempts the batteries were run down. So, I turned it off and turned it on again and light was now flashing green. Ran Check OK and it worked. Still puzzling over this strangeness, a few hours later I performed the 16 ft. water test again, but with power off this time. I pulled out and turned it on, green LED and tested Check OK again, which worked fine. Turned it off and then about an hour later I turned it on again and it was now flashing red again. Ran Check OK and it worked fine. Turned it on and off a few times and each time it flashed red. Pulled the battery cover to see if there was any water inside and it was dry. Over the next day and a half I tried turning it on a half dozen times and it flashed red each time. Then, just before retiring for the night, I tried and it flashed green. I left it on all night and it was still flashing green in the morning and a Check OK worked fine. Shared the experience with SPOT and they have been unable to come up with an explanation so far. That left me with lots of questions and no good answers, not what I want in a distress alerting device.

In an effort to see if the depth testing had anything to do with the red battery indication, I set up the test rig again and tried it once more with fresh batteries. This time when I pulled it out it was still flashing green, but the Message Sent LED was also flashing. Given that I hadn’t pressed any of the message buttons, that was unexpected. Pressing the Check OK button didn’t activate that either. As I puzzled over that, I left it flashing in order to take some photos and video. Then GEOS called! Seems they had received an SOS alert once the SPOT 2 was removed from the test rig. After assuring GEOS that everything was okay, I turned it off and called SPOT.

Well, turns out that at its rated depth, the pressure can be sufficient to press the buttons and in this case it switched on the SOS button. Bottom line, while it may be waterproof to 5 meters, you need to be careful because at depth it can turn itself on and the result could be an unpleasant surprise visit from SAR. I suggested to SPOT that they might want to include a warning to that effect in the User Manual. And, still no answers for the apparently erroneous red battery indication.

Other Problems

A few other issues cropped up during our brief test period..

SPOT 2 Damaged protective coversThe red SOS dot and white text on the protective cover for the SOS button has started to wear off after only a few days and there is a scratch in the “reaching hands” image on the HELP protective cover. This SPOT 2 was carried in my pocket for a day or so, in aggregate, and spent an aggregate of about an hour or so being spun on its face on a tablecloth during a meeting. None of that is really the sort of abuse you’d expect to result in this wear, and far less than it can expect it to receive in real world use. That doesn’t bode well for its durability.

SPOT 2 Damaged label on backThe instruction label on the back was already starting to peel off and come apart after being exposed to water/wet for only a total of three hours. After the fourth hour in the wet it really started to come apart completely. This is another example of poor durability that suggests either poor quality control or poor selection of materials or design. For a device intended to be used in wet environments, such as sailing, boating, PWC, kayaking, etc., this is unacceptable in my opinion.

Issues such as this suggest a lack of concern for durability in the design and specifications for the SPOT 2 and inevitably raise questions about the entire package.

Also, we were told after our first report that SPOT would include updated battery life information in the email sent to newly registered SPOT 2 units, but when we registered this SPOT 2 last week, it still had not been included.

Testing will continue…

New Zealand

I also sent a second pre-production SPOT 2 that I received after the first failed (also not waterproof) with a close friend who is touring in New Zealand. He has been dutifully turning it on daily and we have been tracking him on his travels down under. No question that it is fun to follow along. Tracking performance has been similar to what we have seen here with SPOT in the past and during our brief initial evaluation. It is doing pretty well, but there are occasional gaps, even with SPOT 2’s redundant tracking transmissions that we discussed in our first report. He’s also carrying a McMurdo Fast Find PLB, just in case.

New Zealand Trip