Garmin inReach review
Sun 29th January 2017
After much anticipation the Garmin inReach is here and it was good to get my hands on one before it has even be released for sale in the UK, I am impressed as it is a great piece of kit.
The unit I have been using is the Garmin inReach explorer+. The basic model is the inReach SE but this one at £100.00 more comes with preloaded DeLorme® TOPO maps with onscreen GPS routing plus built-in digital compass, barometric altimeter and accelerometer.
So what is the Garmin inReach series?
This is the first handheld satellite communicator and GPS navigator with 100% global Iridium satellite coverage therefore with no mobile phone signal (as you are using satellites) you can send text messages and e-mails (which have a link showing your location) to friends and family who can also see exactly where you are and live track you.
You can also use the unit in an emergency and send a SOS call.
On top of all this new smart technology (Earthmate app and web portal) you can also plan routes and use it as a navigational device just like any other Garmin GPS, but more about that later.
The first thing that jumped out at me was the batteries. On every other Garmin GPS we have the ability to put in AA batteries but not with the Garmin inReach series as it runs off a built in rechargeable internal lithium ion.
With battery life up to 100 hours at 10-minute tracking mode (default); up to 75 hours at 10-minute tracking with 1-second logging; up to 30 days at the 30-minute interval power save mode; and up to 3 years when powered off it certainly has the range but time will tell how long it will last when we start to navigate with it.
On my first day out with the Garmin inReach Explorer+ the battery seems to be performing very well but if you planned to go ‘off grid’ for any length of time a solar panel may be worth considering.
The other big thing that is new with this unit is that you have to purchase a service plan which enables you to use the global Iridium satellite coverage for sending messages and live tracking.
I will be honest my unit has been put on the top plan but even the most basic safety plan gives the Garmin inReach unit plenty of functionality and by utilising your ‘pre-set’ messages (which makes life far easier and more about these later) and every plan has unlimited numbers of these ‘pre-set’ messages that can be sent.
The plans seem very affordable and you choose which one you want when you are setting up your unit online.
Garmin Earthmate – online
This now brings us to the online Garmin ‘earthmate’ portal where you manage your device, plan routes, view your live tracks, manage messages (include programme your pre-set ones) and manage your emergency contact details and lots more.
If this is the new way forward for Garmin I will be over the moon as it is a great way to manage and plan everything in a clear, straight forward easy to understand way
There is also an Earthmate app for mobile devices and this has the same functionality you get on the browser, it is a great step forward for Garmin.
Switching on the unit
Switching it on for the first time was a different experience than my every day Garmin experience that I live every day at GPS Training. I was greeted to a very alien operating system but once I got my head around it I did find it very straightforward.
In the past I am used to a GPS navigator but now I have a GPS navigator and a handheld satellite communicator in my hand with strange new icons like messages, tracking and SOS but thankfully these are alongside familiar ones like waypoints, routes and map.
Now this is a personal thing but I wear reading glasses and I needed to wear these to work the Garmin inReach. I mention this as my other GPS is a Garmin Oregon 750 and I don’t need my glasses to use that so this observation tells me the icons are just a little too small. To date I have not found any way to make them bigger on the Garmin inReach so it is a case of popping my glasses on to use it.
Getting going – heading off into the hills
At first I was a little confused as I did not have a ‘satellite’ page telling me how many satellites my GPS had logged onto and therefore the accuracy but once you know what you are looking for it all makes sense. It has now been replaced with a very simple icon system on the top of your screen. Once you know what you are looking for it all made sense, as we are no longer using the same satellite systems every other navigational GPS uses but instead the same system that satellite phones use (Iridium satellites) the penny dropped.
Then it was just a case of setting away my ‘tracking’, resetting my ‘trip info’ and off we went.
The unit felt very much like a Garmin GPSMAP64s in my hand and with just a few buttons navigating around it became second nature.
Sending my first message
This is one of the thing that makes this unit truly unique in the Garmin range.
With this unit you don’t have to worry about not being within range of mobile phone signal. The Garmin inReach communicator works anywhere and everywhere – so you’re never out of range and never out of reach.
You just select ‘messages’, then select new message and off you go. A couple of things to remember – one is to put in the country code you want the message sending to (+44 for UK) and secondly it does take a little time to enter text as you move around the qwert keyboard pressing the tick button on the letter you want to use.
Then it’s just a case of sending it and off it goes via the satellites and to the recipient’s mobile phone.
Not only do they receive your message but they get a link in it that when they click on it the recipient can see exactly where you are on the Garmin inReach portal. On this the recipient can select TOPO mapping, Google earth (Aerial) or a road map as it shows them a location on a map.
Now at this point I must mention that when my wife received the text with this link in she was impressed. No IT skills required and on her mobile phone she could quickly see exactly where we are. Even she was impressed and could really see the benefits of this technology especially for a lone walker.
If the recipient wishes to they can reply to this text and the reply will appear on your Garmin inReach
As I mentioned above imputing the text I found a little fiddly but Garmin have really played a trump card here. Earlier in the review I mentioned ‘pre-set’ messages, you can set up three of these online in Garmin Earthmate.
Let’s think about this here, what will we be messaging when out walking. Maybe one of the following -
1. Hi, I am OK and this is where I am
2. Running a little late no need to worry
3. It’s not going great, no Emergency but things not looking great
If you set your pre-set messages up online and then as I have done set these in my shortcut menu on my Garmin inReach life is simple.
I then just press the shortcut menu button and then select ‘send Preset Message 1,2 or 3’ and it’s as simple as that. And with these preset messaged being unlimited in even the basic message why would I use anything else? The other great things about these preset messages is you can set them up to go to multiple mobile numbers and or e-mail addresses so you can cover all your bases.
It unit is worth the money already in my eyes.
Traditionally on any other Garmin GPS unit the track is the bread crumb trail the GPS leaves behind you and this is stored on your unit but tracking on the Garmin inReach it truly live and you even get an option in the Earthmate programme to share this publicly on MapShare.
MapShare is a website with a map that displays your progress on a trip. Friends and family can see how you're doing and send you messages. If you have an inReach Explorer (which is what I was using), they can also see your waypoints, routes and destination. Don’t worry you can set a password on this and in the Earthmate app you can choose exactly what you wish to make public.
What a feature, people can see exactly where you are. Just one point here.
This is where the major differences in the service plans comes in. On the basic ‘safety’ plan you pay per trackpoint but if you progress to the next plan (Recreational plan) you get unlimited trackpoints and these are made every 10 minutes. On the top plan, the one I am on, I get unlimited trackpoints but mine are made every 2 minutes.
Again, once you walk is finished you can sit back in front of your computer and there is your track in your Garmin Earthmate account showing exactly where you have been, over-layed on TOPO, aerial or road mapping (same options you get in Map Share).
Traditionally on any Garmin GPS device the best way to plan routes is in Garmin BaseCamp but this is no longer the case with the Garmin inReach.
You now plan these in the Earthmate app on your PC/ Mac or mobile device. You can even import a gpx files into it and it is really straight forward.
Whenever you do anything like this you have to remember to sync with your Garmin inReach, another straight forward process.
Hopefully this is something we will never need but you never know.
On the side of the unit there is a large button (SOS). Well it is not actually a button as you first thought it is a rubber panel you pull back and under it is the true SOS button. So there is no way of accidentally pressing it.
What happens if you do press it? A message is sent to GEOS who are the world leader in emergency response solutions and monitoring. They’ve supported rescues in more than 140 countries, saving many lives in the process. And they’re standing by 24/7/365 to respond to your SOS, track your device and notify the proper contacts and emergency responders in your area. Then, while help is on the way, GEOS will continue to text back and forth with you, providing updates and critical information until your situation is resolved.
Here at GPS Training a number of our staff are members of Mountain rescue teams and this is a conversation I have been keen to bring up with them and they are fully behind it.
Let’s just think about it, if you have an accident or need help the mountain rescue teams spend hours in searching trying to find the casualty. With this product (that does not need a mobile phone system) they know exactly where you are and they can even communicate with you. Saving time, money and let’s be honest what else could anybody ask for.
I am sold on this device, I have used it now periodically for 24 hours (and my battery life is still 90%) and I am keeping it, no way will anybody take this from me.
I suspect there are plenty of other things I will learn and discover over the coming days, weeks and months but if it makes it even better I am all for that.
I do wish the icons where a larger on the unit and it also had an Ordnance Survey map on it but I do love the Earthmate app, a great progression for Garmin.
The big question for me – does it replace my Garmin Oregon 750? I think the answer is no, as the Garmin inReach does very different things. I think the navigational capabilities on the Garmin Oregon is far more capable than the Garmin inReach, but saying that I very much hope the Garmin Oregon does as the Oregon has been with us and evolved over many many years into what it is today.
But the Garmin inReach does so many extra things so it looks like I am now walking with two devices from now on!
More info about the Garmin inReach products can be found here.