Zoleo Satellite Communicator

I’ve had a Globalstar GSP-1700 sat phone for a long time.

Globalstar has a tortured history. Once a great service, it experienced some satellite failures and the service went to hell. It was so bad that to get the phone to work you had to consult a chart for when the next working satellite would pass overhead in your area (which might be just a couple times a day).

However, I bought my phone in 2012 when service was the worst because it was a great deal!

It was still useful for the intended purpose. You could go wilderness hiking and have emergency communications, albeit just once or twice a day – for a fantastic price – almost free.

Roll forward to 2021, and Globalstar had some successful launches and the service is pretty reliable now. However its a lot more expensive and my 10 year old phone seems to have an issue where sometimes the display is buggy. Also as I near retirement its less urgent to have emergency phone service everywhere I go.

All I really need now is a text communicator so if I, say, twist my ankle in the middle of nowhere – I can summon help.

These new generations of satellite text communicators would seem to be great for just being able to send messages, and maybe even non-emergency ones.

So I bought the Zoleo, Amazon link below. What I like about this device is that its waterproof, so I can strap it on my backpack (It has an included carbiner for that purpose) or even place it on the RV roof.

Because it uses an app on your phone, connected by Bluetooth, the Zoleo device is like a brick – you just need to give a clear view of the sky. And rather than a painful keyboard and a cumbersome interface, they did away with the interface entirely and just give you a friendly app.

It uses the Iridium satellite network which is much better than Globalstar’s.

If I want to nitpick a little, the setup is a bit cumbersome. I installed the app and it immediately was able to see and even update my Zoleo, but then it started giving me vague error messages of activation failure. I eventually figured out to go to their website, sign up, pick a plan, and go through a cumbersome process of registering including typing in the long IMEI number.

It was actually pretty quick and easy, but it sure would have been nice if the app was a little more refined and just prompted you for registration instead.

After that is seems to work great. I picked the middle plan – $35 monthly for 250 messages, which seems like a great deal. Also I can suspend the plan while home and pay just $4 monthly.

Zoleo is a bit unique in that they supply a SMS number and an email address, and you can receive messages both ways. Also if you do have cell service or WiFi it skips the satellite and uses one of those instead.

To further nitpick, a lot of bad reviews mention that there doesn’t seem to be any way to tell how many free messages you have left before the overages start. Not a big deal to me, but that info should be provided.

Of greater concern, there is no way to tell if the Iridium satellite connection is actually working. Although I did some preliminary testing outside, I assume my texts went over terrestrial communications. So I’ll have to further test by disabling WiFi and Cell data before heading out west this summer to actually test in the wilderness.

But overall, I love this thing. It just works and will give me reliable 2 way communications virtually anywhere.

The battery life seems excellent, but that is achieved because the default setup includes a long “polling” interval of 12 minutes. In other words Zoleo only checks for messages every 12 minutes. Its adjustable though, and when necessary you could quickly set the messages to be more instant at the cost of reduced battery life.

The two other cool features are an SOS button you can click when everything else fails, a check-in button that will notify up to 2 people where you are, and a weather report you can pull from the app.

I’ll update this review in the next couple months when I wilderness test it, but I have every expectation this will be replacing my satellite phone!

Update: July 2021

We went for a trip out west and this thing is unbelievable. Had texting and weather reports the whole time by satellite. When parked I balanced it on the screen frame below my skylight and it worked perfectly.

I can’t say enough good things about it – it really came through for us.

(Links are Paid)

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