Disclaimer: We were approached by the OCENS company to test out and review an Iridium GO! Unit and software developed by their company. We borrowed the unit for about a week, with no compensation other than free air and data time. The review below is an honest and true representation of our experience with the borrowed unit.
See it in action on our YouTube channel now: https://youtu.be/dXqyAOC23AU.
Planning to travel to nowhere any time soon? We recommend checking out the Iridium GO! Satellite phone unit. This unit provides connection to the Iridium satellite network, but users utilize their own cell phone to make the connection via Wi-Fi with the GO! Unit.
There are several software options available through OCENS to make better use of your connection time, such as OneMail (which we tested), SpotCast Weather, and OneMessage. Iridium offers its own Iridium GO! App (also tested), which allows for SOS, sending GPS coordinates, and even sending out a Tweet to Twitter.
We took our borrowed GO! Unit to Yellowstone National Park in late May 2015. We camped in a National Forest campground just outside the Northeast Gate to the park, which was in a little valley. We also took the unit over the Beartooth Pass, one of the highest highways in the United States. We tried it out in various locations and topographies, using voice, text, and tweets. Here’s our summary:
Unit quality was excellent – the GO! Is ready for impact and rugged adventures. The sides are buffered with rubber grips, the thick antenna folds down, and the face is illuminated and easy to read. It has an Ingress Protection (IP) rating of IP65. The unit is not much bigger than a cell phone, although quite a bit thicker. Navigation through the menus is simple, and can be done both on the unit and through the connected cell phone with an app. While using the unit, it is stable and flat on the surface you choose to place it, so unlike a tall, thick sat phone placed upright, this unit will not fall over on you.
Battery life – a-maz-ing. Granted, we probably actually used the unit (on) for less than 12 hours during our week, but the unit arrived to us fully charged, and we only plugged it in to see how the charger worked – we never ONCE charged the unit! In fact, I turned the unit back on after being back for a month, just before sending it back to OCENS, and the battery was still at about 40%. To us, that shows reliability for when you may need to make a call or send an SOS in an emergency situation. Minimal apparent battery drain when the unit is stored off.
Anywhere in Lamar Valley, even in a moving car, our signal stayed quite strong, connecting us to the satellites. When in our campsite, as well as between mountains or canyons, naturally the unit had a hard time finding satellite signals to connect. Our campsite was relatively open, so the weaker signal surprised us a bit there. The first main advantage we can see with using a GO! Unit and connecting with a cell phone via Wi-Fi is that the unit can be placed in an open area, and the user could be in a more comfortable location, such as a tent, nearby.
Coolest moments with the Iridium GO!:
- We sent a set of tweets to Twitter through the Iridium GO! app from inside Yellowstone and while heading up the Beartooth Pass.
- We stopped at the top of Beartooth Pass, at about 10,930 feet in elevation, and made two phone calls to “Grandpa and Grandma”. Unfortunately, they were not home, so we left voicemail for them. We also sent a text to a good friend, and they replied!
- Sending and receiving Gmail from our remote, primitive campsite using the OneMail app to stay up on business (instead of sitting in our car outside Mammoth Hot Springs Visitor Center for Wi-Fi). Sweet. 🙂
These units can be rented or purchased through awesome companies like OCENS. If you don’t want to shell out several hundred dollars to purchase one, but want the security of an on-demand life-line at your disposal on remote vacations, renting a GO! Unit could be the way to go. Airtime and data can be purchased on an as-needed basis. However, if you rent one, be sure to allow a few days ahead to get the apps set up and ready to use. We were rushed to set up our services (our fault, not OCENS!), and because of that we feel that we missed out on a few cool details, like detailed weather reports and web app. You will want the chance to play around with it before heading out into nowhere!
As a side note, the transfer speed on most satellite phones is still around 10 Kbps, and the GO! Seems to fit this description. You won’t be watching any YouTube – yet – on this type of set-up. That said, you CAN share pictures using Iridium’s Mail & Web App, as well as post to Facebook and Twitter, because the app allows for compression and it can remove website graphics for faster download. Before we left for Yellowstone, I thought we had this app set up, and it seemed to work, but once out in the field we had trouble making this app work for us. Probably a setting on our part that we changed or modified, so we’re blaming that one on “user error.”
The most reliable app we used was OCENS’ OneMail app, which allowed us to keep up on our email – sending and receiving – from anywhere on our trip. We were able to use our Gmail account flawlessly, as long as the GO! unit had at least 4 out of satellite connections (we show this in our YouTube video!). The cool part about the OneMail app is that it can fetch all of your email from various accounts (Yahoo, Gmail, Exchange, etc) into one Inbox. Sending a photo from that mountaintop? Photos over satellite can be costly, but the OneMail app uses high-tech compression to create high quality, minimal-sized photos on the receiving end. A photo taken on your phone at 2.1MB can be compressed into 38KB, and sent almost 50x faster over your data connection. For those of us who take photos for a living, that’s great news!
It has been about ten years since we’ve had a satellite phone in our hands, and we like the direction that Iridium is heading with allowing users to provide their own cell phone with their services. We are amazed at how far this industry has come, and we know that they are creating new partnerships with sites like Facebook and Twitter all the time. We are hoping that there will be an Instagram posting option sometime in the near future, as that is our favorite sharing platform!
Be sure to consider the Iridium GO! If you are in the market for a satellite phone. You can find much more information on both the GO! unit and the OneMail app on the OCENS website: http://www.ocens.com.