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Garmin inReach Explorer+ Plus Review

A bit over a year ago Garmin acquired a company called DeLorme. Now if you have never heard of them, that isn't much of surprise since they their hardware portfolio is for a limited audience: Adventurers who leave the beaten path and stay away from the normal mobile phone grid territory. DeLorme also makes some map products but their main device is the inReach: A two-way satellite communicator using the iridium network with a 100% global coverage (For all Pauline Hanson / Trump fans: That's everywhere). Now these things aren't exactly cheap but given it isn't unusual in our household to spend a bit of extra money on weird hobbies (Anna: Dressage riding / Philipp: Geocaching) I get away with buying one of those.
2nd and 3rd gen

The Predecessors

In January Garmin announced the release of the third generation of the inReach - the SE+ and the Explorer+. The first generation was a little device which needed a smartphone as an interface and the second generation had already a colour display. I do own an inReach SE and I found it to be a very reliable unit. At times I wish it wasn't that clunky to operate but then I know there is method to the madness. I'll get to that. The underlying satellite communication system hasn't changed over the three generations so I won't get into that. 

First Impression

Now last week Garmin released the third generation which is obviously the first generation designed under their supervision. Then on Monday I finally could get my grubby little hands on it despite living in Melbourne. Yes there isn't even a release date for Australia yet. Anyway opening the box I was quite happy to see the usual touch and feel of a Garmin. These guys have been in the rough outdoor handheld business for decades and it clearly shows in the design of their cases. The second generation inReach - the last DeLorme device - still didn't have the nice rubber edge which could be found on a 1998 etrex yellow device. Yeah it always came off eventually but that's another story :) This new device feels like a Garmin which is good. 

Start screen
Turning it on

Given most of us are used to modern smartphones and other advanced handheld devices, you might be a bit surprised when pressing the on-button of an inReach for the first time. Especially if you are a Garmin Junkie and used to that type of user interface. The new inReach is still very "DeLormish". And to answer one question straight away: No you can't make a Garmin map work on the inReach Explorer+.  Basically the device has the expected tracking functions, some basic navigation options which work very well and a ridiculously long battery life. We're talking about 100 hours or something like that ... including sending your position to a satellite every ten minutes. It is supposed to just work without glitches and headaches. If you're under stress, the last thing you need is getting lost in too many menu options. You need to know that in order to understand the functionality or their lack of.

Connectivity 

Obviously the inReach Explorer+ can send text messages via the iridium network. Not much has changed here. It also still connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth which makes typing messages much easier. The fun starts when you want to add or download GPX data. Yes it works but you have to do it via the website and then sync the device - either via bluetooth and your phone or the provided USB cable.  You can't just plug it in  like a normal Garmin and drag'n drop GPX files. It's a bit weird and I'm curious to see if the fourth generation will be less DeLorme and more Garmin. By the way if you want to load maps, you can get pre-casted Open Street Maps onto it - which here in Australia is good news. You just need a fast internet connection to make it happen.

Likes


  • Reliable two-way satellite communicating 
  • Preset messages enable fast dispatch of routine check-in communication
  • Get latest forecast via WX2inReach
  • Satellite signal goes through backpacks and tent walls
  • Easy to use via the phone app
  • Audible message delivery notification
  • Mapshare lets friends and family follow your progress
  • Battery life

Dislikes


  • Downloading topographic maps is a bit weird
  • Can't load standard Garmin maps
  • No drag and drop of GPX files if connected to PC
  • Limited navigation functions


Alternatives

If you require off-grid (emergency) communication there are five four options worth having a look at:

  • EPIRB / PLB >> Emergency only but cheap and reliable
  • Satellite Phone >> Not so cheap but great functionality
  • Iridium Go >> Mobile data thingymebob
  • Old fashioned radio >> Can be a bit bulky and you need a licence
  • Spot Messenger >> Not an option. They are unreliable, Bogong Equipment took them off their shelves and the Victorian Climbing Club banned them as an emergency communication device. 
In the end it is a choice of how much money do you want to spend but make no mistake: There won't be any sympathy if you venture into the wild and face dire consequences because you didn't even take a PLB with you. Have an epic adventure but do it responsibly. 

Verdict

If you are looking for an everyday device like the Gpsmap 64 or etrex touch 35 which can also do satellite communication, the inReach Explorer+ will disappoint you. But that's actually not the point. Think of it as the Nokia 3310 among the GPS devices. That thing is made for the big adventure.
Fits nicely into the radio harness
It is your connection to the outside world, your emergency communicator and your backup GPS because let's face it: You already got a good GPS and you will take that as well. At least I had an etrex 35 and an inReach on top of Ama Dablam. However given you only need some basic navigation functions, the inReach Explorer+ can do them. It's well worth the 50 USD over the basic SE+ model.

You need an emergency backup and want to let the loved ones at home know you're fine? This is your device. Done.

In case there are any questions, post them in the comments or shoot me an email via go@hiking.melbourne

Cheers ⛰🙂
Philipp

P.S.: Pro-tip register your subscription via the US and not the Australian retailer. It's cheaper.


Disclaimer: I bought my own unit and didn't get anything except sleepy eyes from writing this review.

Some Pictures

SE - Explorer+ - Montana 650t - etrex yellow - etrex touch 35

The standard Garmin clip fits (I replaced the biner with an Edelrid 19G)

USB port

Map view

Comments

  1. Hey Philipp, what is the cost of an iridium network connection for this device please?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There are a couple of plans available which you can find here:
      https://explore.garmin.com/en-US/inreach/#subscriptions

      I got the the recreation plan which is 25 USD p.m.

      Delete
    2. Thanks, not too much for the potential lifesaving result.

      Delete
  2. The Garmin Gpsmap 64 and etrex touch 35 do NOT do satellite communication! They simply allow you to pair with your cell phone for messaging using bluetooth. So they are 100% dependant on your cell phone and cell network for communication, and are therefore worthless for communicating with anyone while off the grid.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Correct - no Garmin except the inReach series does satellite communication but nobody did claim that they do anyway :)

      Delete
  3. Hi Philipp and thanks for the great Australian oriented straight up review. I see that it's cheaper to buy online direct from the US. Could you please tell me, are these the same units that would function as such here? Do you also get your plans direct from the US (you mentioned registering there ...). Thanks again

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They are the same units and they do work globally. My unit is registered directly with Garmin and I didn't go through an Australian retailer. It's all pretty neat and you can see the latest track here https://share.garmin.com/Philipp

      Delete
  4. Hey! I know this is kinda off topic but I was wondering if you knew where I could locate a captcha plugin for my comment form? I'm using the same blog platform as yours and I'm having difficulty finding one? Thanks a lot! www.gmail.com login

    ReplyDelete

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