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Spot Global Phone review:

Works almost everywhere, and most of the time

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Once I connected, call quality was passable, but hardly admirable. On most occasions, I could connect and hold a conversation without dropping it. Voices sounded relatively natural and there was enough volume, but the phone picks some wind and background noise so I had to repeat myself on a few occasion. Also, on more than a few calls, the audio cut out for a couple of seconds every now and then. On their end, callers reported many of the same problems, though they didn't always guess that it was a satellite phone.

Rotate the antenna up to make a call. Josh Miller/CNET

On at least three calls, the phone would disconnect while we were talking, forcing me to call again. Annoying and inconvenient, to be sure, and when you add in the 30-second time in takes to call back, potentially dangerous, as well. I'm not expecting miracles here -- I mean, it is a satellite phone -- but just keep your expectations in check. Though I haven't tested enough satellite device to really compare the Spot Global's performance with any rival devices, I concede that not even a normal cell phone can deliver guaranteed connectivity.

Spot Global Phone call quality sample

Listen now:

One odd thing that I noticed was that even though the Spot Global has a US number with a real area code, your call will show up as "unknown" on a caller ID. Yes, your call still is going through, but I suspect that some people would be less likely to answer a call from an unknown number.

The Global Phone also can send, but not receive text messages. That one-sided communication is disappointing, given that it would be another way to seek assistance. You also can use the handset as a modem for your laptop. That requires a data cable accessory, which connects to another proprietary port on the handset's bottom end. Also, depending on your service plan, data service may require an extra fee.

Battery life is rated at 4 hours of talk time and 36 hours of standby. Sure, that's less juice than some standard phones, but this isn't a device that you'll be using for hours on end.

Satellite phones are far from your everyday gadget purchase. But for the times when you're off the grid and need to stay in touch, the Spot Global Phone can be a reliable option. I say "can," because your success with the product will depend on a few factors. You'll need to be one of the optimal coverage areas, you'll need a clear path to the sky, and you'll need to able to afford it. Those aren't easy boxes to check, but you'll need to complete them if you want the Spot Global Phone to be worth the investment. I just want a smaller charger and the ability to receive texts.

Just keep in mind that even once you manage to connect, The Spot Global's performance won't be stellar. The audio will be patchy, you have to speak up, and you will drop some calls. If this were a normal cell phone, I'd be slamming the Spot Global Phone for delivering such a poor experience. But given that this device connects to satellites, I'm willing to cut it some slack. Besides, if it works well that one time when you really need it to, then it's doing its job.

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