CNET First Look
Satellite-powered Spot Global PhoneThe satellite-powered Spot Global Phone can deliver all-time accessibility, just as long as you keep your cost and performance expectations in check.
Hi, I'm Ken Sherman, Senior Managing Editor at CNET. I'm here to get a first look at the SPOT Global Phone. Now, I know this phone looks a little strange, looks a little old, looks like it might be from like, I don't know, the early 2000's. So you're probably wondering if maybe it's something from Wall Street, that old movie. But, I can say this is a satellite phone, so it is actually somewhat newish, it is a phone of now, but it doesn't connect with cellular network. It actually connects with satellites floating way up in space, which is why it probably looks a little big and why it has a non-traditional design. Actually, it has this big antenna, which I'll get to in a minute, that really connects you with the satellite. But yes, it is very big, it is very bulky. Even though this is a phone that you'd wanna carry probably when you're hiking, or camping, or backpacking, or something like that, isn't exactly compacts you're gonna wanna bag or a really large pocket for it. Isn't it particularly heavy even with this big battery on the back? But yeah, it's just a little big, so just keep that in mind. One thing that I didn't like is this charger. Now, this isn't just some normal little wall charger, even just a small cable you could plug-in to maybe an external battery or computer. Now, this is something like you'd find with maybe a camera or I don't know or, you know, some sort of big electronic. So you have the plug that goes to the wall. You have that big AC adaptor, and then you have this other cable that's pretty long, which is, you know, nice if you can keep-- you can park it along way from the wall when you're charging, but not so nice when it's just something else to carry around. Also has a proprietary connection that goes to your phone, which I don't-- I'm not really a fan of. The phone actually has that port here on the bottom, not the most convenient or best arrangement for something that you're gonna wanna take when you're on the go. On the front, there is this small display. It isn't completely monochrome, but it just has red and green, pretty small, just shows the essential information like the connection, your battery life, if you're connecting to a satellite, the phone status. Of course, there are no graphics since this phone doesn't run any apps or a music player, or play movies, or anything like that. And then down below are the alphanumeric keypad. So you can use this to dial. You can actually send text messages with this phone, but you cannot receive them. So that's a bit disappointing that you can't have a two-way communication, but I guess that letting you send text messages out just gives you another way to communicate. Otherwise, not many controls. Here on this side, there's a volume rocker I do like because it's really big and it's rubberized, so it's easy to find when you're in a call. And there is a 2.5 mm headset jack here on the top. Almost everything is 3.5 these days, so, a little disappointing that they go 2.5. You're gonna need to get an adaptor if you have normal-sized headphones or you're gonna need-- just gonna need to get a 2.5 mm headset. The biggest features on the back are these big battery. You can see it right here. It does pull-out easily, and that antenna. So, of course, you're connecting to satellites. That means you need a big antenna. You're gonna have to rotate the antenna up, and pull this out, and there it goes. So, you know, if you're using this in public, you will be noticed quite readily, but this is essential for connecting to the sky. Of course, when you use it, you're gonna wanna make sure that there are no trees or buildings or any other obstructions around. You don't need to be in a completely open field. I mean, I used it in places where, you know, there are trees little ways away, but you just need to have a clear shot to the sky. The mechanism is fine. It's not too loose, it's not too stiff, and you're just gonna need to rotate it around sometimes, adjust it maybe, to get that maximum satellite coverage. The display will have a message that says "rotate antenna". You're gonna see that here, because it says-- now it says "looking for service." Of course we're not gonna find anything since we're inside. But you will find that status of whether the phone is connecting or not right on that display. And then when it's connected, you'll see the bar-- you'll see bars just like you would normally up here in the corner. I used this phone a few places. I used-- We used it here in San Francisco. I used it up in Sonoma County where it's in a rural part out there. I used it in the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, and I used it in Greece as well. In each place, I was able to make a call after a few seconds or maybe almost a minute of connecting to a satellite. Sound quality is okay. You know, it's not fantastic, but this is a satellite phone, so I really wasn't expecting miracles. If this were a normal cellphone, I would be pretty disappointed. I'd probably really trash it actually. But one thing about this phone, of course, is that it really needs to work only that one time where you really, really, really need it. So, as long as it does then, you'll probably be okay. It is a bit expensive. The phone itself is almost $500 and then service plans are pretty pricey. But if you are a person that really is gonna be out in the wilds a lot, you are-- You know, you're gonna be like the backpacking, out in the back country, or you're gonna be in a place that just doesn't have a normal cellular service and you really need to keep in touch, so you really just want it for emergencies, I suppose the cost is gonna be worthy to you. Overall though, pretty unique device, but as far as satellite phones go, it is accessible. It is pretty small and it works, and it works fine. I'm Ken Sherman, and this is the SPOT Global Phone.