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BACKPACKER Gear 360 Review
Satellite messengers have become backcountry staples for many hikers over the past decade or so, and new models are increasingly elaborate in terms of their functionality and versatility. Sometimes, though, simple is better, which is why our testers have enjoyed using the ZOLEO. “The companion phone app is the cleanest-looking of any GPS communicator I’ve used,” our gear editor says. “Even if you’ve never used a device like this, it’s obvious how to write texts and emails, send geolocated check-ins, and get a weather forecast. There’s no clutter at all.” For anyone who wants easy two-way messaging via text and email, this is a top new choice.
The ZOLEO uses the Iridium satellite network, and we were impressed with how fast it sent and received messages (usually taking no more than 2 minutes), shared coordinates via check-ins, and downloaded weather reports while we sought backcountry ski lines in Colorado’s Indian Peaks Wilderness. The performance shouldn't be a surprise: The new brand is actually a joint venture between two companies (Roadpost and Beam) that have extensive experience in the satellite market. That experience shows in a unique and welcome feature—the ability to toggle seamlessly between cellular and satellite service. Basically, all your messages are kept in the same thread, no matter if you’re on a cell signal or not. (When registering the device, you receive a dedicated phone number for your texts and can pick your own zoleo.com email address.)
Because the ZOLEO is so streamlined, it lacks a few features we've seen on other devices: There’s no way to send custom messages with the device itself, only SOS and "I'm OK" signals with current location, so if your phone dies the messaging fun is over. (The device itself has a battery life of 200 hours; that's not the longest on the market, but it's better than some popular models, and battery life can be extended by adjusting settings from within the app.) Also, it doesn’t serve as a navigation tool, and we wished for the ability to send messages to a group of people at once. But those are minor tradeoffs for a fast and reliable device that's both light and packable.
The palm-size unit is hardy, with a thick, rubberized coating, no easily breakable screens, and IP68 waterproofing. And another benefit of simplicity: lower price. The ZOLEO is just over half the cost of the category-leading Garmin inReach Mini—and has affordable, flexible data plans. Thanks to that, and its intuitive, dependable performance, the ZOLEO is one of the best options for backcountry communication on the market today.
Consumer Reviews from Around the Web
This device is so user-friendly and intuitive that anybody can master it almost right away without reading the manual. Worldwide communication is truly at your fingertips within minutes of opening the box. I texted and emailed on trips in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, and the satellite transmissions were completed within a couple minutes. I used the ZOLEO for text and email communication, checking weather conditions and forecasts, notifying contacts of my status, and communicating with family via the app-to-app function. The check-in function worked as advertised and delivered an ‘I’m OK’ notification to my designated contacts, along with latitude and longitude coordinates. Those were also completed quickly. Making changes to the contacts list and those who receive check-in and SOS notices is easy to do in the app, so users can adjust for varying locations or contact availability. Plus, it weighs less than three gulps of water, so I took it everywhere.