(Tom Sjogren) Last month Iridium launched what could become a game changer for the company.
Iridium "Go" replaces the handheld satellite phone.
Creating a wifi hotspot for your iPhone or Android (or Pad) your own smartphone becomes the actual unit from which you make calls, upload tweets, text and images to a website.
We got our first unit a couple of weeks ago and finished our tests.
Let's start with the main question: If I'm going on a polar expedition to Antarctica this summer (season coming up) or climbing Denali next spring - should I buy an Iridium satellite phone or a Go?
A long term Iridium user (getting my first handheld shortly after Iridium's launch back in 1999) I would skip the phone. I would bring my Android Galaxy, the Go and a small solar panel for charge. While the Iridium handheld is proven, easy and just one piece of gear; the ability to use my smartphone wins me over to Go.
To those who would argue that an old style phone is faster and more reliable in an emergency situation, I'd say that an InReach tracker with text capability is even quicker and safer and can be found for less than $300.
How to operate
Unless you get a lemon (our first unit was defect) it really is that simple:
- Flip up the small antenna and within a minute the unit will automatically power up and establish a satellite connection.
- Go to your smartphone wifi setting and connect to the "Iridium" wifi.
- Open the Iridium Go App.
- Dial a number just as you would for a normal phone call.
Making a call
It's no more difficult then connecting to wifi back home and do a Skype or Viber call. I don't have to aim the antenna while talking but can just place the Go somewhere and then find privacy to make my call within the 30 meter wifi coverage.
The Go can be left on and will only charge for actual phone calls.
At $800 to $900 it can feel pricey at first but it's actually not bad compared to a satellite phone ($1100 to $1400). Prepaid plans are the usual for voice calls, BUT the data (text and emails) are only half price.
You should be able to connect up to 5 devices to the wifi simultaneously (we tried two with success).
Sending pictures to website and social media
There are two free apps for download. "Iridium Go" and "Iridium Mail". The interfaces are almost identical but the first is for calls and text while the second is for email (note to Iridium: a single app would be great).
Sending and receiving text messages was as simple as doing a phone call and pretty much instant.
Next I wanted to update a picture to my website. I opened the email app and wrote a quick headline and text. Then attached an image from my smartphone (Android Galaxy) and sent it off. A bit sloppy with my position and some trees close by my first test was disconnected halfway.
Moving to a more open area for a solid 5 bar connection I tried again. My picture was over 1 MB but the Iridium app automatically resized it to 30 KB. The upload took 4:20 minutes which is really good for an Iridium application. Rule of thumb to remember is 1 minute for 10KB.
By default the app restricts email attachments larger than 50KB which can be changed in the settings.
The app also offers "optimized" internet browsing, but the slow speed prevents any meaningful surfing.
Updating website or social media
Received the email but image arrived upside down. Working on a mobile app launching next month we know this is a common problem, it's also easily fixed with a snippet of code in the app (another one for Iridium's to-do list).
I used CONTACT 5 for convenience, to update my website and social media with the email, but you can also update to Twitter or Facebook direct.
Iridium has finally entered the USB age and this unit can be charged with the same cable as most smartphones (except Apple of course). I hooked up a Feather 12 Watt panel direct to the unit and it charged fully in a couple of hours of Northern California overcast weather.
Iridium Axcess Point or Iridium Go
Go is very different from Axcess Point that launched a couple of years ago. The Axcess Point is a modem whose satellite connection is established by hooking up to a satellite phone. Basically a pretty complicated way to establish a wifi hotspot from your handheld.
The Go is a much more modern product and following the manual even a newbie to satellite communication should be able to get it up and running in short time.
Weight: 10.4 ounces (0.65 lbs, or 295 grams)
Dimensions: 4.5" x 3.25" x 1.25" (81.7 x 119.81 x 33.44 mm)
Rechargeable Battery: 3600 mAh - 7 hours talk, 16 hours standby - 4 hour charge time (from depleted).
Military-grade ruggedness (MIL-STD 810F)
Temperature: Operational 14° F to 122° F (-10° C +50° C) ,Storage -4° F to 140° F (-20° C to +60° C)
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