Built to withstand almost anything the great outdoors can throw at it, the $150 Spot Gen3 GPS Tracker (opens in new tab) will appeal to anyone who likes to hike and explore off the beaten path while letting people back home know where they are. But the GPS device offers more than just durability; it also delivers valuable emergency features and accurate location data.
The Gen3's outer casing is encircled in durable rubber, with belt slots atop each end — all the better to latch it onto something. Buttons across the bottom let you send out a check-in "I'm OK" alert containing the coordinates of your location, perform that same function but on a continual basis (from every 2.5 to 60 minutes), or send out a pre-programmed custom message that can be emailed or texted to your contacts along with a Google Maps link to your location. Indicator lights across the top tell you if the power is on, if your GPS signal is being tracked and when one of your messages/check-ins have been sent out.
In addition, there are buttons with hard-plastic covers for emergencies — one button for non-life-threatening situations and one if you're truly in trouble (in which case 911 medical responders are given your coordinates).
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At 4.2 ounces, the Gen3 was the heaviest GPS tracker we tested, though that's not a knock — it's a hefty and heavy-duty device. Drops from a few feet up don't inflict any damage to it whatsoever, and it's undergone tests for humidity (to 100 percent), vibration, elevation (up to 21,320 feet) and temperature (minus 22 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit).
The Gen3 also comes with a micro-USB charging cable and a carabiner with a Velcro strap.
Spot's website is a little light on features compared to those of other GPS tracker makers. One of its most useful functions is the ability to set up a Share page with a dedicated link that you can send to friends and family to track your progress. It's also useful for checking location and reading account messages and updates.
You also have a full array of settings that make customizing alerts and other things pretty easy. But compared to Spot Gen3's array of in-browser features, such as the ability to edit custom messages, its mobile app feels pretty bare and a bit stale.
Compared to other GPS trackers we tested, like the Trackimo and the SpyTec GL300, the Spot Gen3's tracking capabilities were truly stellar. The Gen3 delivered pinpoint accuracy, whether I was inside the supermarket, running around a football-field track or driving my kid to day care. With the Gen3, we were always located precisely where we were and when we were there.
Spot recommends you keep the Gen3 at least 12 inches away from other GPS-enabled gadgets, as the signals could interfere with one another.
The unit is also waterproof to depths of up to 1 meter for up to 30 minutes. If you're the kind of person who is enamored with the Gen3, then you're probably going to get it submerged at some point, whether you're sailing or white-water rafting or engaging in any other activity that takes you near a body of water.
The Gen3 runs on four AAA batteries, and its battery life was more than sufficient. We got about five days of juice with the device set to 5-minute updates 24 hours a day. According to the company, you can get several weeks' worth of battery (opens in new tab) by tweaking the settings, such as only refreshing your location when you're actually moving. By comparison, I got two solid days of use out of the Trackimo and 12 days of somewhat regular use from the GL300. Still, I consider the battery life I got from steady use of the Spot Gen3 to be top tier.
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Service Plans and Warranty
Under its standard $150-a-year service plan, the Spot Gen3 will automatically track your location every 10 minutes for up to 24 hours before you have to check in. (You press a button on the device to let anyone tracking you know that you're OK.) Two add-on service plans will change that frequency and allow you to avoid the need to check in after a day. The Unlimited Tracking plan ($200 per year) lets you adjust the location frequency to either 5, 10, 30 or 60 minutes, and it keeps going as long as you're moving. The Extreme Tracking plan ($300 a year) gives you all that plus the option to set your tracking to every 2.5 minutes.
Outdoor enthusiasts will have to decide for themselves if that extra level of tracking is worth $300 in annual service charges, although that's the same annual amount you'd pay for the GL300's standard $25-a-month service plan, which provides updates every minute. Trackimo's service plan (which comes included for the first year and costs you $5 a month afterward) gives you the option for it to provide updates every minute as well.
The Spot Gen3 has a one-year warranty.
The Spot Gen3's main purpose is to save your life, should you find yourself in a tough situation with little other recourse available. Thankfully, I didn't have the opportunity to put that particular feature to the test, but the extensive tracking capabilities offered by the Gen3 should allow it to come through when you need it the most. Its durability and features give it the edge over the Trackimo's lower annual costs and use of quad-band GSM.
Besides its value in a life-threatening emergency, the Gen3 has core functionality (such as custom messages and good location tracking) that makes it practical for everyday outdoor activities. Data and supplemental costs can add up fast — particularly if you opt for the more extensive tracking features — but if you're going to put this device to regular use, the features you get in return will be well worth the cost.
|Size||3.43 x 2.56 x 1 inches|
|Battery Life||52 days*|
|Batteries||4 AAA batteries|
|App Support||Android, iOS|
|Monthly Service Cost||$15 per month|
* Based on 24-hour-a-day tracking at 60-minute intervals