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Zoleo messaging device compared to The Spot


Sep 17, 2012
This is a start on reviewing the practical use - compared to The Spot and InReach - of the Zoleo device. It's more an incentive for me to get at it.

However, the Zoleo pricing scheme is not helpful as I have to commit to three months of use from the time of the first activation. I can't just pay an activation fee that covers three months, use it from mid-Sept to mid-Oct, then suspend the last two months till next summer. So if you are going to get the Zoleo, be sure you plan your window of use and start your plan at the beginning of that window.

My main purpose with these devices is to let the folks back home know where I am and to provide signaling a satellite SOS search and rescue if need be.

For $20/month Zoleo gives you a 25 message/month quota. Note that each Check-In sent, to each person, counts as a message. Each received message counts against the quota. For $35/month the quota is 250 messages. The Tracking - Location sharing - option is an additional $6/month. It seems to me, that if you are going to use tracking, the $35/month (250 message quota) is the way to go.

You can send tracking or Check-In messages only up to 5 people and each message to each person costs against your monthly message quota. But if you just want text message ability, as well as Check-In, then you don't need tracking (called "location sharing").

To mix the stew a bit - those message subtractions (from quotas) are only done when the message is via satellite. If you are within WiFi or Cellular range, the message is routed via those other options and not counted against the quota. The term they like to use is "Seamless" in that you can move from a WiFi environment to cell service data plan, to the boondocks Satellite area and your message access process is the same. So if you are somewhere on Jones Island - in cell service range - the Zoleo would use that. If out of cell range, it would switch to satellite. I don't know that it would do that in mid-messaging. That's a question for their techies.

I'm going to go through the cost (USD) numbers first, just to get that out of the way.

Recall the cost to get started with The Spot was $80 which included one month of use. Each additional month was $15. Each year the Flex Plan had to be renewed for $35. You got unlimited check-in preset messages, and unlimited tracking points sent to up to 100 people via email or text msg (limited to 500 messages a day). In the second year (no additional activation fee) it would cost $95 for 4 months ($35 + (4 X $15))

The cost of getting started with Zoleo is $60, which covers your first, required, 3 months. Each additional month is $20. You are given a private email adr and texting phone number, that doesn't change as long as you keep your account active. If you suspend your activity, you keep the account active for $4/month "holding fee" during the months it is not in use. If you let that lapse, you start over with the required 3 months usage and get a new email and texting number.

So, four months of use would cost $80 (4 x $20), but to keep the same email/text contact, you'd pay $4/month for the other eight months - $32. Add that to the $80 and you have $112 per year for 4 months of use.

The length of the message depends on the "send" method. If you send via text, the limit is 160 characters per message. Via email, it's 200 characters. If your recipient has the Zoleo app on their device (they don't need Zoleo hardware) the limit is 950 characters per message.

There is also the requirement - unlike The Spot - that the recipient must have the app to get Check-In messages.

I haven't worried about battery life with The Spot because it takes easy to get AAA batteries. I use lithium because of its long shelf life, and I carry a spare set. But the Zoleo must be charged via a micro USB plug. Its spec mentions 200 hrs on a full charge. That can vary depending on your use of the optional tracking and other settings, but the review I saw still gave it about 100 hrs with very heavy use (checking for messages every 12 minutes, 24 hrs/day). A nice Zoleo feature is the four LED lights provide a "remaining battery" indicator.

The simplest way I would use Zoleo would be to have my "at home" person download the app to their phone so they could get check-in messages. Then I'd keep Zoleo (and my phone) off until I was ready to send a Check-In. Note, that can be done via a button on the Zoleo - you don't have to interface with the phone. But you can't change the Check-In message; it's pre-set by Zoleo. And you can't send any other message without a smartphone/tablet to construct the message.

If you have an incoming message, the Zoleo will chime. I'm guessing you could then activate your phone and the app, see your message, and respond. If you exceed your monthly quota, each additional message costs $0.50.

Another technical note: The Spot uses the Globalstar satellite system; Zoleo uses Iridium. There are advocates on both sides.

I'm not keen on activating the Zoleo for Sept/Oct/Nov, but I've been waiting about two years to do this. So later this week I'll call Zoleo, get help with setting up and ask about that "seamless" switching in mid-message.

Here is a size comparison - Mouse Spot, Zoleo
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As an aside, in the process of googling a Zoleo feature, I became acquainted with BiviStick. Talk about a rabbit hole to run down. This is as much fun as evaluating different medicare plans. Just gather your accountant, attorney, and tech guy/gal and buckle up.

For example, The BiviStick is $20/month (19.95) but you need to subscribe for 4 months. It has the same Wifi/cell/satellite "seamless" features as Zoleo, but there is no $4/month holding option. Once you cancel the plan, you start again with the 4-month requirement and get new email/text contact info.

The basic allotment is only 20 messages BUT, check-in messages are unlimited. And they roll over any of the unused 20 messages to the next month. But you lose any accumulation if you let the plan drop. The site didn't make a distinction between messages connected via Wifi/Cell and those by Satellite. Recall that Zoleo only count Satellite sent messages against the quota.

Looks like the BiviStick has the same software/mapping/tracking options as Zoleo, but again, one can only spend so much time ferreting out this information. BiviStick uses the same Iridium System as Zoleo and at first glance, I might have picked the "Stick" against the Spot because of unlimited check-in's (which can be used as sort of a manual tracking when underway). BUT - there's that monthly $20 fee or $240/year. I suppose if you timed it right, You could activate it at the beginning of summer for 4 months ($80) and then cancel each year. You have all the check-ins you want and still have 20 messages (with rollover during those 4 months)
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