The ZOLEO Satellite Communicator lets you message from anywhere in the world and call for help if something brown hits the proverbial fan.

 

We’ve always advocated the need to carry a PLB or Satellite Communicator when venturing into the wilderness at We Are Explorers. You can read Saphira’s piece on Everything You Need to Know About Off-Grid Safety and why not worrying your mum is as good a reason as any to hike with reliable comms.

 

ZOLEO Satellite Communicator - Review

What’s a Satellite Communicator?

Satellite Communicators (also called Satellite Messengers) are similar to traditional PLBs, but with one main point of difference. They allow you to send a distress signal from anywhere in the world like a PLB. However, they also provide the benefit of letting you message friends and family to let them know more mundane news like, ‘we’ve arrived at our campsite’, ‘we’re back at the car’ or ‘I just saw an echidna.’

Long story short, as Saphira said, ‘satellite messengers allow you to let people know that you’re NOT in an emergency’. 

It’s worth noting however that satellite communicators are not necessarily a PLB replacement. Both have different uses and it’s best to do research before deciding which one is right for you.

Read more: PLBs and Satellite Messengers – Everything You Need to Know About Off-Grid Safety

 

ZOLEO Satellite Communicator - Review

Overview of the ZOLEO Device

ZOLEO’s Satellite Communicator connects with your phone or tablet and allows for global messaging like that mentioned above, all via a free messaging app.

Non-Emergency Messaging

The attraction of a communicator over a PLB is the non-emergency messaging capabilities, when regular phone service isn’t available. 

Uniquely, when you’re beyond mobile coverage the ZOLEO device recognises this and allows you to send and receive messages through the free ZOLEO messaging app, via its Iridium Satellite Network (we’ll get to that further down). 

When you are within range, the ZOLEO app delivers messages over cellular and Wi-Fi. You’ll even get the message when the ZOLEO device is turned off. 

The messaging experience itself is very familiar – much alike sending a text, or a message over Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp. 

By granting the app access to your contacts, you can also just type in the name of the person you wish to message and it will load automatically for you — so there’s no need to remember numbers.

 

 

ZOLEO Satellite Communicator - Review

 

You can also configure the device to have ‘check-in’ contacts and by simply pressing the tick button on the device or on the mobile app, those contacts will receive a check-in message saying ‘I’m OK’ with your GPS location. This can be automated to send as often as you like, leaving a little breadcrumb trail of coordinates.ZOLEO Satellite Communicator - Review

SOS/Emergency Messaging

Here’s the part of the device you never want to use, but is the reason you buy it.

In case of emergency, the ZOLEO device has a red SOS button which is protected from being accidentally pressed by a plastic flap. 

You can activate the SOS on the device directly by holding down the red SOS button for three seconds, or by pressing the SOS button within the ZOLEO app. All four of the LED lights on the device will spin red so there’s no mistaking you’ve called for the cavalry. An ascending tone will also ring and once acknowledged by GEOS which is their 24/7 emergency monitoring partner on the other end, the SOS LED will change to a slow double blink.

Thankfully, in the off chance you accidentally set off the SOS, you’re able to undo it by holding the same button down for five seconds.

You can also activate the SOS easily through the ZOLEO app on your phone.

 

ZOLEO Satellite Communicator - Review

Pressing the green tick = check-in. Pressing the Red SOS = emergency services are on their way…

 

ZOLEO Satellite Communicator - Review

Left: A check-in message I sent to my mum. Right: The SOS button on the ZOLEO app. It’s hard to miss.

Signal Coverage

The messages and GPS are all enabled by the Iridium Satellite Network. 

Without going too deep into how many Satellites Iridium operate — 66 apparently — you can rest assured it’s considered the largest and most advanced satellite network in the world. 

It’s worth noting the device only allows for one connection at a time, however it can operate even when the phone and device are up to 50m apart.

The GPS itself is also accurate to 2.5m which is pretty impressive.

So basically, whether you’re doing a hike in the Bluey’s or a traverse of Antarctica, you’ll still be able to message your mum.

 

ZOLEO Satellite Communicator - Review

Ease of Use

Clearly the device and associated app is super easy to use. It’s both easy to call emergency services on purpose, and hard to do it by accident. 

In addition to the messaging capabilities, you can even check the weather in your region in real time. Worried it might rain tomorrow? Just tap the weather icon on the app and you’ll get the lowdown.

 

ZOLEO Satellite Communicator - Review

Here are some screenshots of the weather interface on the app. And yep, there’s some serious rain on the cards near my place… The forecasts are powered by Dark Sky.

Portability & Tech Specs

The ZOLEO device is highly portable and weighs in at just 150g. 

Its dimensions are 9.1 x 6.6 x 2.7 cm (which is about half the height of an iPhone 11 and perhaps twice the depth).

 

ZOLEO Satellite Communicator - Review

 

ZOLEO Satellite Communicator - Review

 

It comes with a carabiner so you can fasten it to yourself, or to the outside of your pack. You also don’t have to worry about exposing it to the elements, since it’s shock resistant and even water-resistant to 1.5m for 30 minutes. 

 

It relies on a rechargeable internal Lithium Ion battery, which is charged through a simple USB charger, and the battery then lasts for 200+ hours. 

Oh and remember how I mentioned you could take it across Antarctica? Well you probably could, since the operating temperature has a low of -20 degrees celsius and can withstand 55 degrees celsius on the other end of the spectrum, meaning you’ll call it quits long before the device.

 

Price

The ZOLEO Satellite Device will typically set you back $345AUD and you can find out where to buy them in your area. However, until Dec 12, 2021, you can purchase them for $50 less wherever you buy a ZOLEO, making them even better value at $295. This is still more expensive than similar comms like the SPOT GEN4 which retails for around $150, but remains considerably less than the popular Garmin inReach Mini GPS which costs $530AUD (Garmin also rely on the Iridium network).

While the initial investment is worth it, it’s also important to realise you still have to pay a monthly plan like a regular phone service. For ZOLEO, these start at $32/month and this plan has a cap at 25 satellite messages with additional messages worth 65 cents. So how bad do you want to tell your mum you saw an echidna? There’s a number of different options and bundles, so it really depends on how often you expect to be out of range. The unlimited plan is $80/month for example.

Final Thoughts

There’s no doubt the ZOLEO Satellite Communicator is one of the most rugged, compact and reliable satellite messengers out there. 

The price is perhaps the biggest barrier to this being the perfect solution to off-grid messaging, so it comes down to the frequency that you’re off air and the environments you’re in. 

It’s neat that ZOLEO will automatically use your phone’s data networks when they’re available and effectively save you the cost or use of a precious satellite message.

Admittedly, this device won’t be for everyone given the burden of the monthly plan. It’d be great to see a per use plan for infrequent campers, knowing that they do allow for suspensions on the monthly plan if you’re out of action for whatever reason.

 

Matt was sent the ZOLEO Satellite Communicator by ZOLEO and was allowed to keep it afterward, the views are his own.

 

ZOLEO Satellite Communicator
Messaging & App Functionality
95
All Round Ease of Use
90
Signal Coverage
95
Device Design & Portability
95
Price
70
Pros
Compact and portable design
Highly durable and weatherproof
Straightforward and familiar messaging style that integrates very well with smartphone
Easy to use free app
Cons
Only one smartphone connection possible at a time
Not the cheapest device
Not the cheapest monthly contracts available (SPOT & Garmin are slightly cheaper)
Requires a charged smartphone for 2-way messaging (Garmin inReach does not) but this does mean the messaging experience is better.
89