Summit County Gear Guide: Phone home — from wherever you are
November 14, 2013
Even on an outdoor adventure, we want to stay connected to home base — for safety, support or just a friendly voice on the other end of the line. This week, we look at a couple of products that help you do that by being rugged, long-range and practical.
Otter Box may be the "No. 1 most trusted in smartphone case protection," but the new iON Intelligence is long on promise and short on practicality.
It all starts with a fantastic idea, particularly for those of us who spend a reasonable amount of time out of power-cord reach of an electrical outlet. The new case, designed for the iPhone 4 and 4s, is rechargeable, juicing itself and the phone while plugged in — in effect coupling the Otter Box brand level of protection with a mobile reserve of battery power for those treks into the backcountry when a fragile smartphone's physical well-being and longevity are bound to be cause for concern.
And in the protection department, the case is everything its name promises — a multi-layered defensive shell that shields the phone from impacts, dust and debris and scratches.
But — as I've found to be true of all Otter Boxes and one of the primary reasons I've never paid for one — the screen protector, which is built into the case, failed to seal to the screen of my phone. This leaves a minuscule, but infuriating, gap between the protector and the screen that makes the phone more difficult to use.
Beyond that, the rechargeable case feature didn't work on my demo product. The case is designed with a piece that slides into the iPhone's charging dock at the base of the device. The product is supposed to then automatically replenish the phone's battery life from its own reserve of power. A series of small LED lights on the front of the case, below the screen, indicate the power status of the Otter Box. But I was unable to coax the case to ever take on more than half of what should have been the available battery space, and even that ran out pretty quickly.
Also flawed was the basic set up. With the iON Intelligence, both phone and case are charged simultaneously with a special Otter Box charger and only with that charger, rending all other power cords effectively useless. Perhaps for consumers more organized than myself this wouldn't be a problem, but I need to have a charger available at my office, in my car and beside my bed at all times and even prefer to have a few spares on hand in the likely event that one gets lost.
While using the Otter Box, my supply of power cords was reduced to just one, and with even that charger unable to fully juice up the case, I found that — despite the company's promise that their rechargeable case would double my phone's battery life — the device actually spent more time dead than ever before.
— Caddie Nath
SPOT Global Phone
The phone rang clear, and then a voice picked up. It was my wife on the other side of the world. My feet were planted in sand on a remote desert track in Jordan. She was holding our newborn baby in the U.S.
Cellphones have demystified the convenience of communicating from almost anywhere. But there are still vast regions where cell towers do not exist. That's when satellites come into play. In Jordan, where I traveled this past spring, I brought a satellite phone from Spot LLC.
The company's Global Phone model (www.findmespot.com) was released in May. It's just 5 inches tall, and the body is made rugged for the outdoors. Sat phones used to be bulky and expensive. The Spot product is neither — it weighs just 7 ounces and costs $499, about the retail price of a smartphone. Calling plans with Spot start at 25 cents a minute or $149.99 for monthly, unlimited voice.
Don't expect to play Angry Birds or snap an Instagram with the Global Phone. The unit is utilitarian and made primarily for voice, though you can send a text message and check voicemail from afar. If you have a laptop along in the wilds, the Global Phone works as a modem. Spot sells a kit to connect the phone to a computer, letting you get online to check emails, upload photos or post to Facebook from far away.
Spot also includes a 911 emergency option. Users simply dial 9-1-1 and can be connected to a rescue center almost anywhere on the planet. In Jordan, I thankfully never even thought about the emergency mode. But as backup "insurance" in a remote place, the service can literally be a lifesaver.
If you're traveling out of cell range this summer, look into a sat phone to stay in touch. Units such as the Spot are priced similarly to an iPhone. For me, it's worth the money just to keep in contact and hear my wife's voice from across the world.
— Stephen Regenold writes about outdoor gear at http://www.gearjunkie.com
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