If you do a lot of travelling to places where you find yourself “off the grid” on a regular basis, or you are the sort of person who likes to go on adventures and need to be able to stay in touch when off the grid? Forget the smartphone. What you need is a satellite phone.
OK, a satellite phone might seem a little James Bond — calling it a “sat phone” adds to the secret agent vibe — but they are a lot of widespread and accessible than you might think, and there are a number of options available out there.
Note that a subscription is required to access the satellite network, and prices vary wildly depending on network you use, what kind of service you need, and how long of a subscription you are taking out. Also note that prices are far higher than for cellular networks, and can reach eyewatering proportions.
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A handheld GPS receiver with a built-in satellite receiver that allows you to send and receive SMS messages via the Iridium network. Garmin actually makes a number of devices, from the simple Garmin inReach Mini to the Garmin inReach Explorer+, which combines the Iridium features with a handheld GPS receiver loaded with topo maps.
Prices start at around $300 for a basic tracker.
Another company that offers satellite trackers and messengers is SPOT. There’s the SPOT X, which is a two-way device that looks a lot like an old Blackberry, the SPOT Gen3 Messenger, which allows the user to send check-in and SOS messages, and the SPOT Tracker, which allows tracking of things like cars and suitcases.
Prices start at around $80 for a basic tracker.
BlueCosmo Inmarsat IsatPhone 2.1
Now we move onto something that looks and acts like a phone. The BlueCosmo Inmarsat IsatPhone 2.1 offers the ability to make and receive voice calls, SMS, track your position with GPS from anywhere on the globe (well, mostly, satellite coverage at the north and south poles is poor, outside of those areas people will get excellent coverage).
The built-in lithium-ion battery offers 8 hours of talk time and 160 hours standby, and the entire package is IP65 rated for dust- and waterproofing.
The kit starts at $569 for the satellite phone, charger, and SIM with no airtime.
Thuraya X5-Touch Android smartphone
OK, now we move to a handset that is truly a smartphone, running Android and everything!
The Thuraya X5-Touch is a fully-ruggedized dual-SIM Android smartphone that offers access to GSM/LTE networks, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and satellite coverage (coverage map here). The X5-Touch features a 5.2-inch full HD touchscreen made of glare-resistant Gorilla glass, is powered by a Snapdragon 625 octa-core processor, 8-megapixel rear camera and 2-megapixel front camera, 16GB eMMC memory, 2GB of RAM, and runs Android Nougat 7.1.2.
The 3,800mAh battery is good for 11 hours of talk time and 100 hours of standby.
Price is big — $1,259.99.
Now we move from a phone to a mobile satellite router — the Iridium GO!
And it’s easy to use.
Just fire it up, it connects to the Iridium satellite constellation, and you get enough data bandwidth to check emails, use Twitter, pull up weather forecasts, and limited web browsing. You can connect up to five devices to the Iridium GO! hotspot.
It’s priced at $699, but bear in mind that there are additional activation fees and a subscription plan to the Iridium network is required (and this can be quite expensive).
The Iridium GO! offers to 15.5 hours of standby battery life, and up to 5.5 hours of talk time.
For those who truly want to go off-grid, there’s also a special package that includes not only the Iridium GO! base station and AC travel charger with an international adapter, but also comes with a solar charger, two batteries additional, and a desktop charger. This is priced at a heftier $1,095.