Smartphones sending messages via satellite has been a hot topic lately after announcements from T-Mobile/SpaceX and Apple. However, that has been a function offered by Garmin for years now, albeit with external hardware. The Garmin inReach Mini and Mini 2 were popular, compact options, now the company has come out with a new one – the Garmin inReach Messenger.
Unlike the iPhone 14 series, you can use satellite messaging for general text chats and not just emergencies. And you don’t need to manually aim it at a satellite. But you do need a subscription and most of those come with a limited number of texts – just 10 with the basic $15/month plan, each message after that is $0.50. This needs more explanation, but we’ll get to that.
The more interesting thing revealed today may be the Garmin Messenger companion app. It’s a general chat app that sends messages over Wi-Fi or cellular data when those are available and over satellite when you are out in the wild. The app will automatically switch between the best method, so you don’t have to worry about checking connectivity first (messages over Wi-Fi and cellular are free, of course).
Your phone needs to be connected to the inReach Messenger device to send and receive texts over satellite. However, you can create individual and group chats to keep in touch with friends and family even if they don’t have a device of their own – they will need an Internet connection, of course, but the app is a great way to assure them that everything is going smoothly. Previous inReach devices could send texts, email and even Tweets, but this app should make for a more straightforward user experience.
And if things go arwy, the Messenger has an SOS button that will get you in contact with Garmin’s International Emergency Response Coordination Center (IERCC), which is staffed 24/7 and will get in touch with rescue services near you.
The inReach Messenger is built for long treks with battery life up to 28 days in the default settings. That includes sending out a location report every 10 minutes, so that your loved ones can keep an eye on your progress (and so that emergency services can find you). The Messenger is rated IPX7, meaning it can survive a 30 minute dip in 1m of water.
The device itself is fairly simple and has a small display – enough to show incoming messages and guide you back along your path if you need to retrace your steps. However, it is mainly intended for use with a smartphone and other Garmin devices: handhelds, marine and aviation equipment as well as Garmin wearables.
The Garmin inReach Messenger is available now for $300 from garmin.com, making it a cheaper option than the $400 inReach Mini 2. And it has better battery life too, the mini only lasts 14 days with 10 minute location reports.
Below are the prices for the monthly plans. You can easily subscribe and cancel every month, but you can get a discount if you pay for a full year (e.g. Safety falls to $12/mo with a 12-month subscription). Also, unlimited SOS activations are available with each plan, so even the basic one will do if all you want is a peace of mind. With each subscription you can also send unlimited preset messages (e.g. “I have arrived”, “I’m heading home”, etc.) for free, only the free-form texts count towards the monthly allotment.
|Safety||$15/mo||10 messages||$0.50 after that|
|Recreation||$35/mo||40 messages||$0.50 after that|
Note that Garmin uses the Iridium satellite network (you can learn more about its coverage here). Besides messaging, the network can also deliver weather forecasts, but those cost money, especially more detailed ones aimed at sailors.
If you already have an inReach Mini or similar Garmin device with satellite messaging capabilities, the company is working on adding support for some of them in the Messenger companion app, though it didn’t say which ones exactly or when that update might arrive.