Send a Tweet from the backcountry, track your GPS position anywhere on the globe, text-message a friend out of cell-phone range, or blip out an SOS signal in an emergency situation via a roving satellite network. These are the touted features of a GPS/satellite bundle communicator product, the DeLorme Earthmate PN-60w with SPOT Satellite Communicator, to be released in May. Announced this week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, it is the "first handheld GPS navigation device capable of sending customized text messages," according to a press release.
The product, available in May for $549.95, requires two separate devices--the DeLorme PN-60w and a small, second-generation SPOT device. They are sold together and communicate with each other via a Bluetooth-like wireless protocol called 802.15.4. The result is a full deck of GPS tools on the PN-60w, along with the ability to send custom messages and rescue notification on the SPOT satellite network. (Cell-phone range is not required.)
The companies call it a "rugged, handheld GPS and satellite communicator product." For outdoors users, the two-in-one gadget gives GPS tracking tools and the ability to send messages and waypoints, including live updates to social-networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, Geo-caching.com, or SPOT LLC's SPOTadventures.com. The PN-60w device has a graphical color display screen and an internal keyboard for typing outcommuniqués.
For emergency situations, the SPOT transmitter can work as a stand-alone device to send location-based information to a response center. (The small SPOT unit has just two buttons: On/Off and SOS. The buttons are protected so they can't be inadvertently triggered.)
A final interesting feature: According to Delorme's Charlie Conley, the 802.15.4 wireless protocol will enable multiple PN-60w users to see each others' positions and exchange GPS data and files or text messages in the backcountry. The wireless signal will have a range of up to one mile, Conley said. This functionality won't be available upon the targeted May release, but will come in a free firmware update potentially by fall 2010.
--Stephen Regenold writes about outdoors gear at www.gearjunkie.com.