Gear

Review: Garmin inReach SE+ Satellite Communicator

| Zack Newsome |
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Never have to worry about being out of touch while exploring off-the-grid again. With a satellite communicator, you can send text messages and location data to family and friends using a network of satellites to ensure you remain connected no matter where you are at. Our Garmin inReach review details both the device we use, the Garmin inReach SE+, and the Garmin inReach service plans needed for satellite connectivity.

The Verdict:

We like to travel where cell service is unknown – a bit more off the beaten path. With our inReach SE+, we can head off-grid without worry.  Knowing that you are always just a few button pushes away from help if something happens while in the wild, frees you from the anxiety of “what if something happens”. While the SE+ is an investment, the inexpensive service plans and the ability to pause your plan while you’re stuck at home make the inReach SE+ a more than worthwhile investment when we head outdoors. There are newer satellite communicators on the market that bring the initial purchase cost down and that have more developed features, but we like the ease of use and dependability of our inReach SE+ for hiking, camping, and coastal sailing. The SE+ is now an older device and at $400 is probably more money than you need to spend on a quality satellite communicator in 2022.

 

Quality:

The build on the Garmin inReach SE+ feels solid and rugged.  Using the form factor of its line of handheld GPS devices, the SE+ is rubberized and waterproof.  With an IPX7 rating, the SE+ can be submerged in up to 1 meter of water for 30 minutes. It’s relatively lightweight at 7.5 ounces and feels good in your hand while using.  It has a nicely sized 1.4″ by 1.9″ color display for messaging and for navigating its features. The SE+ has 6 buttons plus a directional pad on its front and a protected SOS button on its side for emergencies. On the back, it’s equipped with a removable belt clip that includes a carabiner attachment for hanging.

Battery Life:

Like any electronic safety device, keeping the batteries charged is a crucial element for a satellite communicator. These devices “ping” the nearest satellite on a regular basis to update your location and to check for any new incoming messages. How frequently you set the device to log your location and check for messages is directly related to how much battery life you can expect.

The SE+ is rated to provide up to 100 hours (approx 4 days) of battery life using the default 10-minute tracking mode. As expected, the rated battery life drops as logging intervals are changed.  Using 1-second logging provides up to 75 hours of battery life. The SE+ also has a 30-minute power save mode where the batteries can last up to 30 days.

In our usage, we kept the device set at the default 10-minute logging interval and found that 3-4 days of battery life is realistic.  If you like to check the device regularly powering up the screen each time, expect less time out of the batteries.  In any case, it’s important to consider your ability to recharge the device depending on the length of your trip.  If you’ll be away from power sources your entire trip, it’s recommended to set the logging interval to a less-often setting to ensure you’ll have connectivity when you need it.

Specs:

Dimensions: 2.7″ x 6.5″ x 1.5″
Weight: 7.5 oz
Waterproof Rating: IPX7
Batteries: rechargeable internal lithium-ion
Charging Interface: micro USB

Features:

  • Interactive SOS feature
  • Send & Receive Messages vis SMS and Email
  • MapShare compatibility with tracking
  • Virtual keyboard for on-device messaging
  • Send waypoints to MapShare during trip
  • Send route selection to MapShare during trip
  • Connect with the Garmin Earthmate App for messaging, tracking, etc information

Service Plans:

Garmin offers 3 satellite service subscriptions for its inReach devices, all of which can be paid annually at a discounted rate or on a monthly basis (called “Freedom plans”) with an “annual program fee” of $34.95.

Safety Plan ($14.95/monthly or $11.95/month annually):
  • Unlimited SOS messages
  • 10 Text messages per month
  • Unlimited Check-in Messages
  • 10-min + tracking intervals
Recreation Plan ($34.95/monthly or $24.95/month annually):
  • Unlimited SOS messages
  • 40 Text messages per month
  • Unlimited Check-in Messages
  • 10-min + tracking intervals
Expedition Plan ($64.95/monthly or $49.95/month annually):
  • Unlimited SOS messages
  • Unlimited Text messages per month
  • Unlimited Check-in Messages
  • 2-min + tracking intervals

See full feature listings for each plan and compare at the Garmin website.

Since our travels are often sporadic throughout the year, we prefer the monthly “freedom” plans offered by Garmin.  A highlight of these plans is that freedom plans can be suspended at no fee when you won’t be needing service.  While your account is suspended, you won’t be charged a monthly fee, but will still be charged the annual $34.95 fee at the yearly anniversary of your account creation.

Garmin inReach SE+ Satellite Communicator for Sailing
Relying on our Garmin inReach SE+ while sailing off the coast of California.

What we like about the SE+:

  1. The ability to message home while far from cell service.  This is why satellite communicators exist.  using a satellite network, you can send messages and contact emergency services from anywhere on the planet.
  2. We love that we can message directly on the device if necessary (ie. our phone battery is dead), but prefer to use the mobile app for normal usage.
  3. We love the unlimited “check-in” messages included on all Garmin service plans.  This allows you to pre-set 3 messages on your Garmin account that can be sent without going against your monthly messaging total.  You can change these often and it makes for the ability to send many more messages back home than your plan typically allows.
  4. We love that we can suspend our Garmin inReach service when we’re not able to get outdoors and can easily be reactivated when we’re headed back out.
  5. We love the MapShare feature which gives us a website to share with friends and family.  Your MapShare page can be password protected for privacy, provides an easy way for loved ones to message you directly through the page, and displays real-time tracking data on your trip progress.
  6. We love the tracking, routing, and waypoint abilities of the SE+.  It’s great to be able to plan trip routes and waypoints ahead of time, sync them to the SE+, and have them in hand while off-grid.
  7. The Earthmate app is really good – giving you the full feature set and data found on the SE+ on your phone.  This allows you to hang the SE+ somewhere with a direct view of the sky and leave it there throughout your trip.
  8. It’s fun to be able to keep those back home updated with the tracking features of the Garmin website.  They know exactly where you are at all times.

What we don’t like about the SE+:

  1. Like other Garmin handheld devices we’ve used in the past, the menu and system interface isn’t great.  It’s clunky to navigate and find the features/data you’re looking for.  After some good usage, you get a feel for how to get around the system, but it’s not super intuitive. using the Earhtmate app for primary usage of this device solves this problem.
  2. The SE+ doesn’t have any maps on the device. Its big brother, the Garmin inReach Explorer+ has mapping capability on the device for an extra $100.  It is awkward to see your tracks and waypoints displayed on a blank screen without map reference behind them, but the EarthMate app allows you to download and use maps to display your data appropriately.  While maps on the device would be nice, we didn’t feel that the extra $100 was worth it – another reason why we prefer to use the EarthMate app with our SE+.

Images

Garmin inReach SE+ Satellite Communicator
The design of the Garmin SE+ is solid, rugged, and fits well in hand.
Garmin inReach SE+ Satellite Communicator Menu
The SE+ menu isn’t perfect, but with some time, is easy enough.
Garmin inReach SE+ Satellite Communicator Tracking without a map
Tracking without a map on the Garmin SE+
Garmin inReach SE+ Satellite Communicator SOS button
The SOS button can be easily accessed in case of emergencies
Garmin inReach SE+ Satellite Communicator back
The SE+ has a belt clip and carbiner attachment on the back
Micro USB charging on the Garmin SE+
Garmin inReach SE+ Satellite Communicator Messaging
Messaging on the SE+ is simple using the virtual keyboard.
Garmin inReach SE+ Satellite Communicator for sailing
Using our SE+ while sailing off the coast of California.

 

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