Garmin inReach Mini - got one?

Discussion in 'Mapping & Navigation' started by thirsty 1, Oct 15, 2018.

  1. thirsty 1

    thirsty 1 Rider Supporter

    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2009
    Oddometer:
    3,946
    Location:
    Top Hat - Seattle Wa.
    I'm looking to update my Spot 3 with something mo betta. The Spot "works" for it's intended use but my girl would like to send me a message sometimes and for the cost of the subscription I wont be updating the service again.

    Sooo.. Anyone have a Garmin inReach Mini? I like the thought of using my phone for messages as the regular unit is kinda clumsy when comparing the two. And I already use my phone for a primary gps. Size doesn't matter but smaller could be easier to misplace. I just don't know how the thing works and the website is kinda vague since I haven't used a standard Delorme

    ??
    #1
  2. jswilliams

    jswilliams Adventurer

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2018
    Oddometer:
    24
    Location:
    united states
    I have an Inreach but not the mini. I like it better because I don’t want to always have to use the app to send messages (I use the app about half the time though and it works well). Basically you sign up for a subscription then you can send a certain number of messages (if you go over you just pay or each message). When you send a message they get a gps map also showing where you are.
    #2
  3. BingPow!

    BingPow! Adventurer

    Joined:
    Sep 17, 2015
    Oddometer:
    21
    Location:
    prisoner of the communist northeast
    A service plan to track with the same possible frequency as the spot is expensive. With that said, the inreach is better than the spot for two reasons. The ability to send messages bi dirrectionaly is invaluable in an emergency. The weather report feature is also super useful. I've used it a zillion times to decide weather I should bail. I have the inreach se, so I can't give you any advice on the mini. I am happy I lost my spot.

    Sent from my Moto G (5) Plus using Tapatalk
    #3
  4. Motopsychoman

    Motopsychoman Not a total poseur Supporter

    Joined:
    Jun 2, 2013
    Oddometer:
    5,421
    Location:
    Oaklandish
    I've had an InReach Explorer for 3 years now. The map function is useless. I would have bought the SE had I known. The Earthmate phone app is terrific.
    As jswilliams points out, with the mini you could not send messages without using your phone, but you could still send a SOS. Sending a text with the SE or Explorer is clunky but does work.

    That said, I'd definitely go for a mini over a Spot. I use my Explorer backpacking where I don't carry a phone along with me so I'd have a tougher time with a mini. If I were only motorcycling, I'd likely get a mini.
    #4
  5. BingPow!

    BingPow! Adventurer

    Joined:
    Sep 17, 2015
    Oddometer:
    21
    Location:
    prisoner of the communist northeast
    I just realized this summer that the weather forecasts have much more detail in them on the phone ui rather than on the UI of the inreach se.

    Sent from my Moto G (5) Plus using Tapatalk
    #5
  6. telejojo

    telejojo Long timer

    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2010
    Oddometer:
    1,316
    Location:
    Huntsville Ala. foothills of the Smokey's
    Just bought one but have not used it yet.
    #6
  7. rollingsouth

    rollingsouth Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 4, 2014
    Oddometer:
    17
    I have one of the older delorme models - it is absolutely worth having two-way messaging, not just for keeping folks updated but in the event of an actual emergency. Also the app that comes with it has a built-in map offline map feature that I use over Gaia and other apps, just because it's really comprehensive (at least in the Western US and through latin america).
    #7
    BobcatSig likes this.
  8. thirsty 1

    thirsty 1 Rider Supporter

    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2009
    Oddometer:
    3,946
    Location:
    Top Hat - Seattle Wa.
    I'm curious as to how the app works with the unit its self. Apparently one must make the message in the app and use the Mini to send it? No? Kind of like a repeater or am I completely out of bounds?
    #8
  9. BingPow!

    BingPow! Adventurer

    Joined:
    Sep 17, 2015
    Oddometer:
    21
    Location:
    prisoner of the communist northeast
    I wouldn't describe it as a repeater. The message is composed on the phone and then pushed via Bluetooth to the inreach. From there the inreach takes care of passing the "data" off to the satellite network.

    Sent from my Moto G (5) Plus using Tapatalk
    #9
    Dan Diego likes this.
  10. johnparjr

    johnparjr Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2010
    Oddometer:
    270
    Location:
    Somewhere
    I bought the mini about 2 months ago I have used it a few times I like the size easy to carry
    #10
    BobcatSig likes this.
  11. thirsty 1

    thirsty 1 Rider Supporter

    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2009
    Oddometer:
    3,946
    Location:
    Top Hat - Seattle Wa.
    Could you elaborate. the app or what? Whats the process?
    #11
  12. thirsty 1

    thirsty 1 Rider Supporter

    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2009
    Oddometer:
    3,946
    Location:
    Top Hat - Seattle Wa.
    Sounds like a repeater to me. and that's just fine actually as i'd rather use my phone than the clucky Garmin menu for messages.
    #12
  13. motokeith

    motokeith Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Mar 29, 2012
    Oddometer:
    941
    Location:
    Falcon, CO
    I've had the InReach Mini since shortly after it was released. Came from the Gen2 and Gen3 SPOT devices.

    To correct the biggest misconception in this thread, you do not need the phone app to send messages. All messaging can be done entirely on the Mini itself, but as you can imaging it is a bit clunky with having just four buttons and a small screen to work with - think of texting in the flip-phone era. The app is a fantastic extension, but it is not a requirement for any of the Mini's functionality. The Mini can even do basic direct route waypoint navigation, though I do admit that would be a last ditch scenario for me.

    That said, the use of the Earthmate app is what makes the InReach Mini experience fantastic. The phone app is connected to the Mini via Bluetooth, and the best generalization is to think of the app as a remote keyboard and screen for the Mini.

    When you type a message in the app you are using the phone's built-in keyboard, so it is as natural as sending a text message or whatever other typing you may do on your phone. You have the same ability to use the quick pre-canned messages on the Mini or in the app.

    Your messages, both sent and received, reside on the Mini and the app is basically keeping copies of them. You can switch back and forth between the app and the mini and not lose any continuity with your message threads. For example, if your phone battery dies you can continue messaging on the Mini and when your phone is charged and reconnected you will see the messages sent/received during that time. This is why I describe it as more of a "remote keyboard and screen" rather than "repeater" in how it functions.

    Another cool thing is that the app functions as a control panel for the Mini. You can start/stop tracking tracking, change your tracking and logging intervals, and change a number of other settings on the Mini with just a couple quick clicks in the app.

    Someone mentioned the weather forecast feature. The app also makes it easy to get and view weather forecasts for multiple locations.

    The mapping features of the app are quite cool, and basically use the Mini as the GPS receiver. The app supports various topographic, street atlas, and satellite imagery map sets that are easily downloaded through an interface in the app. The maps are loaded onto the phone so no data connection is required, meaning they are perfectly usable in the boonies. Waypoints, routes, the location of sent messages, and track logs from the Mini are viewable on the app map. The app map shows the same running track log that is being shared to your loved ones, so it's easy to use it to backtrack your way out should you become lost. I have found the app map is a great companion to my Garmin Montana GPS as the app map is much easier to zoom and pan around and get the "big picture" of where I am. It's also nice to be able to quickly switch between topo and satellite imagery to validate my suspicions about a trail, or to simply use the app map as a "second opinion" to what the Garmin is telling me.

    Some notes about tracking. The Mini has two distinct features when the tracking feature is turned on....

    1) The device will record your location in an internal log as frequently as every 1 second. This is the "logging interval" and this track record is stored in the device and is viewable in the app map. This track will be synced up to your Garmin web account when 1) you plug the Mini into your computer and do a sync via the Garmin web account or 2) the Earthmate app gets a data connection and automatically syncs to your Garmin account - assuming you have put your account credentials in the app setup.

    2) The device will transmit your location as frequently as every 10 minutes. This is "Send interval" and this track is recorded in the device as well as being transmitted via satellite to your Garmin account to keep your loved ones informed of your whereabouts.

    Now here is where it gets interesting. Let's say you are out in the middle of BFE with no data connection for your phone. The Mini will be sending your location every 10 minutes (your send interval) and anyone interested can see that on your Garmin web map. Now later in the day you pop out into civilization to get gas or hit the hotel for the night. At this point your phone gains access to a data connection, be it your carrier plan or some wifi, so the app will sync the internal track log (your logging interval) to your Garmin account and your loved ones will be able to see a much more detailed track of your wanderings.

    If you couldn't tell, I really like my Mini. In a line of reasoning that I think is similar to your own, I chose the Mini over the full-size InReach device because I always have my phone and I have another device (Garmin Montana) that is my primary navigation tool. The bigger screen and additional buttons of the full-size device are not important to me, so I'll take the pocket-ability of the Mini. The ability to have a two-way conversation with emergency responders is a fantastic feature, but it has been great to be able to converse with and provide meaningful updates to my wife when I am riding or camping in locations without cell service. Some people express concern that the Mini's battery life is significantly less than the full-size device, but this has been a non-issue for me so far. I run the device with a fairly frequent log interval (frequency of logging and sending location impacts battery life) and find that it still has enough battery for 2 or 3 full days of riding. This is further mitigated by the fact that I just top off the battery nightly with the same battery pack that I use for my phone and other gizmos that I always have along with me.

    Ok, long post but hopefully that helps you have a better understanding about the Mini.
    #13
    jeffsnelson, Too Tall, Serp and 51 others like this.
  14. nvklr

    nvklr Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2008
    Oddometer:
    683
    Location:
    Carson City
    Very helpful information, thank you!
    #14
  15. motokeith

    motokeith Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Mar 29, 2012
    Oddometer:
    941
    Location:
    Falcon, CO
    Another thought...

    I went into a bit of detail on how the Earthmate app enhances the usability of the Mini, but I just barely touched on another important aspect without much explanation.

    While you are out adventuring the Mini can record a running track log of your location, it can periodically send your location, you can create waypoints for interesting things/places you discover, and you can send/receive messages. During this time your periodic location (the Send Interval) and messages are all that is sent via satellite and made available to your Garmin account. This is what drives the map tracking that your loved ones use to keep an eye on you.

    Without the Earthmate app the only way to get the more detailed "logging" track log and your recorded waypoints out of the Mini is to physically connect the Mini to your computer via cable and go to your Garmin account web site and use the sync feature. This data is then viewable on the web map and can be downloaded so that it can be imported into another tool like Garmin Basecamp or Google earth.

    Here is another place where the Earthmate app is super useful as it basically functions as a virtual sync cable between you Mini and your Garmin account. The app syncs the contents of your Mini up to your Garmin account whenever your phone is able to talk to the internet. This is so much simpler than the hard cable connection, and as I indicated in my first post it makes the much more detailed track data available to those watching your wanderings during the course of your trip.
    #15
    mbabc, BobcatSig, ACR and 1 other person like this.
  16. uski

    uski Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2018
    Oddometer:
    129
    Location:
    San Jose, CA, USA
    I have the mini.

    Here's a few random thought (just my personal opinion and experience), in addition to what has been described above, but I'd be happy to answer with more precision of you have questions :

    - I bought the Mini and not the larger units because I absolutely wanted to be able to carry it in my pocket all the time. If you have a crash and you're ejected from the bike, you may not have the possibility to go to the bike to get the mini and call for help. It was a mandatory requirement than the unit must be very small and I can keep in my pocket without too much inconvenience or danger and only the mini fulfills this requirement.

    - I thought the GPS feature of the more advanced inReach units would be useful but I figured out I have my phone already as a very capable GPS and my bike also has a GPS. Plus, reviews on the inReach GPS units show that due to their Delorme legacy, you can't use regular Garmin maps, and it misses some key features. It doesn't offer turn by turn navigation either. And the free Earthmate app on your phone provided the same topo maps you can have on the larger inReach units. So why pay more for a bulkier unit that can't do a lot ?

    - I like the cheapest plan. Preset messages are free and unlimited so with cleverly chosen messages you can send your location and status (just send a "I'm OK" and it will also send your location, for free !). You can have up to 3 preset messages (all 3), you need to think about your usecase, but generally use the preset messages for non emergencies and no problems (like "Leaving camp", "Checking in, all is well" and "Staying here for tonight"). If you have a problem, believe me you'll be happy to pay whatever price is for the custom messages (like $1), so don't waste one of the 3 preset messages for the unlikely stuff. It's not a big deal to pay $1 to send a quick "I'm delayed, expecting 5 hours delay"

    - In my opinion the only limitation of the cheapest plan is that you can't do tracking (automatically uploading points every 10 minutes) which may be useful if you suddenly get lost (your relatives can use your latest location to send search and rescue). But keep in mind they can still do "location pings" (querying your unit for your location) so if you pass out, if the unit has battery power and a view of the sky, you can still be found. It's important to check in at least once a day and have a protocol with your relatives that if you don't check out for more than X days, they can do something.

    - Using the Earthmate app on the phone is not a necessity. You can write messages directly from the unit. It's a bit unpractical due to the small screen a few buttons but in an emergency it's definitely enough.

    - The Mini will power on automatically when external power is applied, and if it turned on that way, it will turn off after external power is removed. This can be useful if you decide to leave the unit on the bike and use it as a tracker. However due to reason #1 above I don't recommend it - keep the unit with you at all times !

    - The Mini is actively trying to listen for the satellites at all time when it's turned on. If it's outside, power consumption will be OK because it will see the satellites and adjust accordingly. However if you leave it turned on indoors, it will be aggressively listening all the time (and trying to get a GPS fix) and battery life will be a lot reduced. I wrote to Garmin about this and they are thinking about ways to improve it. This may be a problem if you forget to turn the unit off and go indoor for the night and end up with a battery almost empty the next day. So for long trips, bring something to charge it from your bike.

    - The "Freedom" plans are not worth it unless you don't use the unit for almost half a year. Do the math, with the activation fee and the other fees for suspending, and use the best plan according to your usecase and planned use

    - If you're not convinced you need one, search Spot and Garmin websites for stories of all the lives saved by this. I personally have witnessed a motorcycle crash a few months ago (this summer) in an area with no cellphone coverage and it's not fun (we found a house with a landline to call 911 but it could have been somewhere more remote and you don't need to go crazy and be in the desert to be miles away from a house and cellphone service)

    - In addition of the free preset messages which you can use to test the unit, there are also 4 (I believe) free bidirectionnal test messages per month. It's useful to test the unit before any trip.

    - At least once a year, show your relatives how to use the unit (depending on what access you give them). Do a drill by sending them a message and have them answer back. It's not when you need help that they will have the time to learn how this all works and what are their options for communication with you. If it helps, write a procedure, but you need to do drills.

    - There are regular promotions and deals on Amazon. Check camelcamelcamel. I've also seen Garmin offering 2 free months this summer. Keep your eyes open. I bought mine with a $50 off promo, it's always good.

    - I highly recommend you purchase the optional GEOS SAR insurance (for $17.95 USD a year I think). It's cheap and will cover search and rescue costs (up to a maximum). There are more expensive GEOS MEDEVAC plans which also cover evacuation to a hospital of your choice - I didn't take this. I recommend you read about the possible insurance options and decide what you need depending on your profile. Please note that some of these options only work if you call for help using the device itself, they will not refund your costs if you call 911, so make sure your riding partners know about this

    - Let the people you ride with know about the unit and how to use it (very easy). If you get disabled, you won't be able to explain.

    - In your contact info on your Garmin Explore page (the interface used to configure your inReach account, with billing info and so on), there is a "Emergency notes" field. It would be helpful to write anything the rescuers may need to know about you.
    Personally I wrote this : "Main use is motorcycling, so if a SOS is sent it's likely a motorcycle accident. Fluent english speaker, native language is (xxx). No medication taken in general, no known allergies."
    This way, if you're too disabled to write a detailed explanation, at least they know roughly what's going on. But don't do that if you use the unit for a variety of purposes.

    - There are 2 emergency contacts which may get contacted if you hit the SOS button. So make sure they roughly have a general idea of what you're doing (trip plan ? expected duration of trip ? supplies you take ? your medical condition ? your general skills ? color of your bike ? equipment you generally take ? and the like) so they don't panic if they receive a call and can provide useful info to the SAR team.

    Hope this helps
    #16
    Serp, brfinley, rdw and 17 others like this.
  17. RJAMT

    RJAMT Who remembered the winch? Supporter

    Joined:
    Aug 9, 2014
    Oddometer:
    780
    Location:
    Belleville, IL unfortunately
    I have a question about the 2-way messaging. Am I correct that the Garmin units (Mini included) do not have a "permanent" number associated with them? In other words, can my wife just up and send me a message after I start a trip or do I have to send one to her which she can then reply to.

    I have read that the SpotX unit has a number permanently assigned so that she can send to me without first having to receive something from me.

    For the network folks, does the Garmin have a static address like a web server or a dynamic address like a home computer?
    #17
  18. uski

    uski Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Mar 19, 2018
    Oddometer:
    129
    Location:
    San Jose, CA, USA
    Correct.

    One exception is for inReach to inReach communication, directly through units : you are assigned a unique internal e-mail address which you can use to send messages from one inReach to another one, through the satellite network, directly (and only directly). And this e-mail address is permanent.
    ut it does NOT work from outside the inReach network, i.e. you can't send a message to that e-mail address from Gmail for instance.

    If you give her access to your personnal garmin webpage, which can be password protected, she can message you anytime. Beware however, it can become costly if you give access to random people and they start sending a lot of messages (you cannot disable it in the field). So don't give access to random people, and explain the cost associated with messaging to people who have access.

    Correct. I'd have preferred this feature but it also come with a major drawback : any spam message sent to that number will cost you money.

    It's difficult to compare, it's very different.
    The garmin communicates through Iridium SBD.
    It does have a fixed IMEI address and it may have an identifier like a phone number but you can't send anything to it from outside garmin internal systems. It's much like an intranet or a VPN connection.

    Hope this helps
    #18
    Kiwirich and RJAMT like this.
  19. pip_muenster

    pip_muenster curious

    Joined:
    Jan 24, 2010
    Oddometer:
    1,048
    Location:
    Karlsruhe, Germany
    Along the same line, it's recommended to send a message directly from the unit from time to time, without connecting to the phone. If that didn't survive the crash, you don't want to learn the build-in interface, while bleeding out.
    #19
  20. RJAMT

    RJAMT Who remembered the winch? Supporter

    Joined:
    Aug 9, 2014
    Oddometer:
    780
    Location:
    Belleville, IL unfortunately
    I've been using a Spot Gen 3 for several years and am now trying to decide between SpotX and Garmin Mini so this does help. Thank you for your feedback.

    Of course my wife would have access since it is (mostly) for her peace of mind but I definitely get your point about random people sending me what could end up being costly messages. Neither my wife nor I want or need long text conversations but she has sometimes wanted a bit more info than my pre-canned Spot Gen3 messages provided.

    Having the ability to let me know of a problem at home would also be very much appreciated. I've been several time zones away from her when something happened at home that she couldn't tell me about until I reached somewhere my cell phone could receive messages and that isn't good.

    Learning, too late, that the fire alarm went off for no apparent reason is one thing. Learning, too late, that one of our children was in an car crash is something else entirely.
    #20