My Review of the Zoleo 2-way Satellite Messenger

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This review is for people who may have an interest in taking a satellite messenger on their trips. I know some of you, possibly a great many of you, have no interest in ever doing that. This review isn't intended for you. Move along, nothing to see, and please don't bother commenting about how you don't have an interest in one of these.

Good. I think Mr. McCrea is gone. ;-)

Now for the review:

For my solo trip to Allgash Lake, I decided it was time to own a satellite enabled SoS device and, after much dithering and reading of reviews and comparing features and data plans, I decided to go with the Zoleo. https://www.zoleo.com/en-us/satellite-communicator/

The Zoleo works off the Iridium satellite network, so coverage is the entire globe.

The device looks pretty spartan. On/off button, USB port, four LEDs. a covered SoS button and a check-in button is all you will find on the device itself. From the device you can send the SoS to Geos and check-in with two pre-selected contacts (per customer service that number of check-in contacts will be increasing soon). SoS and Check-in messages are sent only by satellite.

Paired via bluetooth with an Android smartphone or an iPhone, you can send and receive text messages and/or emails via satellite to any contact in your phone's contact list or any other cell number/email you happen to know and can remember. You get a dedicated satellite phone number and a dedicated @zoleo.com email address. One unique feature of Zoleo, is when cell phone service or wifi is detected, the Zoleo automatically sends non-SoS non-Check-in messages/emails through cellular or wifi. This is handy when passing through areas where cell phone or wifi is intermittent. You don't have to switch back and forth between your regular messaging/email and Zoleo-based messaging/email. And all messages/email sent via cellular or wifi are free (unlike satellite messages/emails). The messaging/email app is super intuitive and looks and feels just like you are messaging from the iPhone's native messaging app. You can even use emojis in your texts, which can be handy because messages are limited to 140 characters -- unless both the sender and recipient are using the Zoleo app (you don't need the device to use the app which can be downloaded to a tablet for free) in which case messages can be 950 characters in length.

In addition, to SoS, check-in messages, and two-way messages/emails, Zoleo let's you download via satellite the Dark Sky weather report for your current location. That "costs" a message for each report.

Another advantage of connecting via bluetooth is that you can control the device; change the brightness of LEDs, change the tone or mute the sound the device makes when confirming receipt/succesful sending of messages, and a variety of other functions. You could, if you wanted, trigger the SoS or check-in feature from your phone, but as previously stated there are dedicated buttons on the device for those functions.


Zoleo allows you to test the SoS function by pre-arrangement with the Geos folks. I made the arrangements (simple form you fill in and email to them with a proposed date and time for your test) and did a successful test before I left. Just make sure you fill out the form and get approval for your test or triggering the SoS will cause rescue authorities to descend on your location.

The battery is internal, rechargable and is advertized to last 200 hours at 12 minute message-checking intervals (you can change the interval via the app). A little experimentation by me before I left made me doubt that claim. But, by setting the automatic message checking on the Zoleo from the default 12 minute interval to the 60 minute interval (there are several intermediate choices), my Zoleo's battery never went below 87% on my four-day three night trip. And I sent and received dozens of text messages/emails just to put the device through its paces. Sending a message also automatically triggers the device to check for any messages even if the next set interval isn't for another 59 more minutes.

And the messaging from the device was flawless! It worked under moderate tree canopy that one would expect to find by a lakeside campsite and it worked at night from inside my tent which had both its rain-fly and a CCS tundra tarp over it. Satellite acquisition was fast and signal strength excellent. Perhaps that was luck of the draw in terms of where I was and the times I was signaling, but that's my experience. I'm sure if you were in dense forest or in the bottom of a canyon things would be different.

The device is $200 ($199), but of course you have to buy data plans. You are locked into an activation fee ($20) for the device and then you have to purchase a plan and are locked into a plan for the first three months. After 3 months, you can pause the plan for $4/month or de-activate the device. But de-activation loses any messages you previously saved and, more importantly, there will be re-activation fees and, I suspect, another three month buy-in if you de-activate. So, sleeping the plans make sense.

There are three levels of plans currently. You can read the details /prices on the website linked to above. I did the intermediate plan which allows 250 satellite messages per month, plus unlimited SoS and check-ins.

In sum, it works exactly as advertised and I am quite pleased with my purchase.

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Thanks for the report. So does you phone have to be on the whole time?

Best regards,


Lance

No! You can keep your phone off. If you receive a message, the Zoleo will alert you with a lit up LED next to the message/mail icon and will emit an audible signal (unless you have turned that feature off). You can then turn on your phone and retrieve your messages via the Bluetooth connected app.

i should add that you will only get messages from people you have given your Zoleo device phone number or @zoleo.com email address to. So you won’t get spammed. And If you really don’t want to be disturbed , you can tell those whom you do give your number to not to message unless it is urgent.
 
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From the device you can send the SoS to Geos and check-in with two pre-selected contacts (per customer service that number of check-in contacts will be increasing soon).

Just got an email from Zoleo that the number of check-in contacts was increased from 2 to 5 at no additional charge. So now you can have 2 SOS contacts (when you send your SOS, it goes to GEOS who, in addition to contact search and rescue, contact your SOS contacts and 5 check-in contacts (there does not need to be overlap between the 2 groups). And you can continue to send text messages/emails via satellite to anyone in your contacts list or who's number or email you can remember if not in your list.
 
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Thanks for review. I've been thinking about replacing my one way Spot2 - or my wife has told me to - for two way communication. Still trying to find a sat phone I can justify cost of. I did find the Bivystick - bivy.com - which seems very similar to zoleo in concept. The difference seems to be that the bivy stick is about twice the initial cost but the plans are much less, including you can activate it for a month a year or every several months or years - and no on going cost, activation, etc.

I'm still holding out for a Starlink phone............:)
 
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Good. I think Mr. McCrea is gone. ;-)

You can’t get rid of me that easily.

I got thoroughly roasted on the old recboatspaddle newsgroup for re-writing a “rescue” newspaper article about a guy who was saved not once but twice attempting the same trip as a futurist story. 18 years later some of it strikes too close to the bone.

(Yes, I was using “Shlomo Poodleski” even in 2003)

Trapped canoeist uses bacon, makes history
11/20/33
Shlomo Poodleski
Plain Brownwrapper Reporter


Biff Torkenton knew he was in trouble last Friday after piloting his hovercanoe into a remote section of the Adirondack Reserve in upstate New York, but he had no idea he would eventually be saved by his breakfast supplies.

Only hours into his solo journey, the sky unexpectedly became dark, and temperatures plunged to the low 50's, despite the biodome encasing this last remaining stand of forest in the eastern US, essentially trapping him a godforsaken wilderness when his hovercanoe's solar cells became inoperative.

Fortunately, Torkenton - an administrator at Department of Redundancy Department and wilderness travel re-enactor - had packed a slab of contraband bacon, a fleshy substance derived from pigs, illegal in the United States since President Chelsea Clinton passed the Vegan Food act of 2026.

Torkenton, 105, of the megalopolis of Cleveland-Columbus, realized that he had but one chance to escape before the being mauled by Adirondack's ravenous mutant chipmunks, and placed his illicit bacon on a heating device (a "stove" in wilderness re-enactor terminology).

The scent of cooking animal flesh activated a monitoring station manned by PETA personnel who transmitted his location to the FBC (Food Beverage and Condiments) Police. That information was sent to the World Government Coordination Center in Stockholm, which alerted emergency services in the US State of Ontario.

Just over seven minutes after sending his odoriferous message for help, Torkenton was picked up by a rescue team from the Army's Peacekeeper and Democracy Building Detachment, rotated home from duty in Iraq only weeks before.

His rescue was the first using bacon in the contiguous United States, and the first rescue employing an animal product since the now-famous incident involving a group of stranded Alaskan salmon watchers, immortalized in the movie "Saved By Spam".

The camping trip was his 12th trip into the park, although on previous trips he had re-enacted staying at a B&B, driving to scenic overlooks and finding an RV campsite with HBO.

Torkenton said forecasts gave no hint of the darkness that would sweep though the area at sunset. He weathered the failing light and impending darkness for three minutes before deciding to call for help. "If you get into a situation where it's getting dark, what are the alternatives? Somebody has got to come for you," he said, adding, "I want my surrogate animatronic Mommy"

Torkenton said he still had water and provisions but didn't know when the sun would reappear. "I didn't feel like I was in dire straits. I just knew that it was getting dark and spooky, and didn't know if that situation would change for the positive anytime soon," said Torkenton, a manager of Instructional Technology for Technological Instruction Division at the Department of Redundancy Department.

When he heard the approaching rescuers, confirming that the bacon had actually worked, Torkenton said his first thought was, "They really are coming to save my bacon".

"I'm happy I made the decision to purchase the bacon, and I'm happy the bacon worked, and I'm really, really really happy nobody got hurt by any of the hot grease that spattered".

Nonetheless, Torkenton will return to the park this weekend to recover his hovercanoe and other gear. He will be packing a ham and cheese on rye but isn't itching to become the second PETA-assisted rescue.

"What do you think the chances are I'd pull that again unless I was inches away from a hangnail or worse? I don't mind being first, but I sure don't want to be caught with my meat out in public twice".
 
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lol, Mike.

This just about happened on one of the early seasons of "Alone" -- a show where supposedly hard core survivalists are placed alone, many miles apart, in some remote location with minimal supplies, other than some video equipment and an In-Reach. They then compete to be the last person to summon rescue. On the first or second season, an Army veteran dropped on an uninhabited part of Vancouver island summoned rescue on the afternoon of the first day alone (yes before night) because he saw bear poop in the forest.
 
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Perhaps of interest, I've tried to collect relevant data for satellite communicator devices in a spreadsheet. No guarantees - mostly data from the manufacturers' websites. And I welcome any suggestions for improvements or corrections. Email or pm me for the spread sheet.

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Don’t recall, that was a lotta years ago. If I remember the article correctly it was the first instance of a rescue from a PLB is the continental US, and the guy was rescued a few weeks later after he walked in to retrieve his gear.

Yes, walked in. He was close enough to a road that he might have walked out the first time, and could certainly have walked back out the way he came the second time. I believe he was arrested by the DEC for setting off a PLB in a non-emergency situation.

I would not have written such a sardonic parody if not for the second “Come rescue me” episode.
 
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Don’t recall, that was a lotta years ago. If I remember the article correctly it was the first instance of a rescue from a PLB is the continental US, and the guy was rescued a few weeks later after he walked in to retrieve his gear.

Yes, walked in. He was close enough to a road that he might have walked out the first time, and could certainly have walked back out the way he came the second time. I believe he was arrested by the DEC for setting off a PLB in a non-emergency situation.

I would not have written such a sardonic parody if not for the second “Come rescue me” episode.

That is right. I know and have been to the exact location where he was "rescued" (Twice). There is a hunter's trail paralleling the shore back to the road where he parked his car. I've walked it.
 
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Well, I know this is off topic, but it is a general comment on why these devices are good and bad.

Not that I'm judging, but there was a fella who went on a trip in Ontario, I believe Woodland Caribou, or Quetico, one of those parks. He forgot his spare paddle on a port and then broke his main paddle and then called in the SARS. Then he was upset because they would not take his gear out with them. I'm pretty sure most people could carve or create some sort of paddling device, and modify their plans to enable them to get out of a situation like that. I know that I could, as well as most of the high school kids I took on extended trips.

If people understood the fragile nature of the Canadian Health care system, perhaps these spurious calls would be fewer. The helicopter that is diverted for a call like that might actually be needed at a car accident where life and death hangs in the minutes it takes to get someone to a hospital. Everyone who goes on extended trips in Canada, and has a satellite device, should have the numbers of the local companies that fly for outfitters. Then they could contact them, or get one of their contacts to contact them. Of course, if you have broken a body part, or are having a heart attack, or a bear has chewed off your hand, activate the emergency button, that is what it is for.

However, if you are not in immediate danger, if you can carry on, or are in over your head because you watched too many youtube videos and thought you knew what you were doing, call the outfitter. You will pay for your mistake, and rightly so, but you will be spared the humiliation of a news story.

One last comment, just to show I'm not blowing steam, about five years ago, I had a kid on a trip who had an accident with a knife. The wound was not life threatening, but it was serious enough that he had to be evacuated. I have phoned in the helicopter before for a kid who was in serious shock, but this was not the same. I called a local pilot who flew for an outfitter, and he was there first thing the next morning. Cost the club 400 bucks, which I thought was quite reasonable, as a SARS team for the same situation would have cost the tax payer several thousand dollars.
 
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Alsg, thanks for finding that article. Reading it again years later I did not feel as bad about writing a parody of that guy’s “misfortune”. I had forgotten a lot of the details. A November paddling trip in the Adirondacks is sketchy weather wise, and doing so unprepared is asking for trouble.

Going back weeks later, with minimal food, when his “boots and pants got wet” and he “didn’t think it prudent to hike out in wet boots” and figured “the smartest thing to do was to sit tight, I was warm and dry inside my sleeping bag and tent”, ending up hitting his PLB a second time after 5 days of waiting for his boots to dry out leads me to believe he had not even a clue about how to dress, or how make a fire. And needs to look up the definition of “prudent”

I know and have been to the exact location where he was "rescued" (Twice). There is a hunter's trail paralleling the shore back to the road where he parked his car. I've walked it.

I am left with a number of questions. He paddled in for “over two hours”. How many miles did he paddle in first time he was rescued? I’m thinking four, maybe five miles?

It took him “5 ½ hours” when he hiked in the second time. How many miles is that hike?
 
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]It took him “5 ½ hours” when he hiked in the second time. How many miles is that hike?[/FONT][/FONT]
It's about 2.5 miles, or 4K.

There are 2-3 beaver dams to negotiate when paddling. Can be done in a couple of minutes each. And there are multiple meanders in the slow moving mostly calm water.

I do rememer that particular November snowstorm when it got unusually cold early and dropped around 5 inches of snow, leaving a slushy soft layer on the water surface. The storm was well forecast a few days in advance. Somewhat Unusual, but not highly so for this part of the country. The snow all melted a few day later.

The parking area is a common southern access for the popular Five Ponds Wilderness area. There is a bridge to get access to the eastern side of the river.

https://caltopo.com/map.html#ll=44.02882,-75.04226&z=15&b=t&o=r&n=0.25

Skalag camp.jpg
 

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