Inreach Mini Review. Good with some significant flaws

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Inreach Mini Review. Good with some significant flaws

Postby wildwanderer » Fri 12 Apr, 2019 2:40 pm

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Satellite messenger with GPS and emergency SOS function.
Weight: 100 grams
Size: 5.17 x 9.90 x 2.61 cm
Rechargeable, built-in lithium-ion battery
Battery capacity :1,250 mAh
Water rating : IEC 60529 IPX7*
Operating temperature range: -20° to 60°C (from -4° to 140°F)
Charging temperature range: From 0° to 45°C (from 32° to 113°F)

I’ve had the In Reach for a couple of months now. Taken it on a couple of day trips and now used it on a 6 day hiking trip in the south island of New Zealand.

First up I’l cover the pros.

Ability to message family and key contacts via satellite is very useful.

You can send 160 character messages to a email address , mobile phone number or to another inreach device.
On the final day of the NZ trip there was heavy rainfall with the river turning to flood and the side creeks rising. We had a 16km mad dash along a waterlogged track to connect with our track transport before the route became impassable. Using the inreach I was able to message the track transport company to inform them we were on our way. Otherwise they would have left the pick up zone earlier (as rising side creeks were making the 4wd trip back to the sealed roads more challenging by the minute). This saved us a very uncomfortable night out in the open with minimal shelter. (and in my case missed flights/accommodation).

Its important to realise that its not like a sms where you send and receive messages instantly. It takes time to acquire a satellite, upload the message and receive. Sometimes several minutes, and I had several occasions where after 15 minutes I gave up and turned off the inreach to try again later in a different location.

Compact, tough and light.
At 100 grams and just under 10cm long its easy to store. I put mine in a padded pouch and in my pack hip belt pocket. While the inreach is made of tough hardened plastic, I like the added security of the pouch as I doubt the plastic alone would stand up to a hard fall against rock with body weight plus pack contributing to the impact force. It’s my primary SOS device.

Ability to link the Inreach to a mobile phone via Bluetooth and use the phone keyboard via the garmin earthmate app to send messages.
Typing messages on the inreach mini itself is very time consuming as there is no keyboard. They do have customizable quick messages which are pre planned messages which speed up the process a little should you need to use the inreach itself to type a message. The Garmin phone app is quite limited though and has some serious flaws which I’l go into in the Cons section.

SOS and ability to communicate with emergency response centre for eta of rescue and emergency instructions.
This is important as with a PLB you don’t know if the signal has reached emergency services (or not!) until you see a helicopter overhead.

Display is very readable in sunlight.

Battery life is good however I didn’t use the tracking feature.
I only used it to check and send/receive messages. One or two per day for 6 days. Plus a weather report. Battery was at 85%. You can charge the battery via a powerbank if needed.

Backup navigation.
While no way near as good as orux maps or other phone navigation apps the garmin earthmate app will atleast show you your position on a map. (a version of open street map but doesn’t seem as detailed as the regular open street map version). A basic compass is also included (which is powered by the gps and not great.. ). You can load gpx routes and waypoints into the inreach and earthmate app.

Tracking.
I didn’t use this feature however the inreach can track your position and update a web map with your location. You can share the map link with family/friends so they can see where you are.

Weather reports
This is very useful if your in a place where changing weather can severely impact your trip (like in NZ or the Snowy Mountains). The basic weather report uses one message (of your allocation) and includes 2 days of forecast. Broken up into 6 hour weather estimates. Eg 6am, 12pm, 6pm etc.

Now the Cons.

GPS is not good.
This is my biggest complaint with the inreach mini. During the NZ trip there was mountains and forests. (as is typical in NZ) The inreach had a lot of trouble getting a gps fix. There were times that I sat it on rock with no trees around and good sky coverage. (still in a valley so not full 180 degrees). I gave up after about 15mins. My phone got a gps fix in the same location within a minute. (in flightmode with all navigation aids turned off accept the phone gps). Ive tested this multiple times in multiple locations. My phone always gets a gps lock before the Inreach.

When the inreach does get a fix, if you pick up the device and turn around, it loses the fix almost immediately and needs to spend time reacquiring. (sometimes minutes)
The gps lock a big concern as I’m using this as a replacement for a PLB. While I accept, I was in the mountains and it’s a challenging environment, the fact my phone can get a gps fix and the inreach can not is telling that the inreach gps is not powerful enough or needs a software patch. Though the ability to communicate with the emergency response centre means I could send the co-ordinates I get on my phone gps to them.

EDIT. I speculate that the reason why a phone in flight mode can get a location fix quicker is that modern phones can connect to many more location service satelites than the Inreach can. My phone can communicate with 123 orbiting satellites to triangulate a signal (GPS, Galileo, BDS and GLONASS satellite constellations). The inreach has access to 34 orbiting satellites (GPS only). more discussion viewtopic.php?f=63&t=29574#p373042

Often you want to send a message including your location.. You cant do this until the inreach gets a gps fix and its frustrating to have to stand around for 3 -15+ minutes before you can send a message. Not to mention this waiting around uses up your phone and inreach battery.

Earthmate app messaging capability.
The key flaw is once you compose a message its sent to the inreach for upload to the satellite. This is done quickly via Bluetooth however if the inreach cant get a satellite lock you need to wait around with the blue tooth using up the phone battery until the inreach gets the lock. You can disconnect the phone and the inreach will still send the msg however when you reconnect the phone (say a day later) the inreach doesn’t seem to let the phone app know that the message has been sent (or not). So the the app will send out the message again.. which is not great if you told someone a day ago to meet you at a location. Now 1 day later they receive another message to meet you at that location again. A workaround is deleting the message in the app once you see on the inreach that the message has been sent.

Not sure if it’s the app or inreach/satellite and or possible some user error however I sometimes receive two of the same message. And I see in the logs that Ive sent two of the same message. (I know I didn’t send it twice). This is not great because it uses up your message allocation. For example I sent/received 5 messages and 1 weather report on the 6 day trip . However the inreach shows 9 messages/reports because of the double message problem. So that’s 3 messages unaccounted for.
Last edited by wildwanderer on Sun 14 Apr, 2019 12:40 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Inreach Mini Review. Good with some significant flaws

Postby wayno » Fri 12 Apr, 2019 5:54 pm

when you start them up it pays to leave them stationary for a bit, i find they need a bit of time being still to gain their accuracy then its fine...
i've had little problem with mine, only heavy tree canopy would stop it from getting a gps fix, it tracked accurately except under the heaviest tree canopy, i have it in the top pocket of my pack or clipped in at the back, keep it away from other gps devices and phones....
you can have problems when you're around large sheer rock faces getting an accurate fix, search and rescue have problems locating beacons because of signal bounce from rock faces...
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Re: Inreach Mini Review. Good with some significant flaws

Postby Lamont » Fri 12 Apr, 2019 6:14 pm

I support exactly what wayno said-stand stock still antenna up, when starting it and be in the open if you can. Put it in your bottle holder-mine lives in there
Have a snack /drink etc 20-30 secs works on mine every time. If it's been on whilst you are walking for a while, and you send a message does it send pretty quick -(my bigger Inreach does) 5-20 seconds? If not I would return it.
Not fit for purpose.
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Re: Inreach Mini Review. Good with some significant flaws

Postby wildwanderer » Fri 12 Apr, 2019 9:43 pm

Thanks Guys.

Good to hear it's not expected behaviour.

I spoke to Garmin this afternoon. They suggested a factory reset and then leave it under open sky for 20 mins to make sure the GPS calibrates correctly. So I'll give that a try.
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Re: Inreach Mini Review. Good with some significant flaws

Postby wayno » Sat 13 Apr, 2019 4:13 am

wildwanderer wrote:Thanks Guys.

Good to hear it's not expected behaviour.

I spoke to Garmin this afternoon. They suggested a factory reset and then leave it under open sky for 20 mins to make sure the GPS calibrates correctly. So I'll give that a try.


it needs to download a fair bit of data to set its location corrrectly when it starts, the SPOT was also useless if you moved too early when turned on
I found the inreach mini far ore reliable than the SPOT for fixing a location, the SPOT would always fail under any canopy, i've had the inreach work in a canyon...
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Re: Inreach Mini Review. Good with some significant flaws

Postby wildwanderer » Sat 13 Apr, 2019 8:36 am

wayno wrote:it needs to download a fair bit of data to set its location corrrectly when it starts, the SPOT was also useless if you moved too early when turned on
I found the inreach mini far ore reliable than the SPOT for fixing a location, the SPOT would always fail under any canopy, i've had the inreach work in a canyon...


Do you need to do this each time its turned on? I only turn my inreach on when I need to check msgs or send msg/check weather.
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Re: Inreach Mini Review. Good with some significant flaws

Postby wayno » Sat 13 Apr, 2019 8:49 am

that was for getting an accurate position for tracking or sending my location
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Re: Inreach Mini Review. Good with some significant flaws

Postby wildwanderer » Sat 13 Apr, 2019 9:07 am

wayno wrote:that was for getting an accurate position for tracking or sending my location


Thats really not great then :( If I need to wait for several minutes (my experience was sometimes 10-15 mins) to obtain a location fix each time i turn on the device.

A phone can get a accurate lock in a short time. Shouldnt be that hard for garmin to give the same cabability to their inreach lineup.
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Re: Inreach Mini Review. Good with some significant flaws

Postby wayno » Sat 13 Apr, 2019 9:14 am

this was more for moving off while sending a location, the longer its still the better information it has to triangulate its location.
they are using a different satellite system to the phones and they arent as prolific, but you need them for the two way comms ...
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Re: Inreach Mini Review. Good with some significant flaws

Postby ribuck » Sat 13 Apr, 2019 9:20 am

I'm generally pleased with my InReach Mini, except for a couple of issues.

(1) The GPS. If I've moved a significant distance (e.g. driven a few hundred km to a bushwalking location), the first GPS fix after I turn it on always takes about 20 minutes. After that it's fine.

(2) Garmin makes great hardware, but I find their software to be clunky. In the case of the InReach, the functionality is split across multiple places in ways that don't always seem logical: the device itself, the earthmate phone app, two Garmin websites, and (for firmware updates) the computer app.

Lamont wrote:stand stock still antenna up

I haven't seen anything in the Garmin docs saying which way to orient the device for best signal. I was hoping "display up" would work well, so that I could keep it inside the lid of my pack (where my body doesn't block the signal from any direction).
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Re: Inreach Mini Review. Good with some significant flaws

Postby wildwanderer » Sat 13 Apr, 2019 10:34 am

ribuck wrote:I'm generally pleased with my InReach Mini, except for a couple of issues.

(1) The GPS. If I've moved a significant distance (e.g. driven a few hundred km to a bushwalking location), the first GPS fix after I turn it on always takes about 20 minutes. After that it's fine..


If you then turn it off and turn it on a second time (while still in same general area) have you found it takes another 20 minutes? or does the inreach remember the general location it was last active in and presumably acquire the satelites quicker on the subsequent power ons.
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Re: Inreach Mini Review. Good with some significant flaws

Postby wildwanderer » Sat 13 Apr, 2019 11:40 am

Just found this site which tracks the iridium sat network in real time. Useful for seeing how many satelites are available for the inreach to lock on too at any given time in a location. You can click a location on the map and it shows you which sats could connect.
https://iridiumwhere.com/

I wonder if its only the iridium network that the inreach can contact for gps fix... that would explain why phone gps is superior as presumably they can lock on to any satelite offering a gps relay.
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Re: Inreach Mini Review. Good with some significant flaws

Postby ribuck » Sat 13 Apr, 2019 5:11 pm

wildwanderer wrote:If you then turn it off and turn it on a second time (while still in same general area) have you found it takes another 20 minutes?

No, less than a minute provided I waited long enough for it to get a fix the first time.
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Re: Inreach Mini Review. Good with some significant flaws

Postby wayno » Sun 14 Apr, 2019 5:07 am

leave it on while you're walking, if you're not using the automated tracking function, it won't use much power, it has power saving features.. the small black and white screen uses very little power and it wont be transmitting turning the bluetooth off will save more power.
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Re: Inreach Mini Review. Good with some significant flaws

Postby Warin » Sun 14 Apr, 2019 8:29 am

wildwanderer wrote:I wonder if its only the iridium network that the inreach can contact for gps fix... that would explain why phone gps is superior as presumably they can lock on to any satelite offering a gps relay.


Think you will find the iridium network will not give the information required to get a location fix. So I suspect that the inreach is getting its location from a GPS network and then using the iridium network for communication only.
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Re: Inreach Mini Review. Good with some significant flaws

Postby wildwanderer » Sun 14 Apr, 2019 9:33 am

Warin wrote:
wildwanderer wrote:I wonder if its only the iridium network that the inreach can contact for gps fix... that would explain why phone gps is superior as presumably they can lock on to any satelite offering a gps relay.


Think you will find the iridium network will not give the information required to get a location fix. So I suspect that the inreach is getting its location from a GPS network and then using the iridium network for communication only.


I think your correct.

I’ve been doing some research and I think an explanation may be the number of position satellites the inreach can communicate with. My late mode android phone can use GPS, Galileo, BDS and GLONASS satellite constellations to gain a position fix. Where as the Inreach can only communicate with the GPS constellation only. (based on what i have read from garmin and othe sources)

The current number of positional satellites in operation are (taken from Wikipedia)
GPS - 34
Galileo - 23
GLONASS - 31
BDS - 35.

So my phone has access to 123 satellites to triangulate a signal. The inreach has access to 34.
Garmin says that adding just GLONASS 31 sats to the GPS's 34 sats decreases location acquisition time by up to 20%
https://support.garmin.com/en-AU/?faq=G ... ErPJevmbJ7

So this is likely why my phone gets a location fix significantly quicker than the inreach mini.
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Re: Inreach Mini Review. Good with some significant flaws

Postby Warin » Sun 14 Apr, 2019 11:17 am

wildwanderer wrote:I’ve been doing some research and I think an explanation may be the number of position satellites the inreach can communicate with. My late mode android phone can use GPS, Galileo, BDS and GLONASS satellite constellations to gain a position fix.

So this is likely why my phone gets a location fix significantly quicker than the inreach mini.


Not so simple.

The phone can use the cell phone signals to get a rough location, and that helps. Turn off the cell phone connection (plane mode) and it will probably take longer.

Then the movement for the previous location. The GPS expects to be in the same general location as the last time it was used and therefore expects certain satellites to be present. Not finding them means it has to start searching ... my old GPS has a menu function that I can use to tell it I am in a new location .. might even have one where I can tell it the general location .. that speeds acquisition. Think my phone may be doing the same... generally I have the location service turned off.

Comparing apples and apples is not easy with these things .. needs lots of understanding of what is going on.
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Re: Inreach Mini Review. Good with some significant flaws

Postby wildwanderer » Sun 14 Apr, 2019 12:32 pm

Warin wrote:The phone can use the cell phone signals to get a rough location, and that helps. Turn off the cell phone connection (plane mode) and it will probably take longer.

Then the movement for the previous location. The GPS expects to be in the same general location as the last time it was used and therefore expects certain satellites to be present. Not finding them means it has to start searching ... my old GPS has a menu function that I can use to tell it I am in a new location .. might even have one where I can tell it the general location .. that speeds acquisition. Think my phone may be doing the same... generally I have the location service turned off.

Comparing apples and apples is not easy with these things .. needs lots of understanding of what is going on.


Im making the comparisons with my phone in flight mode with all location services (except gps) turned off.

Fairly sure the phone remembers the last gps location and starts searching from there. Judging by the below the inreach does the same.

In the inreach mini docs it states
"The time required to acquire satellite signals varies based on several factors, including how far you are from the location where you last used your navigation device, whether you have a clear view of the sky, and how long it has been since you last used your navigation device. The first time you turn on your navigation device, it may take several minutes to acquire satellite signals."


So while its not a perfect or exact comparison, I do think one of the largest difference between a phone in flight mode and the inreach is the number of a satellites that it can potentially lock onto for location fix.

Simply, when both devices are in the same location the phone has significantly more opportunities to gain a location fix and this has borne out in my real world testing.
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Re: Inreach Mini Review. Good with some significant flaws

Postby wayno » Sun 21 Apr, 2019 8:23 am

i'm windering about the faster gps fix with your phone..
if you're in cell phone coverage, your phone can use cell towers to fix its location faster...
phones will use whatever networking connection they have to fix the location
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Re: Inreach Mini Review. Good with some significant flaws

Postby wildwanderer » Sun 21 Apr, 2019 12:56 pm

wayno wrote:i'm windering about the faster gps fix with your phone..
if you're in cell phone coverage, your phone can use cell towers to fix its location faster...
phones will use whatever networking connection they have to fix the location


Nah. Phone is in flight mode and testing was done in wilderness areas with no mobile reception. I think number of sats (as detailed above) is the most likely explanation.
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