Garmin inReach Mini 2-Way GPS Satellite Communicator Review
The Garmin inReach Mini 2-Way Satellite Communicator is a reliable and easy-to-use GPS-enabled satellite communicator that can send SOS messages to rescuers in an emergency, email or text your friends and relatives, track your route, mark GPS waypoints and help you navigate in the backcountry. Like its big brothers, the inReach Explorer+ and the SE+, the Mini notifies you when it’s successfully sent your messages. It can also receive messages from other people, including search and rescue personnel, friends, and family, anywhere in the world via the Iridium Satellite Network, offering peace of mind for anyone who spends time off the grid.
The size of a plum, the Mini weighs 100 grams (3.5 oz), making it far easier to carry than the larger (214 gram) Garmin inReach Explorer+ (shown above) or SE+ models. This new small size makes it ideal for trail runners, ultralight backpackers, fishermen, skiers, or anyone who wants an unobtrusive GPS satellite communicator that they can stuff in a pocket for an emergency. The only real functional difference between the Mini and the bigger inReach units is battery life and ease of use. More on this below.
A monthly or annual service plan is required to use the inReach Mini, adding another $12 to $100 per month to the $350 cost of the unit. The nice thing about the monthly plans is you need only pay for the months you use the device, making them perfect for international travel or seasonal use only. I use the lowest tier $12 per month Safety plan, mainly to send daily check-in messages to my wife. I think it’s well worth the price when you compare it to what you pay each month for a Smartphone that only runs over cell networks.
Mini User Interface
The Mini’s user interface is a hierarchical menu system that you navigate with up, down, back, and ok messages on the sides of the device. It’s not well documented, but easy enough to figure out. As you scroll through the menus, the currently active or “in focus” item is displayed in larger letters than the other items on the menu. To trigger it, you push “ok.” If that item has additional sub-options, the one without any navigation icons (up or down arrows) is the current item selected and will be triggered when you click “ok” on the side of the unit.
However, the size of the Mini’s screen does compromise its usability compared to the larger inReach Explorer+ and SE+. While the Mini is a fully functional standalone unit, you can pair it with a smartphone using Bluetooth and the free Garmin Earthmate app. Doing this gives you a much richer interface to the unit’s functions and makes composing messages easier because you have a full keyboard at your disposal. However, using Bluetooth chews up the battery of the Mini and your Smartphone faster, so it’s a tradeoff.
Reliable Two-Way Messaging
The inReach Mini provides fully interactive, two-way satellite-based messaging up to 160 characters in length.
There are four kinds of text messages supported on the inReach Mini:
- Ad hoc messages, up to 160 characters in length, that can be sent to anyone with an email address or SMS cell phone number, including search and rescue responders. All messages include your GPS coordinates if GPS satellite connectivity is available
- Preset (pre-defined) messages that you can edit and change in the inReach web portal. These are good for check-ins or to tell someone you’re running late. You get 3 preset messages. For example: “Checking in. I’m OK!”, “Delayed. I’m OK!”, or “Please pick me up here.”
- Quick text messages (also pre-defined) that you can edit and change which obviate the need to type common responses when messaging back and forth with someone. You get 10 quick text messages.
- SOS messages which are sent to Search and Rescue agencies when you activate the SOS capability. You also have the ability to cancel accidental SOS messages,
One of the best features of the inReach Mini is audible or visual message confirmation. I’ve set up the Mini to make an audible chirp when the message I’ve sent has been successfully relayed to the recipients’ email address or SMS cell phone number. That chirp sounds anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes after I send a message, but knowing that it’s been sent and not lost gives me enormous peace of mind.
I mainly use the Preset Messages on the inReach Mini to let my wife know I’m ok or if I’m going to be delayed. It’s important that I know that she’s received them since she has explicit instructions about when to notify Search and Rescue to come find me if I’ve overdue.
Comparison to SPOT Satellite Communicators
I used to own a SPOT Satellite Communicators (Gen2 and Gen 3) and you never knew whether your messages had gotten through because sometimes they didn’t. It’s the main reason I switched to the inReach for my personal use. While the new Spot X Messenger does provide 2-way communications, it’s far more difficult to use than any of the inReach devices and I can’t recommend it.
Other inReach Mini Functions
In addition to its messaging functions, the inReach Mini can:
- Display your GPS lat/lon location and elevation
- Track trip statistics such as current and average speed
- Help you navigate with a digital compass
- Set waypoints and navigate to them
- Send a track of your route (called Mapshare) to a friend
- Display topo maps and tracks when paired with the Earthmate App (requires map downloads) and your Smartphone
- Pair with other Garmin devices such as Garmin watches
- Post your location or Mapshare route to Facebook and Twitter
Mini Battery Life
The Mini has a smaller battery than the inReach Explorer+ and SE+, but its actual battery life depends on your device settings, such as the tracking and message checking intervals. Here are the guidelines that Garmin publishes, for different usage patterns.
- Up to 30 hr with 10-minute tracking send interval and 1-second log interval
- Up to 50 hr with default mode with 10-minute tracking send interval and 5-minute log interval
- Up to 20 days with extended tracking mode with 30-minute tracking send interval
- Up to 1 yr when the unit is turned off
These battery life guidelines assume that you use the tracking feature, which isn’t something that I normally do. If you’re like me and only turn the unit on to send a preset Check-in message a few times per day, and don’t pair the Mini with a Smartphone, the battery lasts a long, long time. Still, it’s prudent to carry a micro-USB plug and spare power bank with you on extended trips.
Activation and Synching
The inReach Mini isn’t an entirely standalone device and you need a web browser to set and synch certain functions associated with your account on the Garmin website. In addition to selecting or changing Satellite Network Plans, you need to log in to the website to specify your emergency contacts, change the default preset messages (3) or the preset canned quick response messages (10). After making these changes, they have to be synched to the Mini to take effect. The synching process can be achieved using a computer or a Smartphone, through the Garmin Earthmate App.
The Garmin inReach Mini 2-way Satellite Communicator is a real breakthrough in terms of convenience, giving you the ability to signal to Search and Rescue in an emergency and communicate with them (or friends and family) by text or email, anywhere in the world, over the Iridium Satellite Network. While the Mini doesn’t provide any new functions beyond those provided by the existing inReach Explorer+ or SE+, its small size and low weight make it much more amenable to use for fast-and-light recreation like trail running, ultralight backpack, or cycling, where size and weight matter more. While the more advanced functions of the Mini are harder to use with its small screen size and limited controls, it is easily paired with the free Earthmate App running on a smartphone using Bluetooth. If you’re carrying a Smartphone in the backcountry already, the two enhance each others’ capabilities. Highly recommended!
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