Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Full goTenna Review - Why goTenna?

I'm what most of my acquaintances call a "gadget geek".  Through the years I’ve seen a lot of gadgets come and go without making a lasting impact. One of the gadgets that has ended up being a staple is my goTenna.  This device may not need to be used on every trip, but it's included on every trip.

There are many reason why I keep my goTenna handy.  But primarily the device allows some pretty serious communication opportunity if Sarah and I get separated while out fishing.  To be sure, there are situations where it would be absolutely required.  We haven't had a lot of those times, but there are times when you wouldn't think you'd need it.

Recently we visited Minard Texas.  This small town is deep in the heart of Texas - and I mean DEEP.  It's located over half-way to San Angelo from Austin and where the nearest town is about 30 miles away.  As they say out here, it's about a day by stagecoach from anywhere.

Minard has cell service.... Sort of.  It should be perfectly fine to use our cell phones.  But apparently the tower is located on the fire station or something because the minute you drive away from down town you start dropping bars.  And I mean fast!  We were a mile from down town at the county park and we were down to 2 bars.  By the time we paddled to the other end of the park lake, we had pretty much lost all signal. We were "still in civilization" too so it made no sense.

The fact is, we've been in places where there are normally good cell signals but for whatever reason, the canyon, or river bed we are in is out of range of a perfectly good tower.  We often separate as we are fishing and some times I look up and suddenly realize I haven't seen my wife for over an hour.  At this point I usually send a quick text message.  But if we're in one of those places where cell signal is spotty, I quickly find out I can't contact her.  This normally is no cause for concern, but sometimes I just want to communicate that the fishing is going great, or that I want to get together to eat lunch, or whatever.  The simple fact is, we can't communicate.

That's where goTenna comes in.  If there's any question of what may be happening I simply pull my goTenna out of my fishing bag, turn it on and then turn on my bluetooth on my phone.  Now I can confidently continue to fish knowing if she needs me, she'll turn on hers and let me know.  The whole situation turns from concern to contentment knowing there's no cause for concern because we can communicate.

We do have other ways to communicate such as our marine whistles that are required by law, but that's more of a warning, not a means to communicate.  But I suppose one could setup a protocol where if you hear a certain whistle code it means to turn on your goTenna.

The reason I mention "turning on the goTenna" is because we simply don't leave them on all the time. I think the only drawback to using a goTenna device is the fact that you have to keep a Bluetooth connection open all the time.  As many of us know, running Bluetooth runs your battery down quicker and since we use our phones quite a bit when we are out in the wild for taking pictures, we often wear our batteries down as it is.  Adding Bluetooth to this mix would only cause us to be without a phone entirely.  So the protocol for when to turn on the goTenna is needed.  If they ever figure out a way around this, it would be awesome.

For protocols, a group could easily have a policy that on the hour every hour people are separated, everyone turns on their goTenna/Bluetooth for 5 minutes.  You could also make it every half hour if needed, but most people won't want to bother or be bothered.

Switching gears a bit - I want to talk about the usability of the devices.  First thing I can say is that they are extremely easy to use. Ease of connecting was so simple that you could almost figure it out without looking at the manual.  The software is also very simple to use. The interface is quite basic but very functional.

The only thing that will frustrate some folks is that the devices are not designed for normal texting.  The interface is designed to send as little data as possible since it's very easy to transmit small amounts of data over a radio signal.  These devices are not like cell phones with multi-band capability with lots of bandwidth available to them.  They operate in a very small band so they can transmit without using a lot of power. This saves battery, but using a simple data stream, they can transmit further because the band is so narrow.  Any ham radio junkies will understand this by saying using a goTenna is like using CW (Morse Code) to transmit instead of transmitting voice on SSB.  This all equates to farther distances and less interference.

One other thing that is a minor issue but could be a problem for some folks:  The current devices are only marginally waterproof.  They could probably survive a minor dunking (as in quick) and definitely some serious splashing, but they can't take a real dunking for any length of time.  They have dust covers that are pretty serious for the plugs, but the way the devices work means that the top of the goTenna has to slide out to be turned on. This mechanism is likely to not keep water out in a serious dunking situation.

So while the regular goTenna is pretty decent, there is a new version in the process of being released right now that is even bettter:  goTenna Mesh    This device has even more capabilities for large groups.  In fact, it has the ability to receive a message not destined for itself and pass that message to the device the message was intended for.  This allows you to contact someone who is far beyond line of site and infact, is even bigger than that - You could transmit to someone 20 miles away by having multiple hops.  People in the city could actually form their own network to communicate across and area that would otherwise have to go through the cellular network.  I can see preppers liking this one!

Overall, the goTenna products are super high quality and are serious devices.  Their use is quite specialized but for those of us who spend time in areas that are off the grid, these devices are awesome.

I highly recommend them!


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