I’ve travelled with my FindMeSpot for several years, as an emergency precaution in case something happens to me in the wilderness in the watches of the night. I’ve also recommended this emergency satellite contact device in my night photography workshops. But recent experiences have caused me to reevaluate how worthwhile this subscription-priced device really is.
The device isn’t seemingly very complex to use. It runs on Lithium batteries, has a power button, a button that automatically sends an “I’m OK” contact email (pre-written on the website), a Help button that sends out a pre-written “I’m not doing so well” message, and a 911 button that is supposed to call emergency search and rescue services (an appealing feature of the subscription is that it includes insurance covering the search and rescue).
I’ve never had occasion to send any of the emergency messages, but I’ve sent contact messages a number of times over the past couple of years. You turn the device on by holding down the power button for a couple of seconds until the power light starts to blink, then hold the OK button down for two or three seconds until a second light blinks. Notionally, when contact is made with the satellite and the message is sent, there’s a long pulse on this light and then it stops blinking. My experience in sending these messages is that the device has worked…some of the time. My theory has been that it depends greatly on the portion of the sky that is open to the device; in other words, it is not likely to work well under dense forest cover. In fact, I have found the device generally pretty flaky, even with open skies above it.
On my recent trip to the Racetrack Playa, in a remote corner of Death Valley, I had the device face up to a clear sky trying to send the message for four or five hours. Nothing went through.
Obviously, this is not an acceptable state of affairs in a device supposed to be relied on in emergencies, so today I called customer service to try to see if there was something that could be straightened out. This was probably the single worst customer service experience in my life—a fairly strong statement. Among other things, I was told that thousands of people successfully used the device, so my experience of flakiness must be wrong. I was asked whether I’d held the button down for precisely two or three seconds. Of course, in wilderness situations I neither carry a stop-watch nor would be able to time things so precisely. I said, well yeah I held it down three or four seconds until it started blinking; the response, “I asked you whether you held it down two or three seconds.”
If you had to hold it down with such precision for it to work, then the device would be pretty much useless. I don’t mind so much that it didn’t work in Death Valley, but the utter rudeness of customer service is totally unacceptable.
In my phone call, I mentioned giving workshops and recommending the device, and that it would be hard to continue to do so unless I could get it to work. The response: “You can tell anyone anything you like.”
My apologies to anyone who has subscribed on my recommendation.
I can guess why this company doesn’t get more complaints about their service: my thought is that people buy it, subscribe, and then never really use it in wilderness conditions. Don’t say I haven’t warned you: the Emperor has no clothes, and FindMeSpot Not!