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Apple’s Emergency SOS via Satellite vs. Garmin inReach Messenger: Your best rescue tech option


Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

With the launch of the iPhone 14 lineup, Apple launched its Emergency SOS via Satellite service that allows iPhone 14 users to send and receive text messages with first responders when they’re off the grid. In fact, there are already two known instances of the feature being used to rescue people.

Also: The 5 best satellite phones 

But the iPhone 14 isn’t the first, nor only, gadget that uses satellites to facilitate communication in the event of an emergency. In fact, Garmin’s inReach lineup allows you to send text messages to friends and loved ones when you’re in the middle of nowhere. For its part, Garmin’s inReach platform has had over 10,000 SOS instances since inReach launched in 2011. That’s an amazing number.

If you’re someone who often finds yourself in areas with no cellular coverage and you’re wondering what kind of device you should get, here are the key differences between an iPhone 14 and the Garmin inReach Messenger.

Garmin inReach Messenger Apple iPhone 14
Display 1 x 0.43 x 1.08-inches, 160×68 pixels, monochrome Starts at 6.1-inches, Super Retina XDR Display
Dimensions 3.1 x 2.5 x 0.9-inches Starts at 5.78 x 2.82 x 0.31-inches
Weight 4 ounces Starts at 6.07 ounces
Battery Up to 46 days Starts at 20 hours
IP Rating IPX7 IP67
Connectivity GPS, Galileo, QZSS, BeiDou, GPS Compass, Bluetooth GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, QZSS, BeiDou, Bluetooth, Cellular
Subscription Starts at $14.95 per month Free for two years. Price after that TBD.
Price $299 Starts at $799

You should buy the Garmin inReach Messenger if…

Garmin InReach Messenger

Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

1. You want more than just emergency communication

Garmin’s inReach platform is more than just a way to get ahold of emergency services via satellite. There are several different devices you can use, ranging from the $399 Mini 2 handheld with a relatively small display to the $1,499 Tread Series with a 10-inch display to help keep you on track and provide a means for communicating with friends and loved ones, using a satellite connection to relay your text messages. And in the event of an emergency, you have one-button access to alert emergency responders.

Review: Garmin inReach Mini 2: Life-saving, ultra-compact satellite tech for your next adventure

The inReach Messenger is the most affordable device in the inReach lineup at $299, but it still offers the same core features and capabilities as the rest of the line. For instance, you can use the smartphone app to send messages to friends and loved ones, via a satellite connection. You can also get weather reports directly on Messenger, you can use it so others can view your location, updating at set intervals, to keep track of your latest trek across a hiking trail.

And because Messenger is tracking your location, you can use its trackback routing feature to guide you back on the path you just took in the event you get lost.

2. You don’t mind paying for the service

In order to take advantage of some of the inReach features, you’ll need to sign up for an inReach subscription plan. You can pay for it monthly or pay for a full year of service. Plans start at $14.95 per month and go all the way up to $64.95 a month.

The most affordable plan is the $15 Consumer: Safety plan that comes with unlimited SOS alerts, 10 text messages, unlimited check-in messages and sets the tracking interval to a minimum of 10 minutes.

Also: Why my Garmin Enduro 2’s LED flashlight is my favorite feature

It’s not terribly expensive for someone who frequently is an area with no cellular or Wi-Fi connection and wants the peace of mind that they can at least stay in touch with friends or family on top of being able to contact emergency responders.

3. You want peace of mind and don’t have an iPhone

Right now, there aren’t any Android phones that offer a similar feature as the iPhone 14’s emergency satellite texting. Sure, having to remember to charge and bring another device with you is a bit of a pain, but having an inReach Messenger in your bag or glove box provides peace of mind.

No to mention, the entire inReach line is designed for use outdoors with long battery life and serves multiple purposes. It’s not simply a device that acts as a gateway for communicating with first responders but offers the ability to do so much more while off the grid.

You should use Apple’s Emergency SOS via Satellite if…

Hand holding iPhone with Emergency SOS feature

Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

1. You don’t want to worry about buying or carrying another device

The iPhone 14 line starts at $799, which isn’t cheap. And the idea of buying a $299 device, for some, is surely going to be a sticking point. Especially when the iPhone 14 now provides arguably the most important feature that the inReach Messenger offers in emergency SOS communication to get help when you need it the most.

More: How to use iPhone 14’s emergency SOS satellite text feature

There’s something to be said about not having to worry about having another device on you at all times, let alone worrying about it being charged. Odds are you’ll have your phone on you, and it’ll be charged.

The inReach Messenger is easy enough to toss in a backpack or your glovebox, but you still have to worry about when the last time was that you charged it — or did you remember to pay your subscription?

2. You only want peace of mind

For some, part of the appeal of exploring the wilderness is going off the grid and disconnecting from everything. What’s the point of going on a long hike in the mountains if you’re just going to be looking for the best Instagram shots or checking your email every 10 minutes?

The inReach Messenger allows you to go off the grid, but it also still allows people to get ahold of you. Or for you to be tempted to “just check in real quick.”

At its core, Emergency SOS via Satellite is designed only for use in an emergency. In fact, you have to dial 911 in an area without Wi-Fi or cellular coverage to even trigger it.

Also: How to GPS-track any phone

That said, if you do want to provide peace of mind to loved ones while you’re hiking, you can use Apple’s Find My app to share your location once every 15 minutes with anyone you have added as a friend in the Find My app.

3. You don’t want a monthly subscription

For the first two years of owning an iPhone 14, you’ll get access to Apple’s Emergency SOS via Satellite feature at no extra cost. Apple hasn’t said what the fee is going to be, if any, after that two-year period.

I have a suspicion that Apple is giving SOS access away for free while it builds out its satellite features and capabilities to be more like Garmin’s inReach service, providing more features such as text messages with contacts, weather updates and more GPS-specific features.

Once those features are available, Apple will have a monthly fee that includes SOS services. Although, I’d imagine that Apple keeps the SOS stuff free.

Alternatives to consider

Open to other Garmin inReach or iPhone 14 prospects? Consider these ZDNET-recommended devices:

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