Note: This review is an early look at the Bivystick and its function. This is not a full comprehensive look at each individual feature of the device, but rather an early review after a few short weeks of use with the device. A Full comprehensive review will follow that will explain each feature in more detail.
The Bivystick is the latest tech in the backpacking and outdoor world, turning your cell phone into a satellite communication device. Now my time with the Bivystick is limited to just a few weeks of use, but I wanted to get some information out there for all to read as there is limited info in terms of its real world use on the interwebs, yet for the device.
I picked up my Bivystick a few weeks ago and have taken it out a few different times, as well as just testing it in my backyard. In this early review I want to address why I got the Bivystick versus other options and what my list of pros and cons are compared to other options out there. Now I will preface that I have not personally owned any other satellite device prior to the Bivystick, but I have used other satellite devices in the field, including satellite phones for work, the Spot Gen 2, and a Garmin InReach. Thanks to some friends who have had them out on trips we’ve done together.
Overview Of The Bivystick – What is it, and who is it for?
The Bivystick comes from the creators of the mobile app, Bivy. The Bivy app is an adventure based app that allows you to track your hikes, climbing, and backpacking and share it with the users of Bivy, or the Bivy community. After getting funded on Kickstarter, the Bivystick just started shipping November 2018 to Kickstarter backers. So yes, the Bivystick is quite new and it waits to see how it will be received long term by the outdoor community versus its competitors.
Bivystick has some features that set it apart in function from other satellite devices, and for the benefit of this review, I will compare the Bivystick to the Garmin InReach Mini and the Spot X, but also make reference to the original Spot Device. Bivystick basically turns your smartphone into a two way satellite communication device, allowing you to send and receive text messages with any of your contacts, obtain 3 day and 7 day weather reports, call for search and rescue and communicate with rescue after activating SOS. In addition to that, use the device to track your hike with 10 minute intervals and share your location. It’s honestly pretty intuitive and the user experience is a breath of fresh air.
Before diving into the nitty gritty of the device and its features, let’s talk about who the device is for. I’ve always been interested in having a satellite device since I am out quite often backpacking, and i’ve got a family. I think that any adventurer who spends time in the backcountry where cell phone service is limited or non existent should consider the convenience of having a device that allows access to call for help at anytime, and to check in with loved ones. To me it’s cheap insurance and as someone with a family, I find the added benefits of letting my wife know how things are going is priceless. So if this added convenience and ability to call for help, and message loved ones to check in is important, then the Bivystick is for you.
Bivystick Features, Specs and Use:
Unlike the InReach devices, the Bivystick relies solely on the bluetooth connection to your cell phone through the Bivy App. All functions of the Bivystick are completed through the Bivystick section of the Bivy App. However, the user experience through your phone is simple and straightforward, making sending message really easy. Getting weather reports comes with just a couple clicks and the report that comes back through the app is detailed, useable and full of good information. The only bummer is that 7 day weather reports call for more than 1 credit. Which leads to the next aspect of the Bivystick.
Bivystick is unique in that it uses credits to send messages, gather weather reports, share location and such. But that is also the bonus of the device. Bivy has created a contract free, month to month agreement where you can activate and deactivate at anytime. The one benefit of keeping the device active is any unused credits at the end of the month roll over to the next month. Deactivate the device though, and you lose those credits.
The $18/month cost makes each credit $1.80, but you also have the option to purchase prepaid credits in varying amounts, but the best deal is buying 100 at a time for $34, making each credit $0.34 cents, which is a far better value than the $1.80. But lets not get to focused on the cost per credit, as the amount of use ought to be limited to quick texts to inform, rather than long conversations. I will say however, in my short time of using the device so far, I’ve noticed that if you are not being careful, it’s easy to burn through credits. Should you use all of your credits while still on the trail, each additional credit used past what you have prepaid will cost $0.50 cents. Again, this can add up if you aren’t being smart about your use.
Specs, Size and Weight:
When I first got the device I was a little surprised at its size. It was just bigger than I expected it to be, but it’s still fairly light weight. Total length of the stick is just under 6 inches and it’s just under 2 inches wide. The device is IPX6 rated, which means that it is weather resistant, but not waterproof. It also has a 5200mAh rechargeable lithium ion battery inside. One micro usb port allows for charging the device, and if in a pinch, the standard usb port allows a phone to be charged from the internal battery. Total weight with the lanyard is just over 7oz, so if you’re looking for a device that doesn’t add a ton of weight, this is a good option.
Pros and Cons: How does Bivystick compare in value to the Spot X and InReach?
Let’s talk about the cons first, and get those out of the way. Since the device is ultimately designed to allow you to active SOS for search and rescue, and the other functions secondary as a mere convenience of being out without cell service, I would have hoped to see some way to activate SOS without being reliant on using a phone to do so.
Let me paint a scenario here. You’ve found yourself cliffed out while hiking down a mountain, and getting back up is not an option. You take off your pack, set down your phone and in the mix of trying to gather yourself mentally of where you’ve now found yourself, you knock your phone off and it goes sliding down the mountain and off the cliff. But yet, your Bivystick is still sitting in your pack. Now what?! Now I realize that this is an extreme example, and hopefully you’ve not allowed yourself to get into that position in the first place. In the world of search and rescue though, these kinds of stories happen more often then we like to hear. However, one nice thing you can do is if you’re going out with a friend, have them download the Bivy App to their phone as well, because you can connect the Bivystick to any phone that has the Bivy App installed.
Extra precaution should be taken however to ensure that you’re taking care of both devices when you find yourself in a tough situation. I think we can all agree that buying a device like the Bivystick or InReach is never with the intent that I plan to ever activate SOS on my device.
Building off of that, compared to the Spot X or the InReach devices the Bivystick requires use of a smartphone to function. Where the InReach mini and Spot X, even the original Spot can be used without a phone. The original Spot is limited, but at least you can activate SOS if needed. In the grand scheme of things though, even with the Bivystick requiring a phone, I still feel it’s a more functional and reliable device than the original Spot. Simply for the fact that I have two way messaging.
The Bivystick, unlike the InReach and Spot devices, doesn’t have the ability to send preset message for free. Now yes, I understand that with the InReach and Spot you are paying a service agreement, but at least with those agreements, you can preload messages, like, “hey I am in camp for the night and safe.” and it doesn’t eat up credits. This is where buying prepaid credits in bulk is worth the investment. There are give and takes with each device and you have to decide which fits your needs the best.
I think in many ways the pros of the device speak for themselves, but let’s discuss anyway. The Bivystick uses the Iridium satellite network, which means that basically you can be anywhere at anytime and connect. In my time of testing and use so far with the device, I’ve seen the unit be reliable with connecting to the satellites and sending of messages has been fairly quick. I look forward to testing the device more heavily in the desert canyons of Utah to see how it does in those scenarios, but I imagine it will be like any other device, and be a little more spotty.
Despite the cons listed above, I feel that the user experience of the app is well designed and the ease of sending messages, tracking, getting weather reports, etc is succinct and won’t leave you frustrated. That is the one thing I feel the device has above the Spot X and InReach. Yes, both of those devices connect to smart phones as well, however, the keyboards and on device messaging feels like you’ve gone back to texting T9 messages on your old school Nokia 3310. They just seem clunky and difficult, where the app for the Bivystick was well thought out, to make that process easy.
Another thing I really like about this device is that it has a dedicated phone number. So I can give that number to people I would need to contact with the device, and if a message comes through to them, they know that it’s me texting from the Bivystick, since the number is saved in their phone under that contact name.
Lastly, the device is just plain simple. For me that is important because it makes the device user friendly and fits the basic needs of being able to communicate in the backcountry to let loved ones know you’re safe, and if worst case scenario takes place, you’ve got an easy way to activate SOS.
I am also a big fan of the no contract, flexible, and fairly inexpensive service plan. Not feeling like you’re being taken for activation fees, or feeling torn about having to do an annual agreement to save money versus paying month to month. The credits feel like they will continue to be easy to burn through, but they can be prepaid in bulk and that makes things more simple.
So Should You Buy The Bivystick?
With a price point of $349 for the device it’s up there with the InReach Mini, which is also $349. The Spot X sits at $249, and may be the better value, however, to my knowledge the Spot devices connect to a different network than the Iridium network. For me, the cost of the Bivystick is a little high considering the lack of an on device screen/interface that would allow SOS activation without needing a phone, but the trade off for me is the flexible credit based service plan that fits the type of user that most will use the device for.
Overall, I’ve really enjoyed the Bivystick and think it’s a great value. Bivy I feel has set themselves up for success in creating a product that fits the needs of a lot of users. Check out Bivystick here to get more information and order one for yourself.