Best Satellite Phone Smackdown

best satellite phone
Image from Flickr.com, via Iridium Satellite Communications

When you're looking for the best satellite phone that you can buy, finding the information you need can get tricky. There aren't many reviews for satellite phones like there are for iPhones and Android phones. But trust me when I say that you're not alone. Satellite phones are in a niche market that is at the cutting edge of satellite communications, and people around the world depend on them, which means that there are many people just like you who are looking for information.

Back when I was younger, I worked at sea. I was a Fisheries Observer, monitoring the commercial fisheries off the coast of the Northwest Pacific. Because I spent days or even weeks far from land, surrounded by open water with only a few fishermen to converse with, I often had to use a satellite phone. In many cases, these boats had the cheapest satellite phones they could buy. Or they were old and outdated. Communication with the authorities back on land was spotty at best.

Then I spent 6 weeks onboard a massive industrial trawler with a crew of 200. They had a beautiful, new satellite phone that never failed. I was able to send my reports every evening and get instructions from my superiors. Best of all, I felt like I had a connection to civilization. This is why having the best satellite phone with you when you need it is so important.

How Do You Choose the Best Satellite Phone?

satellite phone

Whether you're an engineer installing an oil pipeline in remote backcountry, or you live on a coast that gets battered by hurricanes every year, having communication with the rest of the world is essential. You want the best satellite phone that you can find.

To choose the best satellite phone, it's important that you look for a couple of things. First, is the phone able to communicate with geosynchronous and LEO satellites? Low-Earth-Orbit satellite phones come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but sometimes there are blackouts due to a lack of available satellites. On the other hand, a geosynchronous satellite (or geostationary) orbits at about 22,000 miles above the earth, and as such, takes 24 hours to complete one orbit. Only one satellite is required, but it also makes the satellite phone much more expensive. We're talking into the thousands of dollars.

Second, you'll want to make sure that your phone has texting capability. Believe it or not, but even in 2019, some satellite phones only allow voice calls. With texting, you'll be able to communicate quickly and save a lot of money.

What is a satellite phone?

A satellite phone uses passing overhead satellites instead of a land-based connection. They transfer high-frequency radio signals, often in UHF, up to the satellite, which then sends the signal to a series of satellites until the signal is ready to bounce down to a receiver. Because radio travels at the speed of light, this all happens in the blink of an eye. You can call other phones and send text messages via satellite. You just can't get a data connection.

What this means is that you get instant communication pretty much anywhere in the world. Technically, a satellite phone is called a terminal and not a phone. But for simplicity's sake, we'll call it a phone. And one thing you don't want is a damaged, malfunctioning, or cheap phone.

How does it work?

Like your cell phone, a satellite phone requires a service plan from a provider. There are currently three major satellite network providers in the world. These are Iridium, Inmarsat, and Global Star. Iridium is the largest of the providers, with 66 LEO satellites ringing the earth, while Inmarsat and Global Star operate several geosynchronous satellites as well as a handful of LEOs to provide continuous service. To start, you need to buy a satellite phone, then sign on with your provider of choice. You can buy monthly plans, and whatever you use will deduct from this amount.

Who is it for?

Although many companies and professionals use the best satellite phone for communication when they're working in remote areas, those who don't stray far from home can benefit, too. One example is when storms have knocked out power and phone lines to your home. In 2014, a massive lake-effect snowstorm hit Buffalo and shut the city down for a week. Those with a satellite phone were able to communicate with loved ones. If you live anywhere near a coast, or in tornado alley, or along the Great Lakes, then you should consider investing in the best satellite phone that you can buy.

Are they expensive to use?

Yes, satellite phones can be expensive to use. However, the best satellite phones have SMS capabilities, and these are significantly cheaper to send.

How We Reviewed

To find out which phone is the best satellite phone you can buy today, we looked at several brands and models. Because the best satellite phone should be able to send and receive SMS messages, we eliminated any that could not. Then we scoured through Amazon customer reviews and read how these satellite phones held up to the rigors of real life. Any with low ratings, we discarded. A few contenders remained, and after going through each of their specifications and prices, we were able to choose a winner.

And that's how we found out which is the best satellite phone you should buy!

The Contenders: The 4 Best Satellite Phones You Can Buy

Okay, so now you've learned how satellite phones work, who could benefit from one, and which providers offer service. All that's left is to rush out and buy a phone! But wait, you don't want any old phone. You want the best satellite phone. That's because when you use it, you want to know that it's going to work. Don't get stuck like me, out at sea with no way to talk to land because the satellite phones were substandard.

Instead, choose one of the best satellite phones that we could find, and find out which one is the best!

4.9 out of 5 stars

2019 Unlocked IsatPhone 2.1 Satellite Phone - Voice, SMS, GPS Tracking, SOS Global Coverage - Water Resistant - Sim Card Not Included (No Airtime) - Prepaid and Monthly Plans Available...
  • SERVICE PLAN OPTIONS: Package does not include a SIM card. After purchasing a plan we will overnight a SIM card to you and you will have it in less than 24 hours.. Purchase minutes whenever you need them, or get setup with monthly service and enjoy uninterrupted connectivity.
  • GLOBAL COVERAGE: NO ROAMING CHARGES: Make and receive voice calls, SMS, track your position with GPS from anywhere on the globe and never pay roaming charges. Your coverage area is EARTH (except the extreme north and south polar regions)
  • PACKAGE INCLUDES: Inmarsat IsatPhone 2 satellite phone handset, Lithium-ion battery, International AC wall charger with international plugs, Car DC charger, Holster with a belt clip, Hands free earpiece, Lanyard, USB cable, USB thumb drive with documentation, Quick start guide, Satellite Phone Store SIM card and 1 year manufacturers warranty.
  • SHOCK, DUST AND WATER RESISTANT: IK04 shock resistance rating and an ingress rating of IP65: the IsatPhone2 can withstand dirt, dust and jets of water from every direction. It has a humidity tolerance of 0 to 95%, and an operational temperature range of -20C to +55C (-4F to +131F). An innovative display technology provides enhanced daytime visibility. Longest lasting batteries of any satellite phone with 8 hours talk time and 160 hours standby.
  • 24/7 CUSTOMER SUPPORT: Satellite Phone Store proudly offers Free 24/7 global customer support. Now answering machines - No waiting. Anytime you call an expert will answer the phone and immediately assist you.

First up is the IsatPhone 2. This particular phone is an Immarsat device, and as such, it's locked to the Inmarsat network. You'll find that many satellite phones are network-specific. That's not too much of a problem, as all three networks have similar prices. What we wanted to look at was the actual IsatPhone 2, which is a slick device. It has a matte black finish and a stylish, elongated body. The antenna folds down along the side when the phone isn't in use. You find a simple color screen and navigation pane just below it. A number pad is located just below that.

One thing we like about this phone is that it is rugged. The internals are shock resistant, and with an IP65 rating, dust and water won't damage it. That's great for a construction site or in a hurricane. Also, it can withstand temperatures as low as -4 degrees and as high as 131 degrees. The menu has a few basics. You can save contacts, look up info about the satellite you're using, and set ringtones.

Customers on Amazon rated it 4.9 out of 5 stars. Almost everyone praised the awesome service Immarsat and the IsatPhone 2 gave them. One person said it worked great in a Caribean hurricane. There were no complaints.

3.4 out of 5 stars

BlueCosmo Iridium Extreme Satellite Phone Bundle - Only Truly Global Satellite Phone - Voice, SMS Text Messaging, GPS Tracking, Emergency SOS - Prepaid SIM Card Included - Online Activation - 24/7
  • BLUECOSMO PREPAID SIM INCLUDED: Easily purchase and load Prepaid Airtime from BlueCosmo. No hidden fees. No activation charges. Visit the BlueCosmo website to easily purchase Prepaid minutes or extensions. Global minutes can roll-over if additional prepaid minutes are purchased and added prior to expiration. Outgoing SMS messages & tracking updates 1/10th minute charge, incoming SMS messages are free.
  • GLOBAL COVERAGE: NO ROAMING CHARGES Make and receive voice calls, SMS, track your position with GPS or request help with the emergency SOS button from anywhere on the globe. Powered by a sophisticated global constellation of 66 cross-linked Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites, the Iridium network provides high-quality voice and data connections over the planet's entire surface, including across oceans, airways and polar regions. Iridium is the only truly global satellite phone service.
  • EVERYTHING YOU NEED WITH 18 MONTH WARRANTY: Iridium Extreme 9575 satellite phone handset, Lithium-ion battery, AC wall charger with international plugs, Automobile DC charger(CLA), Holster with belt clip, Hands free earpiece, Power & USB adapter, Power USB & External antenna adapter w/ TNC connector, Auxiliary magnetic mount antenna w/ 5' cable, USB cable, Quick start guide, User Guide, SIM card & 18 MONTH WARRANTY exclusively from BlueCosmo.
  • MILITARY-GRADE TOUGHNESS: The Iridium Extreme meets US Military Standards 810F for resistance to: Dust, Shock, Vibration, Blowing Rain (and more). Highest Ingress (IP) Rating of all satellite phones at IP65. Includes a speakerphone and wind resistant microphone. A diamond tread, tapered grip gives it superior in-hand ergonomics.
  • WORLD CLASS SUPPORT AND SERVICE: When you purchase your Iridium Extreme satellite phone from BlueCosmo, you get a team of professionals who have been deploying satellite communications around the world for the most demanding customers since 2003. Our Iridium service options can fit any budget and we can get you up and running for all your critical satcom needs.

Then we looked at the BlueCosmo Iridium Extreme satellite phone. Because it's an Iridium phone, you get access to one of the best satellite networks circling our planet. We really like some of the features that this phone comes loaded with, such as the built-in GPS with a pre-loaded global map and an emergency broadcast button that can call for help in a bad situation. One press of that button, and the phone will pinpoint your exact location for first responders to find you.

The phone itself looks like a cell phone from the late nineties. It's a box with a white and black screen, a large antenna sticking up from the side, and a number pad. Unlike a Nokia 5110, however, the Snakes game isn't on this phone. Like the IsatPhone 2, the Iridium Extreme is resistant to vibrations, shock, dust, and rain. We also liked that the phone has a treaded rubber casing.

The Iridium Extreme  comes with a full 18-month warranty to protect your investment. However, customers only gave it 3.4 out of 5 stars on Amazon. Many people complimented the small size of the phone, which they compared to a walkie-talkie handset. Also, most people had no problems with connectivity. However, a few customers complained that the phone seized up now and again. That could be due to software issues, but we're not sure.

3.9 out of 5 stars

BlueCosmo Iridium 9555 Satellite Phone Bundle - Only Truly Global Satellite Phone - Voice, SMS Text Messaging - Prepaid SIM Card Included - Online Activation - 24/7
  • GLOBAL & RELIABLE SERVICE: BlueCosmo Iridium 9555 Phone Kit with a prepaid SIM card. Powered by a sophisticated global constellation of 66 cross-linked Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites, the Iridium network provides high-quality voice and data connections over the planet's entire surface, including across oceans, airways and polar regions. Iridium is the only truly global satellite phone service.
  • INNOVATION: In addition to the features Iridium customers have come to expect from our trusted satellite phones, the Iridium 9555 also incorporates innovations such as an integrated speakerphone, improved SMS and email messaging capabilities
  • COMPACT: The Iridium 9555 is one of the smallest phones Iridium has ever made, it's also one of the most powerful. With a significantly reduced footprint from the Iridium 9505A and Iridium 9500, more hand-friendly form factor, and aerodynamic features such as an internally stowed antenna, this sleek handset is designed to easily go wherever you go.
  • ENHANCED FEATURES: Two-way SMS and short email capability. Li-Ion battery with standby times of 30 hours and talk time up to 3 hours. Operating Temperature Range of 14°F(-10°C) to 131°F(+55°C). Integrated speakerphone. Illuminated weather-resistant keypad. 100-entry internal phonebook.
  • IT'S ALL IN THE BOX: Everything needed for global communication: Iridium 9555 Phone, Rechargeable Lithium Ion 9555 Battery, AC charger, international plug kit, DC travel charger, hands-free headset, leather holster case, auxiliary antenna adapter, 5' external auxiliary antenna, USB data cable, quick-start guide, user guide, and CD-ROM

Next up is the Iridium 9555 satellite phone, from the Blue Cosmo store. While the Iridium Extreme is a great phone for roughing it in bad weather and rugged terrain, the Iridium 9555 is for more administrative use. It doesn't have a rubberized casing, isn't waterproof, and has a smaller antenna. However, it still sports the same green and black screen and vintage number pad.

While this phone can send SMS as well as make and receive phone calls, it can also transmit short emails via satellite. That alone makes this phone a useful gadget for any traveling professional.

There were only four customers who reviewed it on Amazon, but they gave it a solid 3.9 out of 5 stars. Unfortunately, they weren't very talkative. One said the phone works well. Another said it was reliable. And yet another customer wrote simply "Okay."

4.1 out of 5 stars

Garmin inReach Mini, Lightweight and Compact Handheld Satellite Communicator, Orange
  • Small, rugged, lightweight satellite communicator enables two way text messaging using the 100 percentage global Iridium network (satellite subscription required)
  • Trigger an interactive SOS to the 24/7 search and rescue monitoring center (satellite subscription required)
  • Access downloadable maps, U.S. NOAA charts, color aerial imagery and more by using the free Garmin Earthmate app and compatible devices
  • Optional inReach weather forecast service provides detailed updates directly to your inReach Mini or paired device; basic and premium weather packages available
  • Send and receive inReach messages through compatible Garmin devices, including connected wearables and handhelds.Display resolution:128 x 128 pixels

Last in our hunt for the best satellite phone is the Garmin inReach Mini. Now, this isn't a full satellite phone. It is a satellite communicator, as Garmin calls it. Which means it can't make or receive phone calls but sends and receives SMS messages instead. We included this rugged little device because we think it could be the future of satellite communications. That's thanks to Bluetooth connectivity, which pairs it to a smartphone and allows you to send messages via satellite from your iPhone or Android.

The little inReach Mini uses the Iridium network, but because you're only sending messages, you pay one-tenth of the cost of making voice calls. And it comes with Garmin's excellent GPS software, so you can message people while navigating through unknown terrain. A one-touch emergency broadcast button will come in handy if you get into trouble somewhere. Finally, this device can tell you the weather, thanks to Garmin's huge satellite network.

The inReach Mini is a decent saving over some of its bigger cousins. Customers gave it 4.1 out of 5 stars, with everyone praising the Bluetooth connection to their smartphones. That allows them to navigate using GPS and to send and receive text messages easily. Unfortunately, the device received some complaints because it doesn't connect to older iPhones. The inReach Mini uses the newer Bluetooth 2.0 protocol, and anything older than an iPhone 5s is going to experience connection issues.

Which One Is the Best?

Product

Details

Rating

Price

Satellite Phone Store IsatPhone 2 Satellite Phone

Network
Inmarsat

Build
Matte black finish and elongated body

Display
Color screen

Features
Rugged
IP65 shock, dust, and water resistant
Save contacts, set ringtones
GPS tracking

Temperature Capability
-4 to 131 degrees F

4.9 out of 5.0

BlueCosmo Iridium Extreme Satellite Phone

Network
Iridium

Build
Box with a black and white screen
Treaded rubber casing

Features
Built-in GPS
Pre-loaded global map
Emergency broadcast button
IP65 vibration, shock, dust, and rain resistant

3.4 out of 5.0

BlueCosmo Iridium 9555 Satellite Phone

Network
Iridium

Build
Rubberized casing
Green and black screen
Vintage number pad

Features
Send SMS
Receive phone calls
Transmit short emails
Illuminated weather-resistant keypad

Temperature Capability
14 to 131 degree F

3.9 out of 5.0

Garmin inReach Mini

Network
Iridium

Build
Rugged little device

Features
Sends and received SMS
Bluetooth connectivity
GPS technology
One-touch emergency broadcast button
Weather forecast

4.1 out of 5.0

You've learned about the four best phones you can find, and now you want to know which one is the single best satellite phone you can buy. In our review, we can confidently say that the iSatPhone 2 is the single best satellite phone you can buy right now. Not only does this phone look modern and sleek, but it performs exceptionally well. It can take punishment, and you can depend on it to work every time. We loved that it has an amazingly high customer satisfaction rating. Also, the price is very good for such a great device. Compared to the Iridium options, you can save a bunch of money, especially if you find it on sale.

Our favorite runner-up to the iSatPhone 2 is the Garmin inReach Mini, which is an all-around useful device that anybody can use. While it may not be a pure phone in the traditional sense, it represents the direction that satellite phones are sure to take. Also, it is a whole lot cheaper than any satellite phone.

What do you think? Which of these phones would you consider buying? Let us know in the comments!

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