There are certain things I’m good—even very good—at learning intuitively. Bicycle and car repair, plumbing and electrical systems, carpentry, leatherwork—these are examples of skills I learned by simple trial and error, or with a book. I picked up adequate welding pretty quickly with some tutoring from Master Brian DeArmon. No “assembly required” toy or piece of furniture has ever given me the slightest trouble.
Sadly, computers, smartphones, GPS units, and similar devices are not among those things. My wife could sit down with a laptop manufactured by Alpha Centaurians who use click language and a base 7 numbering system, mess around with it for about five minutes, then exclaim, “Oh! Okay . . . got it.” Not me—I still struggle with basic keyboard shortcuts on my Mac Air, and the single most frequently uttered line from my desk in our office is, “Honey, can you come here and make this damn thing work?” It’s not that I’m a Luddite—I’m in awe of the new world represented by these tools. I simply have no aptitude for them.
Which, of course, makes me the ideal person to test them. If I can master, say, a GPS unit, it’s a safe bet an average three-year-old can as well. I’m referring here to a three-year-old bonobo.
When I stopped by the Text Anywhere booth at the Outdoor Retailer show last summer, the device on display certainly looked Jonathan-friendly: It had exactly one operating button, for “on” and “off.” (Oh! Okay . . . got it, I thought.) The information claimed one could send and receive text messages from virtually anywhere on earth through the Iridium satellite network (Fantastic, I thought) by synching with a Wi-Fi-equipped smartphone, laptop, or tablet.
Sigh . . . I should have known there’d be a catch. Nevertheless, I asked to take home a unit to test, and arranged with Gary Harder of ROM Communications to walk me through the setup later over the phone.
Unlike some similar devices, the TA uses a web app rather than an OS-specific app, which gives the user more flexibility in the choice of paired devices. Also, critically, it can be activated with a $29.99 monthly rate (which includes 100 text or email messages, each up to 160 characters long), or the account can be idled for $5 per month—extremely handy if, like most people, you only take a few trips per year when satellite messaging would come in handy or essential. The 4 by 4 by 1.5-inch cuboid device works off four available-everywhere AA batteries (alkaline or rechargeable) or an included 12V cigarette-plug adapter. The Iridium satellite network ensures true global coverage, unlike systems reliant on the Globalstar or Inmarsat networks.
I called Gary a few weeks later, and (after teaching me how to use the speaker function on my iPhone: “Oh! Okay . . . got it”), he figuratively held my hand through a sequence most people would do on their own with the quick-start guide included with the device, after setting up an account. I powered up the Text Anywhere on the hood of the Land Cruiser (as with any satellite-dependent system you need a clear view of the sky), found its network on the iPhone, then used Safari to connect to the Text Anywhere site, and add a bookmark for it on the phone’s home screen.
“All right, what now?” I asked.
“That’s it,” he replied.
“Um, say again?”
“That’s it; you’re ready to go. When you want to send a text or email, just power up the device, call up the Wi-Fi on your phone and choose the Text Anywhere network. Then tap the Text Anywhere icon on the home screen, and hit the mail icon. Type in either an email address or a phone number, then type your message. The red status light on the unit stops blinking when the message has been sent successfully. If someone sends you a message while it’s off, it will be stored in the system for five days until you log on again.”
I made a vaguely bonobo-like sound of amazement. Could it possibly be that easy? I hung up, powered everything down, started it up again, and sent a text to Roseann, who was in town (I do have opposable thumbs). A couple of minutes later I got a return text.
Since then I’ve sent and received messages in various locations outside cell range and have yet to have a failure (unlike some devices, the Text Anywhere only connects via satellite, rather than bouncing back and forth between cell and satellite networks). I’m hoping to hang on to the review sample long enough to take it to Africa later this year.
Besides the utter simplicity of use and ease of idling the account, there’s another difference between the Text Anywhere and, for example, the DeLorme inReach or SPOT devices: The Text Anywhere includes no SOS emergency button, so it’s up to you to arrange help by communicating with friends or local emergency services. Frankly that’s fine by me, as it will eliminate expensive false alarms such as the incident we had at last year’s Overland Expo, when a visiting motorcyclist accidentally activated the SOS on his SPOT (he was found by local rescue services having a beer in a Flagstaff pub). Also, while it’s more trouble than hitting a single button, you can arrange far more effective and relevant assistance by making potential rescuers aware of the exact situation. Response might vary considerably depending on whether you’re lying with a broken leg at 16,000 feet on Mount Kenya, or sitting 10,000 feet below with your arm swelling from a puff adder bite.
Mostly the Text Anywhere will simply enable you to keep in touch with friends and family no matter where you are on the planet. Two-way communication means they’ll know you’re okay and you’ll know they’re okay. You can also post to social media to update hundreds of “friends” at a time about your adventures.
After several products have attempted with varying degrees of success to provide global text communication for travelers to remote locations, the Text Anywhere finally has made the concept accessible and simple, even for those of us lacking basic technological aptitude.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go have a banana.
The Text Anywhere is $399 and is compatible with almost all Wi-Fi-enabled devices. An iSE version, compatible only with iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, and iTouch) is $339. Text Anywhere is HERE. (http://www.textanywhere.ca)