Two-way messaging is carried out via the free Zoleo app on your smartphone. This approach ensures sending a message is very easy (no fiddling with tiny hardware buttons or trying to use a tiny screen), and works in exactly the same way you send an SMS or WhatsApp message.
At the press of a button, you can also send a ‘check-in’ message, which informs a list of pre-set contacts that you are safe. This message automatically embeds a GPS location tag for your loved-ones to check too. You can ‘check-in’ via the app or a hardware button on the exterior of the device.
Zoleo’s ‘Location Share+’ service – which costs £4.50 per month as an add-on – enables users to share their location with their check-in contacts, on a user-selected interval from every six minutes to four hours. Zoleo users and check-in recipients will then be able to use the free Zoleo app to view the current location and breadcrumb trail on a map. Zoleo users can start and stop location sharing at any time, and also download maps for use offline.
In the unlikely event of a genuine emergency, Zoleo provides SOS emergency alerting with 24/7 monitoring and progress reports. You can raise the alarm by pressing the SOS button in the Zoleo app, or – if your phone battery has died – you can press the hardware button located on the Zoleo device itself. The hardware SOS button features a cover flap, which prevents any accidental pressing.
Unlike other PLB devices, Zoleo provides what is describes as the “industry’s first progressive SOS”, providing an injured party with “timely status updates throughout your emergency via the free app” and ensuring an “unmatched peace of mind for you and for everyone waiting at home”. The SOS function works worldwide, sending an alert to Global Rescue – a 24/7 emergency monitoring service which will liaise with local rescue teams and launch a rescue operation.
Other Features & Specifications
Zoleo describes its design as “durable, dust-resistant and water-resistant, with a long-lasting battery”. The battery will last for 200 hours with message checking set to every 12 minutes, for example, while the water resistance rating is IP68. The battery, which is charged via a micro-USB cable in two hours (using a 1.5A plug), is a rechargeable internal lithium-ion battery than can operate between -20C and 55C, and be charged between 0C and 45C.
Compatible accessories (sold separately) enable the Zoleo be secured to a backpack, belt, or in a vehicle, vessel, or cabin, so you can rely on it wherever you go. Another nifty feature is that you can access up-to-date and detailed weather forecasts for your location within the app.
Subscriptions & Cost
A subscription is required to use the Zoleo. Three plans are available – ‘basic’ at £18 per month, ‘in touch’ for £32 (including 250 satellite messages) and ‘unlimited’ for £58 (unlimited satellite messages).
The device – which has been sold in USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand for several years, but has only recently been launched in the UK, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark – costs £209 including free shipping. You can buy it here.
I’ve used the Zoleo for six months on expeditions in the UK and abroad, and it has provided peace of mind for my friends and family back at home. When I was adventuring in the Accursed Mountains of Albania, I was totally off-grid with no mobile coverage, but I was still able to have text conversations with my girlfriend back in the UK. Using the free Zoleo app, this was as simple and intuitive as sending a WhatsApp message. At the touch of a button, I was also able to ‘check in’ (send an ‘all is well’ message to my pre-set contacts, including a GPS location) or share a live breadcrumb trail of my location for friends and family to follow along. This all worked perfectly during a night at Dubs Hut bothy in the Lake District too – I had no mobile coverage or 4G/5G, but I could still send messages via satellite and check up-to-date weather notifications using the Zoleo app.
Thankfully I haven’t had to press the SOS button – in the event you do so, an alert is sent to Global Rescue (a 24/7 emergency monitoring service) and a mountain rescue operation is triggered. One potential drawback with the app-based approach is that some functionality is lost if your phone battery dies. Zoleo have tackled this by providing hardware buttons on the device for the SOS and ‘check in’ function, meaning they can be operated without access to app.
The price-point is very competitive compared to the Garmin inReach Mini 2 – it’s £141 cheaper – while the £32 monthly subscription for satellite messaging is on par with other brands.