Zoleo Satellite Communicator Review

We tested the Zoleo Satellite Communicator and this is our verdict.

November 30, 2023
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Zoleo Satellite Communicator is a satellite messaging and SOS device that runs on the Iridium global satellite network. Zoleo offers seamless switching between satellite, cellular, and Wi-Fi which enables the user to conveniently continue conversations on the mobile app once back in service without eating away at your monthly plan.

Product Overview

Zoleo Satellite Communicator

zoleo satellite communicator
Pros

✅ Less expensive than competing devices

✅ Seamless messaging experience

✅ Dedicated phone number

✅ Runs on Iridium satellite network

✅ Medical assist feature

Cons

❌ Micro-USB charging port

❌ Limited messaging without a connected phone

❌ Lacks advanced tracking or mapping features

❌ No group messaging

KEY SPECS

  • Size: 3.6 x 2.6 x 1.1 inches
  • Weight: 5.3 ounces
  • Water-resistance rating: IPX8
  • Battery type: Lithium Ion
  • Average battery life: 200 hours+
  • Charging time: 2 hours using 1.5 A charger
  • Monthly plan cost: $20, $35 or $50

Zoleo is an increasingly popular satellite communication device. While still not as popular on the trail as the Garmin inReach Mini 2, it has some great features and retails for half the price. I’ve been using Zoleo for a couple of years now and have been extremely happy with its performance, reliability, and ease of use. In this article, I’ll share what you need to know about Zoleo and hopefully help you decide if the device is right for you or not.

To compare with other satellite messengers, see our best personal locator beacons and satellite messengers post.


Performance Test Results

How We Tested:

I’ve used a Zoleo device on several thru-hikes over the last few years including the Colorado Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and Hayduke Trail. The device has proven to be easy to use, reliable, effective at transmitting messages in all types of terrain (as long as you have a clear view of the sky), and durable enough to withstand months of use on the trail.

Device Functions

The Zoleo system uses a physical device which is then paired to the Zoleo app on your phone for full functionality. The Zoleo device weighs 5.3 ounces and features IP68 dust and water resistance, as well as MIL-STD 810G shock resistance. The device has 2 physical buttons, one for sending an emergency SOS and another for a standard check-in message.

There are 4 LED lights and audible tones that keep the user informed of messaging and power status. The built-in Lithium-Ion battery has a life of up to 200 hours and is rechargeable via a micro-USB port (which hopefully will be upgraded to USB-C sometime in the near future).

zoleo-satellite-communicator-close-up-feature

The Zoleo device boasts shock-, dust-, water-resistant and a Lithium-ion battery with up to 200 hours of life.

Mobile App

While the physical device, as mentioned above, does have the ability to send SOS and check-in messages, the true power of Zoleo is not unlocked until downloading the iPhone or Android app. With the paired app you can take full advantage of Zoleo’s superior messaging abilities.

Upon device activation, you’ll be assigned a phone number. Having a dedicated device phone number allows friends and family to easily get in touch with you, simply by texting as they normally would.

zoleo-satellite-communicator-weather-and-gps-app

Messaging

In the Zoleo app, you’ll see all of your messaging conversations laid out in a standard and modern format. Messaging is easy and effortless. One of the great things about Zoleo is the seamless messaging experience. Once you are out of the woods and back into cell service or Wi-Fi, messages will be delivered and sent without satellite, meaning you won’t burn through the limited satellite messages included in your monthly plan.

zoleo-satellite-communicator-close-up

Upon switching to cellular or Wi-Fi connections, Zoleo offers a handy messaging platform that lets users send messages without the need for a satellite.

SOS Alert

While the seamless messaging experience is the highlight of the app, there are also many other features. Of course, you can send an automated check-in message (with location) to your pre-assigned contacts.

You can also initiate an SOS if in an emergency situation. The app enables you to stay in constant contact with emergency providers to stay up to date on the status of your rescue. A unique feature of Zoleo is Medical Assist. This can be used to get in touch with a medical professional, 24/7, in a non-emergency situation.

zoleo-satellite-communicator-sos-app

Zoleo's Medical Assist feature allows users to contact a healthcare professional for non-emergency medical issues at any time.

Weather Forecasts

Lastly, weather forecasts are available and powered by AerisWeather. The forecast location can be changed in the app. Each forecast includes daily weather for 5 days and hourly weather for 44 hours with conditions, temperature, wind speed and bearing, expected precipitation, and precipitation type.

zoleo-satellite-communicator-strapped-outside-the-bag

Attaching Zoleo on my Mountainsmith Zerk 40 backpack.

Price

Of course, you’ll need a monthly plan to use Zoleo. Current plans are $25 for 25 messages, $35 for 250 messages, and $50 for unlimited messages. All plans include unlimited check-in and SOS messages. As mentioned above, messages received or sent via cellular or Wi-Fi won’t count toward your monthly allotment.

GPS

A feature called Location Share+ is also available for an additional $6 per month. This includes a rather basic tracking feature that will mark your location (at specified intervals) and use the waypoints to create a breadcrumb trail on a map that can be shared with pre-selected contacts.

zoleo-satellite-communicator-close-up-micro-usb-c

Micro-USB power connector.


Zoleo vs. Garmin inReach Mini 2

So how does Zoleo compare to the industry standard Garmin inReach Mini 2, and which one should you buy? I believe it comes down to two things - messaging and mapping. If you are looking for a superior messaging experience, go with Zoleo. If you are looking for fully featured mapping and tracking tools, go with the inReach.

The messaging experience is superior on the Zoleo featuring a dedicated phone number, a modern messaging app, and seamless switching between satellite/cellular/Wi-Fi. The inReach does not have a dedicated phone number, nor does it offer messaging over cellular or Wi-Fi. However, the inReach does allow group messaging, a surprising shortcoming of the Zoleo.

zoleo-satellite-communicator-close-up-feature

Both Zoleo and Garmin offer tracking and mapping, but the inReach is far superior. Zoleo users can share a rather rudimentary breadcrumb trail that saves waypoints to a map at specified intervals, but Garmin users have a much more professional and advanced feature set available including fully featured tracking and trip logging.

The inReach does have another advantage: the ability to do almost everything without a connected phone, although this can often be tedious with the tiny screen and confusing menus. The inReach is also nearly 2 ounces lighter than the Zoleo but double the price. In conclusion, Zoleo is a great choice for those looking for a relatively inexpensive satellite device that is focused on a high-quality messaging experience.

zoleo-satellite-communicator-close-up-feature

Zoleo offers a superior messaging experience with a dedicated phone number, a modern app, and seamless switching between networks.


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About Mike Windsor

Mike is a thru-hiker with 8,000+ miles under his belt as of 2023. If not on trail you might find him at home in Oregon, exploring in his Chevy Campervan, or enjoying his newfound love of skiing

somewhere out west. Check him out on YouTube.

About Greenbelly

After thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Chris Cage created Greenbelly to provide fast, filling and balanced meals to backpackers. Chris also wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail.

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