Last year we did an extended test with the inReach satellite communicator, an established product from Delorme that Garmin had recently acquired. Overall we liked it, as it offered a relatively affordable and portable way to add some connectivity in the cockpit. Now there’s a new, smaller option: the inReach Mini.
The Mini includes most of the same features as its larger cousins, the SE+ and Explorer+ models. This includes:
- Global coverage at any altitude via the Iridium satellite network
- Two-way text messaging
- SOS messaging, monitored by a 24/7 service
- Flight tracking for friends and family
- Built-in GPS
The biggest difference between the Mini and the Explorer+ we reviewed last year is the screen. The larger model has a large keypad and a bright color screen, so it’s truly a standalone device. You can carry it in the cockpit and never pull out your phone, because the screen shows a moving map and the keys make it pretty easy to compose messages. The Mini can operate on its own but it really requires a mobile device (either a phone or tablet) for best performance – the keys are limited and the screen is much smaller.
In our opinion, this is hardly an issue for pilots. While it might be nice to leave your phone in your backpack on a hike, during flight it’s likely your tablet will be out anyway. And the inReach easily connects to the Garmin Pilot app for in-flight communications. Just pair it via Bluetooth, then open Garmin Pilot and go to the Connext page. From there you can import your contact list, compose custom messages, and receive new ones – all without having to open a separate app. The GPS in the inReach can also serve as a position source for Garmin Pilot, so if your tablet doesn’t have a built-in GPS it becomes a two-in-one device.
And what the Mini lacks in screen, it makes up for in convenience. It mesaures less than 4″ tall and 2″ wide, so it can easily clip on a backpack or be stashed in the corner of the dash. It weighs less than 4 ounces but still has a solid battery that will last for 50 hours of tracking. We found ourselves turning on the inReach and then forgetting about it, as all interactions were on our iPad.