Review of IsatPhone Pro: We’ve been waiting to get our hands on one of the new IsatPhone Pro phones for a while. So we were really excited when we finally got delivery of our first handset. Here’s our Technical Manager’s initial findings and comparison with the market leader, the Iridium 9555…
Design and Build Quality
I was disappointed with it’s appearance. Perhaps the hype about its superior ruggedness had made me expect more from it. I’m sure it is adequately rugged, but not impressively so. More “designer label” than business-like. The finish seems rather plasticky and toy-like, and no leather case either. The battery cover doesn’t fit well, and the socket covers are flimsy and will likely break off or at least be damaged to a point where they won’t seal anymore.
It almost seems that the designer had overlooked the fact that the antenna would be up when in use! Because a quarter of the phone is effectively missing when the antenna is extended, the phone feels uncomfortable when held, and it doesn’t stand securely on its end (although it can be stood on its side, to be fair).
Registering on the Network
The logging-on process is very much slower than Iridium (up to 5 minutes compared to around 30 seconds), and its onscreen “help” is confusing too, especially for a first-time user. You are initially instructed to point the antenna vertically upwards (fair enough – quite natural – same as Iridium), but then you’re told to “point the antenna at the satellite” (where the hell is the satellite? there’s no map with it!). It then says that if you don’t get a signal then you should turn yourself by 90 degrees and try again! None of this actually seemed to be really necessary in truth, but the on-screen instructions would still be very off-putting for a novice user.
Another problem with the logging-on process is that it has to get a GPS fix before it can log-on to the satellite (don’t know why), so you have to wait quite a while for it do do this (a number of minutes).
Once it has eventually logged-on the phone does seem to perform pretty well; voice quality seems fine and text messages work. Holding a decent signal whilst moving about though, was far harder than with Iridium. Very small movements effect signal strength dramatically, and any obstruction at all between the phone and the satellite (even a very thin tree branch, a window, or canvas) will cut signal instantly and completely, something that Iridium tends to copes with much better.
From my findings, I can see little to commend it. The only obvious technical improvements over the Iridium 9555 are the color screen and the software, which (with the exception of the logging-on sequence as described above) is admittedly very much more up-to-date and “smartphonelike” than any other satellite phone I’ve seen. However, although welcome, features like these are not at all vital in a satellite phone, and most certainly not if they’re at the expense of dependability, speed of deployment, and reliability of signal, which are clearly absolutely fundamental.
Looking on the bright side however, when we first tested Inmarsat’s Mini-M service in 1997 I was similarly disappointed with it, and for very similar reasons, but within a year the signal strengths had been improved very dramatically (they’d “tuned the spot beams” I believe), and logging-on speeds became acceptable. Iridium too was barely usable when first launched, but was surprisingly reliable within a year or two, and is now almost as dependable a standard cellphone. Assuming this is repeated, and the phone’s awful help screens are improved, then it may become a viable alternative to other services.
In summary; very disappointed, expected a lot more from it. Wouldn’t even dream of buying one until these problems have been addressed.