IsatPhone Pro image

Review of IsatPhone Pro compared with Iridium 9555

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…Review of IsatPhone Pro

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.

More info > renting an Iridium satellite phone
More info > purchasing an Iridium satellite phone

28 thoughts on “Review of IsatPhone Pro compared with Iridium 9555

  1. Alex M

    It was interesting to read how the gentleman requested Isatphone replacement because it drained the battery in 4 days. Read the instructions, people! 4 days is its specified stand-by time, jeez… Iridium has mere one day (30 hours) stand-by time. If you want to save the battery – turn the phone off.

  2. Snowmaneasy

    Have just returned from Ross Island Antarctica to New Zealand…Iridium 9555 worked perfectly during the whole trip…was able to switch the phone on…rx any messages and switch it off…no cost for this. Calls were clear and cost about $1 per minute. So if you need a phone anywhere in the Arctic/Greenland/Svalbard or Antarctica go for the Iridium 9555….

  3. Kari

    I am the manager of two land based projects in remote parts of Oaxaca, Mexico. I have read the reviews, but would still like to know if the IsatPhone Pro might perform better inland than out in the open ocean? Could anyone tell me. Thanks, Kari

    1. Tren

      Kari, this may help you, take a read of this:

      In summary though, the phones should work everywhere, the main factor behind performance would be ‘line of sight’. All the information is contained in the link anyway…

      Hope you get on ok. Any other questions do not hesitate to contact us.

  4. waqas

    we are having some problem in isat reagrdin gps position sending throun text message plz tell me its procedure.

  5. Steven

    I bought a isatphonepro 6 months ago and recently discovered whilst crossing the Malacca strait that it does not switch on i only get a blank white screen. I am busy contacting the dealer.Has any one else experienced similar problems?

    1. david

      have same blank white screen on my isatphone pro . did you solve problem with yours ??

  6. James Grove

    I have used Iridium and BGAN and Thuraya networks,

    Iridium is very very expensive and with the current exchange rate and handset cost it is not good value for money.

    BGAN works very well because the aerials are wider and i have used internet and voice no problem at all.

    It would seem from the reports i have read here and elsewhere that the isatphonepro struggles on the open ocean, this is mainly due to aerial pointing and the narrow spot beams used by inmarsat. Pointing the aerial is critical to getting a lock, you don’t need this with iridium because the birds are overhead and not that far away!

    In the UK the Iridium phones are over twice as much as the isatphonepro and the calls are twice as much. Thats why the isatphonepro is selling so well. Thuraya has a good subscriber base as well but the handsets recently went up in price but they work very well in there coverage area and also the HPA works well.

  7. john h

    Anyone used an IsatPhone pro in Southern/central Africa? Planning a trip there and was debating Iridium/Isat. Use would be weekly calls to family plus any emergency use. Data use nice but not essential for this trip.

    Any advice…?

    Cheers, J

  8. Jonathan S.

    Thanks for these reviews. I sold my 9555 with the intention of upgrading to the Iridium Extreme, but was tempted to save some money and go with the Isatphone Pro instead. I’m thinking I’ll stick with Iridium now, as the new handset appears to bring the line up to date. Also, in the 9 years I’ve been using Iridium, I’ve found the service to be reliable worldwide, and I wouldn’t want to give that up for an unknown quantity.

  9. Jonathan S.

    Thanks for these reviews. I sold my 9555 with the intention of upgrading to the Iridium Extreme, but was tempted to save some money and go with the Isatphone Pro instead. I’m thinking I’ll stick with Iridium now, as the new handset appears to bring the line up to date. Also, in the 9 years I’ve been using Iridium, I’ve found the service to be reliable worldwide, and I wouldn’t want to give that up for an unknown quantity.

  10. Simon Pellerin

    I use an iridium 9555 at work. The sound quality is from just OK to very poor. We are also using inmarsat’s network for internet access and as a fixed phone location, with very good results, both for data and voice.

    For personal use, I had to get a phone for occasional voice and email use only. I’ve been using an iSatPhone Pro for 4 months now. Voice quality is excellent. Works very well everytime, once registered on the network. Yes, registering on the network takes up to 2 minutes each time and the phone can be picky about how the antenna is pointed while registering on the network, especially through tree cover.

    The BGAN at work is much more forgiving with that regard, but the antena is much bigger, so this is to be expected.

    The iSatphone Pro is what I was expecting, and people who say it does not work reliably probably are not familiar with the requirements of pointing an antenna toward the satellite. I have good experience with the BGAN at work, and the iSatphone Pro is just the same. Once on the network, you can resume walking around with no problem.

    The main issue I noticed is that it will NOT work close to other strong emitters, like active radar arrays found on some large vessels or at major airports, or in some ports with military installations nearby.

    For the cost, there is at the moment nothing that beats the practicality of the iSatphonePro. Would I buy this again, certainly. I would love a small BGAN installation for my personnal use, but the cost of the receiver and usage is too high to be justifiable. If cost and portability is not an issue, I would recommend a BGAN receiver with a RJ11 phone hook up over the iSatphone Pro. You get access to the same reliable network with much better connectivity and throughput, but at a higher operation cost.

  11. Victor

    Thanks for all the reviews. I think I have heard all I need to to decide on the Iridium 9555. If you need the phone, you want it to work, always.

  12. Jan Wouters

    We have used the Iridium phone (9505) during our yacht deliveries for many years. We’ve always been happy with the phone, but as the Iridium’s screen packed up last year and could not be repaired, we were in the market for a new satellite phone. This was around the same time that Inmarsat launched their new IsatPhone Pro. The deal could not be ignored as the phone’s price was less than half than a new Iridium. Inmarsat also claimed that their coverage is the same as Iridium’s (minus the polar regions). So we bought the IsatPhone Pro and have since then used it on two yacht deliveries. One from the Caribbean to Australia and on another from Martinique to Portugal.

    Our findings are as follows:

    1) On numerous occasions the phone stopped working and switched off, sometimes while just ‘on’, other times while in the middle of composing a text message or while phoning.
    2) A few hundreds miles off Panama in the Caribbean Sea the phone refused to send text messages. We phoned the provider’s telephone number we found on the phone only to give up after a few days of expensive phone calls. After a week or so the phone all of a sudden worked again.
    3) On arrival in the Marquises the phone didn’t work anymore; ‘no network found’. We blamed this on the high mountain we were anchored under. 2 days after leaving the island the phone still didn’t work, but did start working again on the 3rd day more than 300nm away from the islands. Is the area around the Marquises not covered by the IsatPhone Pro?
    4) Two hundred miles SE of Tonga the phone again did not find a network. It was not our intention to stop in Tonga, but we were now obliged to alter our course and sail into harbour. Christmas was approaching and we could not leave the yachts’ owner or our families without our where-a-bouts for the time it would take to reach Australia. This also meant extra expenses and missing New Year in Sydney as the incident and the detour caused a time delay.
    5)Similar problems with the phone occurred on the delivery trip from Martinique to Portugal especially with sending sms’s and establishing a connection in the middle of the Atlantic, an area that should be covered.

    On the PLUS:
    The phone is lighter, more user-friendly, looks better and has a very practical built-in GPS.
    But the MINUS:
    * The phone is completly unreliable for professionals that use it in their work environment. The phone too often switches off or fails to get a connection;
    * I doubt that the phone has a truly global coverage. We had no network around the Marquises and Tonga Island. Yes, they are far removed from the polar region but we were told that all other areas are covered.

    So to all those in the market for a new phone, you only buy a satellite phone to use it when you have to. Your life might depend on it. I would suggest the following – don’t bother with the IsatPhone Pro, it doesn’t do the job properly. Pay a bit more and stick with Iridium.

    1. Doc Jones

      I’ve used Inmarsat for 15 years. We often travel to remote locations. In addition, we spend a lot of time traveling by ship. Our experiences with the Inmarsat system has been that it is incredibly reliable, not withstanding environmental issues. Having said all of that, hand held satphones all have issues with call quality, consistency in connection etc. Not to mention the level of radiation being emitted near your skull. For me, the Inmarsat network works fine. I’ve used iridium in the past. I would get frustrated and purchase some iridium gear, only to realize that the network is more designed for the rolex crowd and not for hard hat austere conditions crowd.

  13. jmbrowning

    My personal experience with the iSatphone Pro is markedly different from the reviewer’s. I found that maintaining contact with the I-4 geostationary bird over N. America was easier than keeping in touch with the many low earth orbit sats that Iridium relies on. This may be due to the fact that the 70+ Iridium sats are constantly moving in relation to the handset and require a handoff to another bird to maintain the call. This may not be a big deal if the call is only a few minutes long, but if the data/voice transmission is more than several minutes, I was not surprised if Iridium dropped my connection.

    Time to connection with the network in my experience and location was similar to Iridium and was less than a minute.

    The option of bluetooth was really genius as I could leave the handset still on its side and still make voice calls and use my hands (the wired headsets make it difficult to do anything useful).

    The interface is very similar to a standard GSM phone (particularly call management options) and I particularly found the contacts management to be especially useful as I probably use asynchronous SMS/email from the handset as much voice.

    Part of the GPS requirement has to do with I-4 optimizing its connection with the handset, but in the US it also determines whether prepaid SIM cards can be used (patent dispute only allows prepaid outside of US territorial waters 12 mi).

    The biggest plus for me was the total cost of ownership compared with Iridium, both in handset and plan pricing. For less than the cost of the other i*Phone, I was able to purchase the Inmarsat handset and rollover minutes plan. This for me meant that I would be able to purchase my sat phone rather than having to arrange for rentals everytime I needed/wanted it.

    As a result, I now have the ability to carry a satphone on excursions when I would previously done without, offroading, day cruising, hiking, fish/hunt, etc.

    The Inmarsat solution has worked for me and I think it will significantly broaden the userbase of satellite phone service more than anything previously.

    My reservations regarding the impartiality of the review would have been ameliorated somewhat if the reviewer offered the iSatphone Pro for rental/sale in addition to the Iridium.

  14. Ben Rogers


    Can I ask where you get this information about the power available and how Inmarsat concentrates it’s beams?

    What are is a “commercial sat phone terminal” if not an Isatphone?

  15. Siddarth Grewal

    Totally agree with you. I have been sailing across the globe with this phone. I have even made an excel spreedsheet that tells me the exact elevation and azimuth of the satellite using spherical trignometry but am disappointed as i cannot just stand in one place for quarter of an hour waiting for it to log on to make a 5 min call. using firmware ver 4.0.0. mostly used it in bluetooth mode but seems the phone finds signal when it wants and not when the user wants. Planning to go in for iridium, might be a few dollars more but when deployed it does the job a sat phone is meant to do. not talk for hours but get the message accross.

    Bottom line is inmarsat concentrates their satellite beam where there is max traffic so the the power available for the users is not sufficient. the 3 satellites they are using for the isatphone pro are the same which are used to restore connectivity for commercial sat phone terminals before these terminals can be used with the 4 main satellites. it would be a true inmarsat phone once it can use these 4 main satellites.

  16. Don

    Just got mine, after the Iridium crapped out after getting water in it (my expensive mistake). I will mainly be using it to keep in contact with family while hiking/camping in the SE USA. There were deep dark holes where even the iridium wouldn’t reach here in Georgia. My first turn on of the Inmarsat pro got a GPS fix in about a minute and the first call was of Iridium (modulated) quality. We’ll soon see how it works in the Cohutta Wilderness.

  17. Ricardo

    My ISATPHONE PRO works 100%. I do not have problems to send SMS e-mail and phone calls. I’m not crazy to spend a fortune on the IRIDIUM.

  18. Arne

    I have problems with the phone.. Will not send SMS nor will it send emails.. They ensured me that this phone would do these things but even with the support no-one can fix this issue.. I am going to chuck it into the rubbish bin and get an Iridium 9555… You get what you pay they say

  19. Michael

    Thank you for testing and reported. I have a 9505a for emergency purposes and thought about the iSatPhone simply for the lower annual costs. After your report and those that have left feedback, I will stick with my more expensive but always working Iridium 9505a.

  20. Randy Kerr

    UPDATE #2: iSatPhone #3 arrived from UK after it was promised to be hand-tested. And yet again, out of box unit would NOT send SMS or EMAIL. Had to change config setting myself (again) to get EMAIL working. TXT does not, and #3 has a new feature of not logging outbound msgs in the sent box. Could not confirm whether this phone could received EMAIL/TXT after waiting 40 minutes before giving. So this iSatPhone is being returned and have requested now #4 to be shipped. I can’t believe others aren’t having issues since I’m now 3 for 3 units all with different problems per phone. Are there any owners out there that were able to send/receive TXT/EMAIL out of the box, or with your own mods? Pls, add your comments. It’s not clear that even Inmarsat knows how to get these units to work. I’m now at day 89 in trying to resolve this.

  21. Randy Kerr

    UPDATE: 6 days after posting the above comment, the commercial mgr of Inmarsat contacted me to help resolve. Phone #2 was sent, with latest firmware 3.0.5a but even so was still unable to email/SMS. Battery issue appears solved. After correcting config settings myself, email worked, but outbound SMS does not despite 5 more email exchanges with support. Now Phone #3 is being shipped from UK supposedly tested for all features. Will update once received.

  22. Randy Kerr

    My iSatPhone Pro arrived Aug 17. Usability is mediocre (UI is like an old Nokia). Phone and SMS worked fine, but email never worked. Then discovered battery would completely drain when stowed only after 4 days. Dealer sent a replacement battery, but same problem. Was finally told a firmware update was req’d from dealer. Firmware software completely successfully, then froze phone into a brick. Returned unit for repair. 2 weeks sitting @ repair facitiliy , no word. Dealer had to hound Inmarsat for replacement which is supposedly on way.

    Bottom line, 2 months after purchase I still don’t have a working proper iSatPhone Pro. Maybe more recent units have issues resolved in firmware, dunno, but I for one have lost confidence in Inmarsat’s ability/interest to provide support. Eager for competitors to catch up with comparable handset and pricing plans.

  23. Frank Goelo

    It’s really a cheap piece of JUNK and I may well return mine and get something better, if more expensive…

    Not only is it cheaply built and ill-fitted, but the display is totally UNREADABLE in bright sunlight, where one is supposed to be standing for a direct line of sight to the satellites…

    Very disappointing after all the pre-launch hoopla…

  24. Richard Bajakian

    This comparison doesnt mention the big difference in price between the Iridium and the much less expensive Inmarsat phone. Service plans and minutes purchased are a fraction of what Iridium charges. The performance may be a little less but the price for it is substantially less.

  25. Dennis Lillee

    You talk about the logging on time and then “Another problem with the logging-on process is that it has to get a GPS fix” as if the two should be added together but quite clearly the extended log on time is because of the GPS fix.

    Secondly, maybe it is intentionally designed so that it can not be stood on it’s end, forcing the user to place it in a much more stable position on it’s side.

    Are you by any chance left-handed? as I find the recess created by deploying the antenna to be a comfortable grip.

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