Adventure Curated focuses on remote travel, so we were keen to test the new Zoleo, powered by the Iridium network, on our recent trip to the Kimberley.
What is Zoleo?
Put simply, Zoleo is a multi-featured safety and remote area communication device. In addition, it’s small, has an IP68 rating and weighs just 150 grams. The unit itself offers two key features, SOS and check-in, and further functionality is available when paired to a smartphone using the Zoleo app.
The SOS button sends your need for assistance along with your GPS coordinates to the GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination, which will coordinate your rescue globally.
The check-in tick button sends an SMS to your saved contacts to let them know you’re ok and your current location.
The Zoleo app is available for iOS and Android. It can be used to activate SOS or check-in, plus unlocks messaging and weather. With the Zoleo unit turned on and the app open, pairing will be automatic. The app is a clean and modern interface that’s fast and easy to use.
Messaging is an SMS style interface within the app. Each Zoleo account is issued a dedicated number, and those you’re messaging will receive an SMS from this number, and you’ll receive their replies within the Zoleo app. Messages charged when sent and received over satellite.
The weather button downloads a simple five-day weather forecast for your location. Each weather update is equivalent to one message within the allocation of your plan.
The big question when we review gear is how well it performs in the field. Equipment that’s trip critical is vital to get right, and I believe it’s reasonable to expect the most from companies offering emergency items.
Before testing gear in the field, I’m on the lookout for quality clues. The first thing to note is that Zoleo is on the Iridium network. I’ll talk about coverage in a moment, but the fact that Iridium has partnered with Zoleo is an endorsement of quality.
Secondly is the build quality. Again, while this is entirely subjective, the Zoleo unit seems well made. The design is rugged and simple, and it feels sturdy.
In the Kimberley, we tested the Zoleo unit across three different styles of trips and in locations far from mobile towers and help.
Hiking Piccaninny Gorge, Purnululu National Park
At the start of our recent trip, we did a three-day walk in the World Heritage Listed Purnululu National Park. We hiked up the spectacular Piccaninny Gorge, which we’ll publish a story on soon.
At this point, the Zoleo looked great on paper, felt great in the hands and worked perfectly in the city, so now it was time to see if it worked in the kind of places adventurous people like you like to explore.
So at our first camp, we turned it on, faced the top skywards and connected to the app. We then fetched the weather report, which came up with the latest for Purnululu quickly.
Next, we messaged some friends, and these sent quickly, and the replies came through too. We also pressed the check-in button a few and confirmed these had been delivered to Gen’s phone, the number I had saved, when we returned to reception later on.
We continued to check the weather and send messages on the hike in different gorge areas, and the Zoleo unit delivered as promised.
Canoeing the Ord River (below Lake Argyle)
We again had no mobile reception on our three-day trip canoeing down the Ord River once we paddled downstream from the dam wall.
Zoleo units have a webbing anchor and carabiner, so I clipped this to the drybags on our canoe to allow for testing along the way. While it received a few splashes, it didn’t get too wet, but it is rated to 1.5m/4.9ft for 30 minutes within the IP68 status.
The weather reports continued to fetch, and the test messages we sent also worked without issue.
Overlanding/Touring the Gibb River Road & Mitchell Falls
From this section of our trip, I haven’t got anything additional to report. We continued to fetch weather and send messages, and the Zoleo unit continued to work in more remote areas.
Iridium’s global coverage is unrivalled. I’ve owned an Iridium satellite phone for many years for that reason, and I’m confident that the Zoleo device would work in the places of using my phone over the years.
The RRP at the time of this review is AUD $345. A plan is required to use the device, which is the case for these device types. The entry-level plan is AUD $32 per month and includes 25 messages. Note that each message sent and received, as well as each weather check counts as a message. AUD $55 and AUD $80 plans are also available with higher message inclusions.
Zoleo has just released Location Share+ as AUD $7.95 option. It allows you to automatically share your location as a breadcrumb trail at an interval you choose between every 6 minutes and 4 hours. Unfortunately, this feature was released while we were travelling, so we haven’t tested it.
With extra features, I’d advise being mindful of battery consumption. With the unit being Micro USB chargeable, this isn’t an issue with a vehicle handy, but it’s worth carrying a higher capacity power bank to keep both the Zoleo and your phone charged on hikes. Otherwise, it’s possible to keep it switched off to ensure it’s ready to go should you ever need it.
The Zoleo works as promised, allows you to send out an SOS message, let your loved ones know your ok, coordinate a repair or change in plans by message and check the weather all in a tiny package.
To learn more, visit Zoleo.