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Using our Iridium Go! with Predict Wind

Matt's Techie Thursday: A Review of our Iridium Go!

We’ve had our Iridium Go! since leaving the Chesapeake in October and I thought I would share my experiences with it what I’ve learned.
Go! unit mounted in the saloon. Notice the tiny, delicate adapter cable!
We bought our unit through PredictWind (we already had a PW account) and it came with the external antenna. Installing the antenna was a challenge on our boat: you need a clear view of the sky, but they say not to put it up the mast. It has a HUGE, thick cable (available in several lengths) that if you cut, you will need to order specialty connectors for. As a result, when we installed it we had to drill a pretty massive hole to get the cable and connector through. This wouldn’t bother me so much except that the massive cable then goes to a tiny, delicate adapter to plug into the Go! What’s up with that? Other reviews I have read say that marine users really must use the external antenna and PW’s setup instructions indicate that without the unit showing a full signal it may be so slow as to be unusable. I haven’t done much experimentation without the external antenna, but my guess is it makes a huge improvement and the Go! wouldn’t work at all from down below or from in our cockpit. 
Antenna mounted (the best we could do!) on our davits. It should probably have a clearer view of the sky and I wish it didn't cast a shadow on the solar panels!
The package also came with a wall mount, which I thought would be good since it would allow me to mount at my nav station. Well, if you wind the tiny, delicate adapter around the back of the wall mount, using the handy channels that are moulded into the plastic mount, you are going to crimp the tiny, delicate adapter and loose signal quality. It took me a lot of Googling to figure that out! Keeping the adapter as straight as possible and not bending it sharply does appear to have helped. 

In day to day normal life (that is, anywhere you have a cell signal!) the Go! is basically useless. It does’t get turned on. PW provides a tracking page, which is neat, and if you have it set up it sends a GPS position via text and you get a website. I do turn it on for that, just because I can. 

While cruising the Bahamas, we use the Go! to receive weather forecasts from PW and to make voice calls to family. The phone service works well, but there is a lag making it seem like an overseas call from a few decades ago. Once you get used to that, call quality is pretty good.

If this review is starting to sound overly negative, my apologies. No one buys the Go! to use at a marina in the city. They buy it to cross oceans. 

Iridium provides two apps to use from your iPhone or iPad with the Go!: one is strictly for voice and texts, which works great. The other app is for email, web access, weather, Facebook, and Twitter. Eail loads your myiridium.net email, and it works fine for basic text email. I’ve used it in conjunction with SailDocs to subscribe to NOAA text weather forecasts. You can send tiny pictures. Don’t get excited about “Web Access”: this isn’t Al Gore’s internet! It’s slow slow slow. Until just yesterday (that’s about 6 months after first getting the Go!) I got all the settings just right and was able to load a few text only websites and do a simple Google search. You MUST use the Opera Mini web browser and have “Load Images” turned off. Nothing else will work at all. The Iridium weather app is surprisingly good, and can download forecasts for a specific GPS coordinate and includes wind and wave data. Facebook and Twitter are simple interfaces that allow you to send out a status update or tweet, nothing more. 

As an example of the speeds you can expect with the Go!, if I go to load cnn.com (no images, just text) it will take about 3 minutes to load. 

Using PredictWind with the Go! is worthy of it’s own blog post. The regular PW app for iPhone/iPad (which I love!) does not work on slow connections: you must use the PW Offshore app. I dislike this app enough to say that I avoid using it. The primary reason is because it doesn’t download the GRIB weather data directly. Instead, it sends a request email to the Iridium Mail app, which you then open and send. You then check the email again, receive 3-4 emails from PW containing the data, and open the data back in the Offshore app. 

Luckily, the PW Offshore app for my Macbook is fabulous. It’s the only app I know of that works from a laptop directly to the Go! (everything else is for a mobile device, iOS or Android). It’s got a nice user interface, and downloads the data you request directly. When offshore (or just out of cell phone data coverage) this is how we get weather 3-4 times per day. It works great. 

When we bought the Go! it was a choice between a full-on SSB radio setup or the Go!. The SSB was going to be around $5000 by the time the radio, antennas, tuner were included, and then a major ordeal to install. The Iridium Go! set us back $1200 for the equipment, including extra antenna mounts I had to buy from West Marine to make it all work on my boat…but there is the monthly bill. I am currently paying $127/month for 150 minutes of voice and unlimited data and texts. There are cheaper plans, but data is measured by the minute (not by the MB or GB like a cell phone) so I think they could get pretty costly pretty fast when it can take 15-20 minutes to download the GRIBs for an offshore update. You can downgrade or upgrade your account anytime, which is nice. Billing is a bit unusual in that it is 1st of the month to 1st of the month, so if it’s the 15th you can’t change anything until the first. It also means that if you receive the unit on the 27th, you best wait until the 1st to start service or those 3 days will cost you a whole month!

The good:
  • Works anywhere and can be easily taken with you off of the boat.
  • PW Offshore app on a Mac laptop, lovely!
  • Phone, text and email all work well.
  • Cheaper initial setup compared to SSB.
The bad:

  • Slow, slow, slow data
  • Delicate antenna adapter seems to affect signal quality.
  • Expensive monthly bill.
  • Weird billing compared to cell phones…1st to 1st of the month.
  • PW Offshore apps for iPhone/iPad.  <--- See update below! :)
How do you stay connected while on the go? 

UPDATE: In early 2017 Predict Wind released an update to their iOS Offshore apps which allows for direct downloads from the iPad/iPhone. The app works well and is much more like the laptop experience for the end user...kudos to Predict Wind! I highly recommend PW for excellent customer service and improvements.

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2 comments

  1. We have an unlocked SSB aboard with a Pactor modem for receiving Weather Fax and/or sending email. But we haven't really used the setup since leaving New Zealand. Now we just tether our phone to the laptop for weather and all the rest. But we like to sail in remote areas so, more often than not, we rely on the VHF reports -- pretty low-tech, really.

    Stephanie @ SV CAMBRIA

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    1. Low-tech can be pretty awesome, especially when it keeps on working no matter what the conditions! We can only get VHF reports in the Bahamas near Nassau, which seems a little sad - it would be great if there were local stations repeating the weather. We have an SSB receiver only that will get a weather report if the propagation allows. It's never straightforward!

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