One of the biggest challenges that travelers often face is how to stay in contact with one another while visiting foreign countries and remote destinations. Purchasing SIM cards or cell phone plans can be confusing and expensive for many people, and coverage can be spotty at times as well. But a new product called goTenna looks to change all of that by creating a personal cell network that allows users to send messages directly to one another without the need to buy mobile phone service, or even if they are traveling completely off the grid.
And while the product has its limitations, it actually delivers on the promise of facilitating communication just about anywhere.
As the name implies, the goTenna is actually a powerful, portable antenna that you can carry with you where ever you go. The device can be hung from a backpack or belt and when activated it creates a cell network with other goTenna devices that are within range. It then allows users to send text messages to one another using an app for iOS or Android mobile operating systems. The goTenna is sold in pairs so that you and a companion always have one, as one of the limitations hinted at above includes only being able to send messages to others who are using the goTenna too.
Setting up the goTenna couldn't be simpler. Before setting out on a trip, you must first connect your iPhone or Android device to the antenna using Bluetooth wireless technology. The process is incredibly easy, takes just a few seconds, and immediately allows the goTenna app to start sending private, fully encrypted messages to other users on your friends' list. It also gives you the ability to broadcast a message to all other goTenna devices that are within range, which could prove very handy in an emergency situation.
Sending text messaging isn't the only trick the goTenna has up its sleeve. The device can also share your location with others, and overlay that spot on downloadable maps that can be used even while offline. This is handy when you and a friend are trying to find each other while exploring a new city, and once again could be extremely useful in case of emergency too.
The goTenna is powered by its own internal, rechargeable battery, which is good for about 20 hours of stand-by time. That's defined as when the device is listening for incoming messages, but isn't sending any out. That battery life drops accordingly if you use the goTenna to transmit messages more regularly. That said, I found that it still had enough juice to last for a typical day of usage, although you'll probably need to recharge it again overnight.
The other limiting factor for the goTenna is its range. In the city, where there can be a lot of interference on radio channels, you'll be able to communicate with others who are up to a mile away. That isn't particularly far, but it can still be highly useful none the less. In more remote areas, the range of the goTenna extends out to four miles thanks to a lack of interference. This allows users to stray a bit further away from one another without losing contact.
While testing the goTenna I found that it worked exactly as advertised. I was able to seamlessly send messages back and forth between the two devices without a hitch, even across longer distances than the estimated range would indicate. Your mileage will vary in that area of course, but thanks to a handy onscreen delivery notification indicator, you can easily tell whether or not your intended recipient has actually received the text.
Lightweight – yet durable – the goTenna feels like a solid product in your hand. The designers knew that it would be used in remote places or while traveling, so they built it to last. Like any other electronic device, it can be susceptible to damage if not handled properly of course, but I'd feel confident taking it with me anywhere I might go.
As mentioned, the goTenna is sold in pairs for $199. It is available in a variety of colors, and there is even a family pack that includes four antennas for $389. And right now, goTenna is offering About.com readers a $15 discount if they use the promo code ABOUTGOTENNA at checkout.
Find out more at goTenna.com.