on December 1, 2011
If you want a satellite phone in the US, I would say that this should be the only phone to consider. Most other satellite phones do support data connections but wind up functioning only as modems for other devices. For a truly self contained satellite data device, the Genus is just about the only option. Windows Mobile 6.5 may be old, yes, but through some searching you can find the critical software that counts. Between the included e-mail support, SMS (with the same number as cell), most slow bandwidth communications are already covered. Combine that with Google Maps, Skype, AIM, Opera Mobile, which all can be found with some online searching, really you can have connectivity anywhere.
All of the satellite communications from the phone run over IP services, and so voice itself is internally a VOIP service. That said, voice quality is very good over satellite and sounds just as good as 3G cell voice (of course with the quarter second geosync lag, but that's with any geosync satellite...if lag is important maybe look at LEO systems). It's for data where this phone really shines. Texts are stored and forwarded over satellite which can be very helpful for coordination and quick communications. Opera Mobile's server side caching is passable over satellite as long as you have patience and aren't using an ajax dependent site. Having had this phone on multiple backpacking trips now, it is wonderful to be able to see continuously updated weather maps in the wilderness to judge whether it's best to set up camp or try and push on to sunset. Sometimes connectivity does not always need to be a curse. The cellular network reception is also good and frequently will pick up signal in areas where an iPhone will not.
That said, of course like any hardware the Genus does have its faults. On a cell network standby time and battery usage are roughly on par with other smartphones. The satellite communications can be battery hungry and peter out after about 2 hours of voice+data communications, shorter if you're having problems searching for the satellites. If you're on a multiday trip you'll definitely want to carry along a second fully charged battery for each day or a USB charging system like a PowerMonkey. The built in pad antenna can have some signal weaknesses in deep canyons or in really dense forests (like in the Olympics); the increased 60dB from the external antenna definitely does help, especially as you get into the northern US. The built in headphones use a smaller miniature jack and can't connect directly to regular headphones, and I still haven't found an adapter yet. The speakers (both earpiece and external o the back) are on the quiet side. The STMicro ARM CPU is slow which can make using complex apps like Fennec mobile a dicey proposition at best. It does not pair well with bluetooth headsets, at least panasonic and jabra. The external antenna cradle obscures the camera lens, a silly oversight.
Still, if you're already looking at this phone the benefits outweigh those compromises. It is one of the lightest satellite phones, and certainly the only that can be used for data in the wild. The dual mode cell/sat operation is perfect; even if it isn't your primary phone there's enough functionality you can leave your main one at home on trips. This really is the Internet, anywhere, and it can be a very useful thing.
TerreStar has been purchased by Dish Network and has sent along commitments to continue to support and enhance the IP based satellite service. For anyone in the US who either has no reliable cell service or wants to access information in the outdoors, the Genus is a unique lightweight solution that cannot be replicated in any other way.
on August 18, 2011
This device is a fantastic piece of engineering. It is amazing to see a device roughly the size of a blackberry as a fully featured GSM smartphone AND a fully functional satellite phone. Call quality over satellite is crisp and clear (sometimes better than when on GSM), and having access to data for email when I am on satellite is wonderful.
There are only a couple of things I would complain about. First is the fact that it is Windows Mobile 6.5, which perhaps makes this phone the last holdout on that operating system. That said, it does what it needs to do, and it provides good access to my company's Exchange server for email, and a basic web browser. You just aren't going to be playing Angry Birds on it any time soon. The second issue is that it is not a global satellite service. It is wonderful in North America, but you can't use it in the jungle's of Borneo. This is not a problem for me, as most of my explorations are within the United States, but outside normal cell reception locations.
This is the only Satellite phone that I could consider carrying as my "daily" cell phone. The fact that I can maintain a single phone number for use on GSM or satellite is a feature I have not found anywhere else. I highly recommend this phone.