Much about why I like the Garmin InReach Mini 2 has to do with what I’ve come to loath about the original flavored InReach Mini. This is also true for previous devices – elder cousins and siblings like the handful of FindMeSPOTs and ground-based EPIRBs – because I’ve owned and operated a beacon of one sort or another since the 2009 rescue of Tazul above Alaska Lake in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.
Back then I acquired a device after needing to leave Tazul’s side to get high enough I could get a weak connection from my crappy cell phone to call Search and Rescue. Every time I left him I had to stop putting pressure on his bleeding scalp and I wasn’t certain how much more blood he had to lose. The satellite connection mostly obviates that problem.
Since then my family and I have used these devices to communicate while I’m afoot. And while the line of connection has proved to be incredibly convenient, the devices themselves have been plagued by UX and energy management problems. Fortunately for me, I’ve yet to need to push the S.O.S. button on any of them.
This summer I will be walking a significant chunk of the Pacific Crest Trail, SOBO. I plan on filming and GPS logging the journey. While the future remains cloudy in my fire weather crystal ball I anticipate that I may be rerouted at some point. Add to all this my cameras are little battery piggies and soon you’ll understand that my initial plan involved very wide spacing for the GPS tracking log I intend to make.
The original Garmin InReach Mini has a functional battery life of about 70 hours in my experience. Its 1,250 mAh lithium-ion battery gets gobbled up quicker when logging and in the heat. Once, I tucked it in a pocket on my harness and it died on a day hike of about fourteen hours. I imagine this had more to do with signal acquisition and a weak signal caused by interference from the pocket. Even so, at its best original flavored Mini’s processor is inefficient relative to the replacement technology built into the 336-hour life on the Mini 2.
Next up is the interface. The UX of the Mini’s form-factor is a nightmare. Typing on the device is next to impossible. Thus, it has been designed to pair with an app on your smartphone. Garmin has replaced their Earthmate app with Explore. I use them both currently because my watch interfaces with one, but not the other – flip this relationship for the Mini and Mini 2.
Running Earthmate has always been a battery issue for my Pixel. If I turn on the app, I’m cutting the battery life of my phone. This doesn’t seem to be the case with the Explore app. I can turn it on and let it run constantly and not see much additional battery draw above the background. While I’m uncertain of the cause of Earthmate’s poor battery performance, the easy solution requires me to move on.
Then there’s the user interface design of the devices and their associated apps. Let me tell you a brief story about my original flavored Mini. Almost since I unboxed it and charged it up I’ve been stuck with a message I cannot find. It’s from my Wife. I think she sent it around July last year probably when I was up on the side of Rainier, but honestly, I don’t really know. It won’t show up on my phone and good grief I’ve tried to sync the two up. Turns out my only option for getting rid of it is to systematically delete all threads on the device. Then without delay, sync the Mini with my phone. I’ll never know what she said.
Here’s my final problem with the original Garmin InReach Mini, one that the Mini 2 solves. Who uses micro-USB power interface anymore? Who? If you detect a note of frustration in my writing then you’re reading close enough. Seriously, to charge the power-hungry original mini I have to carry a separate cable, USB-a to micro-USB, for this device alone. Literally all my other rechargeable devices – phone, flashlight, both cameras, battery brick, and even earbuds – all use USB-c. Even though I’ve replaced the cable that came with it for one that’s a mere six inches long I still have to tote that extra, single-use dongle around with me. I know it may not seem like much, but there’s a psychological cost to knowing that you’ve got someone else’s mistake in ounces in your pack mile upon mile. The Garmin InReach Mini 2 comes with USB-c interface. Thank the gods above and below.