As Apple continues to position its phones and watches as life-saving devices, the most compelling reason to upgrade to the iPhone 14 or 14 Pro is the Emergency SOS service that uses satellite communications when wifi or cellular are MIA. It’s not a feature that’s coming to older iPhones, however, so for those not planning to upgrade anytime soon, Motorola’s new Defy satellite communicator provides a more flexible way to stay connected when your smartphone, on its own, isn’t.
As potentially life-saving as Apple’s Emergency SOS feature might be, it’s very limited in its current form. Users need to succinctly summarize their emergency or predicament in as few characters as possible to ensure the one-way message is quickly sent, and the iPhone itself needs to be properly positioned for the satellite connection to work—something that could be challenging for someone who is injured.
The Motorola Defy puts the satellite connectivity hardware—a new chip from MediaTek—in a separate self-powered device that connects to either iPhones (running iOS 14 or later) or Android smartphones (running Android 10 or later) over Bluetooth. It’s rated IP68, which means it can survive a shallow dunking (a couple of feet of water) for up to 30 minutes, while Motorola claims you can get several days of use from the Defy’s 600 mAh rechargeable battery.
Instead of using the native messaging app on either platform, the Motorola Defy relies on the third party Bullitt Satellite Messenger app that also works when the device has wifi or cellular connectivity, but will automatically switch to using geostationary satellites when the user is out of range of terrestrial services. For two-way chats, other users will need the Bullitt app as well, but messages can be relayed through SMS, which will prompt the other party to install the app before they can chat with the sender.
Recipients aren’t charged for receiving messages or sending replies, but the person relying on the satellite connection is. Up to 30 two-way messages can be sent for $4.99/month, although the $99 Motorola Defy can also be purchased as part of a $149, 12-month messaging subscription bundle, for those wanting to save a Hamilton.
In addition to just keeping in touch with friends, or relaying information to co-workers as part of a remote work excursion, the Motorola Defy also offers an SOS Assist function through FocusPoint International that puts those in need of immediate help or rescue in touch with emergency responders. The device can also be used without a connected smartphone. A manual check in button will simply broadcast the user’s location so others can keep tabs on their progress and have a useful last known location reference should those check ins stop.
The Motorola Defy will be available sometime in the second quarter of 2023.