Why you can trust ZDNET : ZDNET independently tests and researches products to bring you our best recommendations and advice. When you buy through our links, we may earn a commission. Our process

'ZDNET Recommends': What exactly does it mean?

ZDNET's recommendations are based on many hours of testing, research, and comparison shopping. We gather data from the best available sources, including vendor and retailer listings as well as other relevant and independent reviews sites. And we pore over customer reviews to find out what matters to real people who already own and use the products and services we’re assessing.

When you click through from our site to a retailer and buy a product or service, we may earn affiliate commissions. This helps support our work, but does not affect what we cover or how, and it does not affect the price you pay. Neither ZDNET nor the author are compensated for these independent reviews. Indeed, we follow strict guidelines that ensure our editorial content is never influenced by advertisers.

ZDNET's editorial team writes on behalf of you, our reader. Our goal is to deliver the most accurate information and the most knowledgeable advice possible in order to help you make smarter buying decisions on tech gear and a wide array of products and services. Our editors thoroughly review and fact-check every article to ensure that our content meets the highest standards. If we have made an error or published misleading information, we will correct or clarify the article. If you see inaccuracies in our content, please report the mistake via this form.


The top satellite phones and gadgets for reliable off-grid communication

The best satellite phones and gadgets for your off-grid lifestyle offer features like SOS, SMS, and global coverage.

Do you travel frequently and often find yourself "off the grid?" Or maybe you're someone who enjoys far-out exploration, but not without the expense of losing all connection and reachability? If so, traditional smartphones are surprisingly not your best bet. Instead, you'll want to consider a satellite phone. 

While referring to it as a "sat phone" may add to the overall secret agent vibe, these phones and devices are more widely available and useful than you might think, with several options to choose from. Although, I'll be candid about the downside upfront: Accessing a satellite network does require a subscription of a usually hefty price. (However, it appears that satellite messaging could be coming to Android 14 soon.)

Also: The best rugged phones

Nonetheless, if you're interested in staying connected wherever you may roam, ZDNET conducted extensive research and went hands-on with some of the best satellite phones and gadgets. Our top choice, the Iridium GO! can connect up to five devices to its hotspot, supports up to five hours of talk time, and is highly durable. 

Read the full list to see how other favorite models from Spot, Garmin, and more compare in terms of features and find which is best for your habits and budget. 

The best satellite phones of 2023

Pros & Cons
  • Acts as a satellite hotspot so that multiple devices can connect to it
  • Good battery life
  • Good selection of accessories
  • Expensive
More Details

Iridium GO! tech specs:  Dimensions: 114 x 82 x 32 mm | Weight: 305g | Services: Satellite calls and satellite SMS | Battery life: Talk time: 5.5 hr., standby time: 15.5 hr. | Operating temperatures: 50°F to 122°F | Durability: MIL-STD 810F | IP Rating: IP65

This mobile satellite router connects to the Iridium satellite constellation, and you get enough data bandwidth to check emails, use Twitter, pull up weather forecasts, and limited web browsing. You can connect up to five devices to the Iridium GO! hotspot.

This is not a cheap kit, and it's designed for those who truly want to go off-grid. It includes not only the Iridium GO! base station and AC travel charger with an international adapter but also comes with a solar charger and a desktop charger. Additionally, the unit offers up to 15.5 hours of standby battery life and up to 5.5 hours of talk time. It boasts various features that make it ideal for those looking to stay connected while exploring remote areas. Its compact design measures 114 x 82 x 32 mm and weighs only 305g, making it easy to carry around.

Review: Iridium GO! Turn any smartphone into a satellite phone

When it comes to communication, the router offers both satellite calls and satellite SMS, allowing users to communicate with others even in areas without cellular coverage. 

The Iridium GO! operates within a temperature range of 10 to 50 ℃ and meets MIL-STD 810F standards, meaning it can withstand harsh environments and extreme weather conditions thanks to an IP65 rating, making it dust-tight and able to withstand water jets from any direction.

Pros & Cons
  • SOS feature
  • Low-cost solution
  • Physical keyboard
  • Limited features
  • Physical keyboard is a bit small
More Details

SPOT X tech specs: Dimensions: 166 × 38 × 24 mm | Weight: 198g | Services: Satellite SMS, automatic positioning, and SOS | Battery life: 240 hours | Operating temperatures: -4°F to 140 °F | Durability: MIL-STD-810G for shock | IP Rating: IP67

Another company that offers satellite trackers and messengers is SPOT. There's the SPOT X, which is a two-way device that looks a lot like an old Blackberry, the SPOT Gen3 Messenger, which allows the user to send check-in and SOS messages, and the SPOT Tracker, which allows tracking of things like cars and suitcases.

SPOT X features a physical keyboard that is easy to use, making it a popular choice for those who prefer tactile buttons over touchscreens. The device is durable, too, meeting MIL-STD-810G standards for shock resistance and boasting an ingress protection rating of IP67. At 166 × 38 × 24 mm and weighing 198g, the device is fairly portable and can last up to 240 hours. 

But one of the most impressive features of the SPOT X is its SOS button, which can be used to signal for help in an emergency situation. This is a particularly useful feature for those who engage in outdoor activities and may find themselves in areas without cellular coverage.

Pros & Cons
  • Cheaper than a dedicated sat phone
  • Packed with features
  • Affordable subscription plans
  • Requires a smartphone for messaging
More Details

Motorola Defy tech specs: Dimensions: 82 x 61 x 11.2mm | Weight: 70 grams |  Services: Satellite messaging through connected phone and SOS | Operating temperatures: -22°F to 131°F | Battery life: Up to 4 days | Durability: MIL-STD-810H | IP Rating: IP68

The new Motorola Defy Satellite Link functions as a satellite hub to pass messages, or an SOS signal, to others from your connected smartphone, whether that be an iPhone or Android. 

The Motorola Defy is reasonably priced at $149 with satellite subscription plans that make it a must-have for anyone who travels in an area with no cellular coverage. It measures 82 x 62 x 11.2mm and weighs only 70 grams, so it's easy to pack.

Read the review: Give iPhone or Android satellite messaging powers with this handy device

All U.S. customers who buy the Motorola Defy will receive free premium service from now through September 30. Starting on October 1, you can choose from four different plans that all include unlimited SOS messages, ranging from $4.99/month to $29.99/month. 

Given the price of the hardware and the low cost subscription plans, it is worthy of being in your vehicle as an emergency messaging device. It is perfect for hikers and outdoor adventurists who travel on shorter trips or who carry along an external battery pack on longer trips.

Pros & Cons
  • Cheaper than a dedicated sat phone
  • Packed with features
  • Not a true satellite phone
More Details

Garmin inReach Mini 2 tech specsDimensions: 2.04 x 3.9 x 1.03 inches | Weight: 3.50 oz | Services: Satellite calls and satellite SMS | Operating temperatures: -4°F to 140°FBattery life: Up to 14 days in 10-minute tracking mode | Durability: N/A | IP Rating: IPX7

The Garmin inReach Mini 2 is a compact and lightweight handheld GPS receiver with a built-in satellite communicator that enables two-way messaging, interactive SOS, and TracBack routing globally (active satellite subscription required). It has Bluetooth connectivity and is water-resistant. 

Users can share their location with loved ones back home and get accurate heading information using the digital compass. The device can sync with the Garmin Explore app and website for trip planning and topographical mapping. It can also pair with Garmin devices to send and receive messages and trigger an SOS. Garmin actually makes many satellite-enabled devices, from the simple Garmin inReach Mini 2 to the Garmin inReach Explorer+

Read the review: Garmin inReach Mini 2 review

The Mini 2 has a battery life of up to 14 days in 10-minute tracking mode, a monochrome display that's easy to read in all lighting conditions, and is waterproof with an IPX7 rating. It features a USB-C interface for easy charging and connectivity with other devices.

While the Garmin inReach Mini 2 is a versatile and feature-packed device, it does have a few potential downsides to consider. Firstly, it requires an active satellite subscription, which can add to the overall cost of the device. And the device's messaging capabilities are limited to text-based communication.

Pros & Cons
  • Satellite and GSM
  • Rugged
  • Doesn't offer global coverage (doesn't cover north or south America)
  • Battery life could be better
  • No coverage in the US
More Details

Thuraya XT-LITE tech specsDimensions: 128 × 53 × 27 mm | Weight: 186g | Services: Satellite calls and satellite SMS | Battery life: Talk time: Up to 6 hours, Standby time: Up to 80 hours | Operating temperatures: 14°F to 131°F | Durability: N/A | IP Rating: N/A

Is it a satellite phone? Is it a regular GSM phone? The Thuraya XT-LITE is both, all using a single SIM card. And better still, it automatically switches from satellite to GSM without any hassles... so no forgotten calls because you're out of coverage.

The Thuraya XT-LITE has a battery life of up to six hours of talk time and 80 hours of standby time. The phone comes with a travel charger and USB cable. It is easy to use and can be programmed in various languages. Overall, it is a decent, rugged, no-frills sat phone. 

Note that the Thuraya satellite network does not offer coverage in the US, so this is a sat phone for when you're in other territories.

Pros & Cons
  • Fully-featured sat phone
  • Robust
  • Near global coverage
  • Good battery life
  • Big and bulky
  • Expensive
More Details

Inmarsat IsatPhone 2.1 tech specs: Dimensions: 16.9 x 7.65 x 2.9 cm | Weight: 318 g | Services: calling and text-to-text and text-to-email | Battery life: 8 hours talk time and 160 hours standby | Operating temperatures: -4°F to to 131°F | Durability: | IK04 | IP Rating: IP65

Now we move on to something that looks and acts like a phone.  The Inmarsat IsatPhone 2.1 is a fully-featured satellite phone with near-global coverage and good battery life.

The Inmarsat IsatPhone 2.1 offers the ability to make and receive voice calls, SMS, track your position with GPS from anywhere on the globe. (Well, mostly, satellite coverage at the north and south poles is poor. Outside of those areas, people will get excellent coverage.) 

It has an IK04 shock resistance rating, can withstand dirt, dust, and water, and provides enhanced daytime visibility. The built-in lithium-ion battery offers 8 hours of talk time and 160 hours standby, and the entire package is IP65 rated for dust- and waterproofing. 

What is the best satellite phone?

It's less a question of which is best for me, and more which is best suited to you. Three factors in particular come into play: What you need it for, the price, and the network. To demonstrate, if you want an affordable phone that has global coverage capabilities, the Garmin inReach Mini 2 fits the bill. Meanwhile, if you want a satellite phone that can switch from GSM to satellite easily, the Thuraya XT-LTE is a wise choice.

Best satellite phonePriceWhere to BuyServices OfferedSatellite NetworkGlobal CoverageDimensionsBattery LifeOperating TemperaturesDurabilityIngress Protection
Iridium GO!$1,070Walmart, AmazonSatellite calls and SMSIridiumGlobal114 x 82 x 32 mm5.5 hr talk time, 15.5 hr standby time50°F to 122°F
SPOT X$200Amazon, ReiSatellite SMS, automatic positioning, and SOSGlobalStarGlobal166 × 38 × 24 mm240 hours-4°F to 140 °F
Motorola Defy$150Walmart, B&H, ReiTwo-way messaging via smartphone, SOSSkyloUS & Europe2.8 x 2 x 0.4 inchesUp to 4 days-21°F to 131°F
Garmin inReach Mini 2$390Amazon, Walmart, Best BuyTwo-way messaging, interactive SOS, and TracBack routingIridiumGlobal2.04 x 3.9 x 1.03 inchesUp to 14 days in 10-minute tracking mode-4°F to 140°F
Thuraya XT-LITE$599Amazon, WalmartSatellite calls and SMS, GSMThurayaNot in North/South America128 × 53 × 27 mm6 hr talk time, 80 hr standby time14°F to 131°F
Inmarsat IsatPhone 2.1$899AmazonVoice calls, SMS, GPS trackingInmarsatNear Global16.9 x 7.65 x 2.9 cm8 hr talk time, 160 hr standby time-4°F to to 131°F
IK04 shock resistance ratingIP65

Note: Prices and availability may vary.

As you can see, each satellite phone has its own unique features, benefits, and drawbacks. Ultimately, the best satellite phone for you will depend on your specific needs and preferences. When making a decision, consider factors such as price, satellite network, global coverage, features, durability, and battery life.

Which is the right satellite phone for you?

When it comes to selecting a satellite phone, there are various options available in the market. However, selecting the right one depends on your requirements and priorities. It's essential to prioritize why you need the phone and your budget. This will help you to select the best phone at the best price, and more importantly, you'll have a communication tool that works where you are when you need it the most. 

Below are the key considerations and how each phone aligns with specific purposes:

Choose this best satellite phone...

If you want... 

Iridium Go!

Global coverage and the ability to create a hotspot for multiple devices. The Iridium Go! is the best choice because it offers satellite calls and SMS, has good battery life, and is MIL-STD 810F certified for durability.

Spot X

Something for occasional use or emergency situations. The Spot X is a good choice because it t has an SOS feature and is low-cost. However, it has limited features and a small physical keyboard.

Motorola Defy

A low cost subscription with satellite coverage across the US. Excellent for an emergency device or one for trips shorter than 4 days. A Bluetooth connection and proprietary messaging app are needed, but the pricing opens up satellite messaging to more people.

Garmin inReach Mini 2

Occasional satellite communication and SOS support. The Garmin inReach Mini 2 is ideal because it is affordable, lightweight, and offers a range of features such as two-way messaging, interactive SOS, and TracBack routing.

Thuraya XT-LTE

A satellite phone that also acts as a smartphone. The Thuraya XT-LTE is the best option because it has both satellite and GSM capabilities and is rugged, making it ideal for outdoor activities. However, it doesn't offer global coverage and has a limited battery life.

Inmarsat IsatPhone 2.1

A classic satellite phone with global coverage.  The Inmarsat IsatPhone 2.1 offers voice calls, SMS, GPS tracking, and a programmable emergency assistance button. However, it is big, bulky, and expensive.

How did I choose these satellite phones?

When selecting the best satellite phone, I personally tested some of the devices and took into consideration other devices and various factors, such as price, availability, coverage, and use case. I carefully analyzed each device and weighed the pros and cons before arriving at my conclusions.

  • Price: Cost is always a factor, especially for those who are going to use their satellite phone only occasionally.
  • Availability: No point listing something that's not in stock!
  • Coverage: Not all satellite networks offer global coverage, so knowing this in advance is important.
  • Use case: Are you looking for a traditional satellite phone, or do you want something more specialized like a satellite hotspot or emergency beacon?

What is a satellite phone?

A satellite phone is a mobile device that uses satellites to communicate instead of cell towers. It allows users to make calls and send messages from virtually anywhere in the world, including remote areas without cell coverage.

How much do satellite phones cost?

Satellite phones can range in price from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on the features and capabilities of the device. Service plans also vary in cost depending on the provider and coverage area.

Isn't the iPhone 14 a satellite phone?

Well, sort of.

Apple has added a feature called Emergency SOS via Satellite which allows owners to contact emergency services when in an area without cellular or Wi-Fi coverage. 

Review: The iPhone 14 is exactly as good as it needed to be 

Emergency SOS via satellite is free for the next two years. After that Apple plans to start charging for the service, although right now we don't have a price. 

This service is currently available in the US, Canada, and most of Western Europe. 

Can a satellite phone replace a smartphone?

Not really. They're big, bulky, expensive, and the data rates are awful compared to even 3G. However, they do offer services that regular smartphones cannot match.

If you're an avid hiker or camper, you know how remote areas don't have the best cellular service. This is where satellite phones come in handy: they give you access to communication in areas cellular companies don't.

Which satellite network is the best?

It's less about which is best and more about what bits of the planet you want coverage on. Every network offers maps and details of coverage. Keep in mind not all networks offer global coverage. 

And it's advisable to check this at the time of purchase because coverage can (and does) change regularly. Doing this ensures you have the right phone and network for where you're requiring it. 

Can you get a satellite phone that doubles as a regular phone?

Satellite phones, like the Thuraya XT-LITE, offer features that you typically find on cellular phones, such as calling and messaging. While the Thuraya XT-LITE does not offer global coverage and both North and South America are not covered, it has a unique ability to toggle between a GSM network and satellite communications. This means that you won't have to worry about dropped calls in remote locations. 

Plus, the phone only requires one SIM card. Additionally, it has a rugged body, making it a durable option for outdoor adventures. However, satellite phones still have some drawbacks compared to smartphones, such as bulkiness and limited data rates.

How reliable are SOS devices such as the SPOT X of Garmin inReach?

Based on my personal experience, satellite phones are highly reliable and serve as a great insurance policy for individuals heading out into remote and uncharted territories. Since they operate on satellite communication, they offer a wide range of coverage that is not available with cellular service, especially in mountainous regions or areas with limited network coverage. 

However, it's important to note that satellite devices do have some limitations, such as slower communication speeds than smartphones. Therefore, it's important to keep this in mind when planning for emergency situations or other time-sensitive communication needs.

Are there alternative satellite phones worth considering?

While the market isn't necessarily flooded with options for satellite phones and gadgets, there are other products worth considering. Here are a few I recommend: 

Satellite gadget

Best compact alternative

ZOLEO Satellite Communicator

ZOLEO Satellite Communicator is a great alternative satellite phone to consider because it allows two-way global messaging with a compact design.

View at Amazon
Garmin satellite phone with a camo background on its screen

Best versatile alternative

Garmin Montana 700i

Garmin Montana 700i is an alternative satellite phone to consider because it combines GPS and GALILEO satellite networks with inReach technology, providing a reliable and versatile communication and navigation tool.

View at Amazon
Black walkie-talkie looking device

Best rugged alternative


COM IC-SAT100 is a rugged satellite phone alternative that utilizes the Iridium satellite network, making it an excellent choice for those who need reliable communication in harsh environments.

View at Amazon
Editorial standards