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As nice as it is to know there are people who care enough to be worried about me when I’m out hiking, it always sucks to think that I’ve left someone with that slight, niggling anxiety, that won’t go away until they know I’m home safe.

That was probably one of the driving factors in my decision to buy my GPS and PLB, and I’m sure my loved ones feel better knowing that I have those with me. The only thing they’d probably like even more (especially those of them who are more prone to worry – not mentioning any names here) would be to track my location on a map, receive “I’m okay” messages at regular intervals, or even check in with me at any time to make sure I’m safe and well. This would be the most immediately obvious benefit of the Yellowbrick for me, but there are many more benefits and how you use the device would depend on your needs.

 

Let me explain what it does…

The Yellowbrick essentially does two things, GPS tracking and two-way messaging.

While there is no mapping functionality on the device itself, the GPS reports your location automatically at set intervals. This can be sent to an online map (each device purchased is provided with a live online map and blog page to use if you wish), or as e-mails or text messages to previously defined e-mail addresses or phone numbers (or any combination of these).

The intervals can be set at anywhere from 5 minutes through to 12 hours, but it’s worth noting that battery life will be impacted with each interval. I’d recommend setting it to track no more regularly than every hour, in order to get the most out of battery life (but more on that later).

I love the idea that my progress can be tracked via the online map, especially during longer hikes. Although the less computer-savvy members of my family would probably prefer to receive text messages, my lady was very impressed with this function. My location was reported flawlessly during testing, even when hiking through heavily forested valleys.

As for the messaging function, sending texts or e-mails can be done using the arrow keypad and OK button on the device to select each letter on an on-screen alphabet. This method is a little arduous, so probably isn’t the function I’d get the most use out of. More useful is the ability to define message templates – “Just arrived at camp, settling in for the night” or “Can you please send through tomorrow’s weather forecast?”, for example.

The fact that the Yellowbrick not only sends but also receives messages is one of my favourite things about it. Whether you use this function to receive up-to-date weather information, or well-wishes from loved ones, it’s extremely nice to have.

Some people may prefer to connect their smartphone or tablet to the Yellowbrick via Bluetooth and write messages via the app. This is a much more versatile option, but I’d prefer not to drain the battery on my portable devices when I have no way of charging them. If you’re not so worried about battery power, you can also use this method to write blog posts, tweet, or update your Facebook status.

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That just leaves one more function, that big red button with the cover over it. Clearly it’s an emergency alert button, but the Yellowbrick isn’t a PLB as I had initially thought. Essentially this is just another messaging option, which sends an emergency message to a predefined list of contacts. I guess the idea is that your contacts can then alert authorities but, personally, I’d prefer to carry a PLB with me as well.

All of these functions can be used easily through a simple menu system, and with only six buttons, the four-way directional keypad, OK button, and alert button.

 

This thing is tough. Seriously tough.

The first thing I thought to myself when I opened the box was “YellowBRICK is a very appropriate name.” To say that it’s solid would be an understatement. I’m writing this review without having dropped the device, submerged it in water, or put it in the freezer, but I only needed to have it in my hands to say that it seems pretty bulletproof. All reports I can find online of its use in harsh conditions confirm this, and Gianluca from G-Layer (the Australian distributor for Yellowbrick) tells me that they took the device on an expedition to the North Pole earlier this year and it performed flawlessly.

The trade-off for this is that it’s a little bigger and heavier than ideal (18 x 7.5 x 4cm and 305g). However, considering that there’s no need to carry it around, I don’t see this as a deal-breaker at all. It will live happily inside your pack and do its job just fine from there. It’s also worth considering that you won’t need to bring spare batteries along with you, so that balances both the size and weight.

 

How about that battery life!?

Having only borrowed the Yellowbrick for about a week, and having only had the opportunity to test it on a day-hike, I really couldn’t put the battery through its paces. I was still very surprised at the minuscule amount of charge I used. This would be heavily influenced by how many messages were sent and how often the device was tracking and sending its location via GPS, so my experience with the battery doesn’t carry much weight.

When the guys from G-Layer took the Yellowbrick to the North Pole for several weeks, they say the battery was still sitting on 40% when they returned home. I managed to find a more thorough review of the battery life on Richard Russell’s blog, based on his experiences of using the device on the John Muir Trail.

 

Purchasing the Yellowbrick in Australia… The distributor, the costs, and all that stuff.

The Yellowbrick is manufactured in the UK, but is being distributed in Australia by a company called G-Layer, based in Byron Bay. The guys from G-Layer have been working for decades with some of the world’s largest NGO’s, helping them communicate from the most remote places on earth.

G-Layer is a two man-show and, while it may seem unusual for me to want to mention them in this review, I’m doing so to point out that they are lovely guys. My dealings with them have been nothing but pleasurable, and I think that’s a good indication of what your experience is likely to be if you purchase from them. They seem to be genuine in their wish to make the Yellowbrick available to Australians, as a more cost effective solution than those similar devices currently on offer.

The initial cost of purchasing the Yellowbrick is higher than both the SPOT Messenger and Delorme InReach (its two main competitiors in Australia), but with the Yellowbrick you are not locked in to any contract. You only pay monthly line rental for the months when you wish to use the device, and credits (used for message and location transmissions) can be purchased in bulk and do not expire. This means the costs will easily balance out over time, meaning that casual users – as I assume most of you will be – are getting better value for money. Check out the G-Layer website for full details of purchase, line-rental, and credit costs.

One more thing that impresses me about the guys at G-Layer is their choice to offer customers the option to purchase the Yellowbrick with no packaging or USB charger cable (since most people, these days, would have USB charger cables lying around at home anyway). Not only will this reduce resulting carbon emissions by an estimated 3.7 tonnes for every 200 units they sell but, for each customer who takes this option, G-Layer will donate $20 to the Australian Conservation Foundation. Win.

The Yellowbrick GPS Tracker and Messenger is available for purchase from G-Layer, either online or over the phone. Purchase prices start from $599.

 

G-Layer provided me with a Yellowbrick on loan, and have sponsored this review. As I made very clear to the guys when they first got in touch, this has no influence on the opinions I put forward in my review. I maintain impartiality and any negatives I found while using the device have been mentioned here.

 

What are your thoughts on the Yellowbrick? Would you buy one yourself? Do you have any questions about it? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below.

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