The SPOT Connect, unveiled at the 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, connects smartphones like iPhones, Blackberries and Android phones to satellites when they are off the cell phone grid. This provides a cheaper way to communicate from the backcountry than buying a full-on satellite phone.

The Connect, which is 3 x 2.6 x 1.2 inches and weighs 4.9 ounces with batteries, allows you to send text messages and email to 10 predefined contacts and send text updates to social sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

The ability to send text messages on the fly adds more flexibility than that offered by SPOT’s Satellite GPS Messenger, a backcountry device limited to sending messages that have been pre-programmed before a trip.

Unlike the Connect the Spot Satellite GPS Messenger couldn’t send on-the-fly messages.

Like the Messenger, the Connect can can send SOS messages to emergency responders through the GEOS Rescue Coordination Center or send repeated help requests to friends and family.

It will can also send your GPS coordinates to Google Maps or a map service provided by SPOT, so people back in civilization can track your progress and so you’ll have a plot of the trip later.

The down side is that you still can’t make voice calls or send real-time photos or video of your outdoor adventures. The recently released, TerraStar Genus satellite-enabled smartphone, lets you do both.

Then again, the Connect cost $170 with a $100 year’s subscription (and requires a smartphone that will probably run you several hundred bucks), while the Genus costs $800, requires a $25 additional monthly fee to activate the satellite capability, and satellite calls cost $65 per minute. The Connect also operates off a global network, while the Genus is limited to North America.

All in all, the Connect is a cheaper, more global option. And do you really want to be fielding cellphone calls while your soaking in the majesty of nature?
Here’s the promo video for the Connect:

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