Iridium 9575 Extreme Satellite Phone with Prepaid SIM Card
The 9575 is not what kids would imagine a phone to look like today. Its appearance and weight is closer to the mid-90s versions of Nokia or Motorola phones. This particular version is dust- and spill-proof (as it is meant to be used outside with direct view to satellites) and covered in a sturdy rubber padding that prevents damage to the phone when it is dropped.
It has a monochrome display (no, it’s not a touch screen) that can show basic graphics, but will, 99 percent of the time, be used for text. The display can show up to 200 characters at once. The phone can text via SMS and supports short emails, has a phone book (up to 100 entries), voicemail, and a choice of eight ring and alert tones. Standby time is about 30 hours; talk time is up to 3.5 hours. These are very conservative numbers. I have seen standby times of up to 45 hours during my review of the phone. The entire phone is 140 x 60 x 27 mm in size, which is about as wide as an iPhone, but the 9575 is significantly longer than and three times as deep as Apple’s phone. It’s not the phone that hides itself in your suit pocket. The phone is even larger when you actually call, as it needs a massive satellite antenna that is pulled out of the shell.
Iridium was pretty tight-lipped about what is inside the phone, and I was not ready to break their phone to find out more. What I was told is that the device integrates Iridium’s Core 9523 satellite transceiver module, the smallest board of its kind available today. The company says it’s 90 percent more compact than its predecessor, the 9522B, and consumes about 2.3 watts, on average, during a call. The maximum power consumption is 3.1 watts. By the way, power-up of the phone is about 28 seconds. Satellites were typically acquired within 10 to 20 seconds during my test.
If I have not lost you by now, you are lucky, because the cool part starts right here. Let’s leave the global coverage aside for a moment. The phone comes with an SOS button that looks like a rocket launcher right out of a James Bond movie. It can be configured with a predetermined contact, which will receive your GPS location every 5 minutes in an emergency, provided you have the phone with you and it is charged. Also included is a cradle with a USB port that connects the phone to a laptop, turning the 9575 into a data modem. Don’t expect broadband speeds, but Iridium says that maximum speeds are about 13 kbps with compression software and 2.4 kbps raw throughput. It’s not the service to download music files or browse the web, but it is enough for text messages and checking your email. Remember, early Internet users have grown up with 9.6 kbps and 14.4 kbps modems.
Of course, I did not check global coverage, but I can confirm that the phone works just fine in the areas that my T-Mobile service does not. The call quality is not as clear as when it is delivered by cellular phones and has a certain dull tone to it. Some people in Europe I called also complained about poor call quality. That said, the calls worked reliably and none were dropped. The phone also works pretty much like any other phone with the exception that it is a phone with no home area code. For example, calls will always have to start with country codes, such as 001 for the U.S., 0049 for Germany, or 0086 for China.
Iridium recently announced the AxcessPoint, which creates a Wi-Fi hotspot in combination with the 9575, which may be even more extreme than the phone itself. Sure, it allows you to connect the phone to iOS and Android and use your iPhone while you are waiting out an ice storm in a tent in Antarctica, but most users may not need this feature. It’s the plain calling and connectivity capability that makes this phone “smart.”
Cost killed the original Iridium; today’s Iridium isn’t exactly cheap either. The phone itself is about $1,700 and comes with all the extras sans Wi-Fi access point. You get the USB cradle, a headset, a charger, a signal amplifier and even a leather case. So, the cost of three basic iPhones gets you started. Calls are made via prepaid packages that vary in price and depend on the number of minutes you purchase. The low-volume package was offered by retailers for about $1.30 per minute, and 5,000 minute packages went down to about $0.75 per minute. Keep in mind that this is a standard rate globally and applies no matter if you are calling from Chicago to New York or from Los Angeles to Tokyo.
There is another cost item that applies to those who are calling a satellite phone. Depending on the markups of landline and wireless carriers, it will cost somewhere from $3 to $5 per minute to call a satellite phone. However, Iridium also offers the phone owner the ability to acquire a local U.S. number and pay for inbound charges. In effect, the call will incur just regular charges to the U.S. for the caller, while the Iridium subscriber will pay about $1.50 per minute for a received call. The interesting aspect of this scenario is that a satellite phone can easily make sense for a lot of people. For example, AT&T charges up to $4.99 per minute when calling to or from another country. Conceivably, a satellite phone can be a bargain for frequent travelers.
I’ll be honest. I am in love with this phone, and if I were travelling enough, I would not give it back. It’s the sense of freedom and security that is provided by it that even the fanciest smartphone cannot provide. Sure, you can’t play Angry Birds on it, but sometimes being smart is just about being able to place a call and not about a retina display or an accelerometer.The 9575 Extreme is the ultimate phone available today and is quite impressive.