Few things are as deflating as venturing into an area lacking cellular service. Although cellular service has improved over the years and even with 5G slowly launching here in the United States, there are times and places where cellular service can be unreliable. Whether it’s on an off-road trail or a crowded event, we’ve all likely found ourselves trying to communicate with others but being met with either zero or few cellular connection bars.
This presents us with two options: either roam around in desperate search for a stable connection or ditch our messages altogether, neither of which are ideal. That’s what prompted the pioneering minds behind the goTenna Mesh to develop a third, better option: create our own networks.
Fitting in the palm of your hand, the goTenna Mesh acts as a portable network that pairs to your smartphone and creates its own signal – all without having to be connected to your cellular service. From there, you can send texts and GPS locations to other goTenna Mesh users in the area.
But, where the goTenna Mesh stands out is through its namesake. As a “mesh” networking device, the goTenna Mesh can privately and automatically relay messages through other goTenna Mesh devices to extend beyond point-to-point range, allowing you to expand your network past the range of your single goTenna Mesh device.
The goTenna Mesh’s applications seem limitless, and the device promises a lot. Read on to learn more about the device and its performance:
There’s nothing intimidating about the goTenna Mesh’s packaging. You’ll find the following neatly packed inside:
- 2 goTenna Mesh devices.
- Starter guide.
- 2 micro USB cables.
First off, the goTenna Mesh devices are sold in pairs, with your choice of purple and orange or green and blue colored silicone straps. The devices themselves are incredibly compact, measuring in at a mere 4.2 × 0.9 × 1.3 inches and weighing just 1.7 ounces – a little bigger than a modern key fob.
They prominently feature a colored silicone strap that you can adjust and use to secure the device to a carabiner, keychain, belt loop, etc. The goTenna Mesh features a weatherproof anodized aluminum and CP/ABS body, which houses a fractal antenna, 1-watt UHF radio, flash memory storage, and a rechargeable LiPo battery. The battery is rated to last for more than 24 hours on standby mode.
Concerning range, the manufacturer provides two estimated distances: up to 4.0 mi (6.4 km) in open areas and up to 0.5 mi (0.8 km) in dense locations. This is mainly due to the fact that obstructions, such as buildings and trees as well as interfering signals can compromise the range distance, meaning you’ll have better performance in sparse, flat areas, like the desert, as opposed to a theme park.
The goTenna Mesh is charged from its micro-USB charging port, which is sealed and protected by a watertight cover on the left hand side. On top of the charging port, you’ll find a multi-functional button which turns the device on and allows it to pair with your other devices. The center of the goTenna boasts a light indicator that illuminates when it’s powered on, charging, and pairing with other devices.
The included micro-USB charging cables aren’t terribly long at only about 13.5 inches, but the fact that you get two included in the package is a welcome boon, as you have what you need to charge both goTenna Mesh devices simultaneously.
Getting the goTenna Mesh devices up and running is highly intuitive. The manufacturer provides a mini quick-start guide in the packaging as well as a link to the full manual, which goes into greater detail on setting up and properly using the device.
You’ll have to charge the devices before you set them up. Once they’re properly powered, you can turn them on and pair them to your phone via the goTenna app. Setting up the app just involves entering your contact information and downloading an offline map if you so desire.
The goTenna app is quite intuitive. Setting up involves entering in your contact info and, optionally, downloading an offline map (highly recommended just in case). From there, you can pair your device and get a feel for the interface. Via the left tab, you can access tabs for messages, contacts, locations and settings, as well as the new “Relay Mode,” which allows you to turn your goTenna Mesh device into a dedicated relay node, increasing the coverage of your mesh network.
Most sections are fairly straightforward. The settings section is where you’ll go to modify profile, device, chat, map, security preferences, and so on. The location section is a bit more nuanced, as you can access both topographic and street maps, view location pins that have been shared with you, and edit your settings.
There are multiple ways to communicate via the app: one-to-one, private groups, and via a broadcasting feature known as “Shout.” Users can also ping others with their locations via the app, sending their GPS coordinates and an overhead map of their surroundings. All of these features are simple to access in the app and feel just like using a standard messaging client.
The network also provides you with delivery confirmations for every message you send as well, a welcome feature, especially in emergency situations.
Users have the option of linking their phone’s contacts with the goTenna app to start messaging, or they can add users through their phone number or goTenna ID (GID). What’s more, users can also access imeshyou.com to view a global network of mesh nodes and other users to communicate with.
To test the goTenna’s messaging and location-sharing capabilities, the reviewers took their goTenna Mesh devices to a crowded beachfront. As mentioned earlier, the manufacturer rates its devices to work up to 4.0 mi (6.4 km) in open areas and up to 0.5 mi (0.8 km) in dense locations. Given the beach’s high concentration of foot traffic and buildings, the reviewers expected the goTenna devices to perform on the lower end of the spectrum.
To start, both reviewers paired the goTenna Mesh devices with their iPhones and carried the nodes on their persons. The two met at the beachfront and walked in opposite directions for five minutes before messaging each other.
After putting close to half-a-mile of distance between the two of them, the reviewers were successfully able to message each other via the app and with their smartphones’ cellular data settings turned off. The users were able to share messages and ping their locations, illustrating their positions on a local street view map with pins highlighting their location.
Testing their devices a second time, the reviewers opted to move further inland, away from the boardwalk and closer to the streets and local businesses, as the higher concentration of obstructions might compromise the signal strength of the goTenna devices.
The reviewers again parted ways and messaged/pinged each other again, this time registering and mapping their locations 0.7 miles away from each other, higher than the recommended urban range provided by the manufacturer. However, it is worth noting that the manufacturer mentions their recommended range bands are low-ball estimates, as they’d rather underpromise and overdeliver with the Mesh devices than vice versa.
Overall, when tested in an environment saturated with both structures and mobile users, the goTenna Mesh devices exceeded their specifications on the box while reliably staying connected to their paired mobile devices.
Before the goTenna Mesh, the next best way to communicate off the grid would likely be the classic walkie talkie, and while these devices certainly work, the goTenna Mesh has them beat in multiple departments—albeit with the omission of voice functionality.
While most walkie talkies boast 10+ hour battery lives, the goTenna Mesh outperforms with a 24-hour battery life—and does so while taking up significantly less space. Its slim, 1.7oz build makes for much easier transport, and the durable, weatherproof construction makes it outdoor-friendly and reliable if you plan on planting one as a standalone relay node—a feature walkie talkies lack.
While most walkie talkies deliver anywhere from 0.5 to 1-watt transmission power ratings, the goTenna Mesh performs with a solid 1-watt rating and doesn’t force users to switch between channels—making for much more reliable communication.
And, lastly, the goTenna Mesh’s generous range combined with its ability to increase its reach via other devices allows it to potentially beat the range of any conventional walkie talkie on the market.
Granted, much of the goTenna Mesh’s capabilities come at the expense of not having voice functionality, but the device’s long-lasting features and enhanced range/location sharing abilities might just outweigh the convenience that comes with communicating verbally. Plus, with the ability to access topographic maps of the world, the goTenna functions beautifully as a navigation tool as well, effectively cutting down on the need to bring along a separate GPS navigator.
Upon reviewing the goTenna Mesh’s performance and capabilities, it’s clear the people behind the device set out with a single goal in mind: offer users a simple, yet powerful way to communicate off the grid. And, to this end, the goTenna Mesh performs fabulously.
In addition to sharing messages and locations sans-mobile connection, the goTenna Mesh allows users to reliably communicate with end-to-end encryption, so privacy is never a concern. Combine this with an incredibly long battery life, mesh capability, and access to massive selection of maps and nodes, and you have a reliable networking solution suitable for anyone looking to go truly off the grid.
Of course, a $179 price tag is steep for most, but whether users are looking to communicate under wraps or just stay connected on an outdoor adventure, the goTenna Mesh’s features make a two-pack more than worth the buy. And, right now, a two-pack of goTenna Mesh devices is available at an even lower price of $155, saving you more than 10 percent off the usual price.