For all intents and purposes, goTenna is a walkie-talkie for texting. (Except, unlike a walkie-talkie, you don’t need to keep saying “over.”) More specifically, it’s a small radio antenna that uses low-watt VHF waves to let you send individual or group texts without Wi-Fi or a cell signal. But the best use for this thing is being able to communicate with your family when nobody has service. Maybe that’s in a big Comic-Con convention center. Or a giant theme park. Or when you go hiking with the kids, and they take the path less taken (so young, so naive).
GoTenna works by pairing to a smartphone via Bluetooth, using the accompanying iOS/Android app. The other person, who also has a goTenna (because luckily they’re sold in pairs) can then get messages from you. It has a decent range, from half a mile to 25 miles. After playing with a demo version — which was basically just tooling around with it for a bit in a relatively hilly/wooded residential area devoid of tall buildings — it got a range of about 1.25 miles. There’s a likely scenario where you spend just as much time trying to get a clear goTenna signal as you do searching for more bars on your phone.
GoTenna also comes with free downloadable maps and the ability to transmit/receive GPS locations. So even if your kids aren’t responding to your frantic texts, you know where they are. What this device is not really suited for is LoJacking your kid every day. The battery life is only 24 hours on standby, and requires a nightly charge. If the off chance they’re in homeroom during the zombie apocalypse, you’d be better off sending them with a crossbow.
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