Smartphones are only as good as the Wi-Fi or cell network to which they’re connected. And when you’re without either ⏤ say, deep in the woods or on some winding backroad ⏤ they’re worthless. At least, for anything other than playing Candy Crush until the battery runs out. While going off the grid is good for the soul, it’s bad when an emergency occurs and you need to call for help — stat. That’s the premise behind the Sonnet transmitter, a new wireless device that turns people into walking cellphone towers.
Similar to the GoTenna, Sonnet allows ordinary smartphones without coverage to work like walkie talkies, using low-power, long-range radio frequencies to send instant messages, images, GPS coordinates, or even voice recordings. Simply attach the handheld Sonnet to a backpack and connect your smartphone as if you were joining any Wifi network. From there, you can use the phone’s browser (or their downloaded app) to communicate with other Sonnet transmitters up to three miles away. You can extend that distance if there’s a clear line of sight or multiple Sonnet users in the area, in which case it creates a secure mesh network.
Each hexagonal device accommodates a handful of smartphones, so the whole group/family can tap into the network, and the 4,000-milliamp lithium polymer battery reportedly gets up to 24-hours of continuous coverage. It also has a USB port so you can charge your smartphone ⏤ because the only thing more useless than a phone without a network is a dead phone without one.
A couple of other helpful features include offline maps, real-time location sharing, and a built-in SOS panic button. Once the latter is pressed, the Sonnet broadcasts both a distress signal and your GPS location to other users in the area.
One of the biggest selling points, however, at least compared to its competitors, is the price: Sonnet costs $45 for one unit or $89 for a pair. Not bad at all. And users have taken notice. The Canadian developers blew past their Kickstarter goal shortly after launching last week, and the device is currently available for online pre-order with a November delivery date.