Panbo

Yacht Phone, a 'burner' for the boat

... written for Panbo by Ben Ellison and posted on Feb 11, 2013
Yacht_Phone_test_messaging_cPanbo.jpg

I'm apologetic to all the manufacturers who've loaned me products I still haven't tested or written about -- so many gizmos, so little time! -- but maybe it was a good thing in the case of the Yacht Phone which I first saw (floating) at the Lauderdale Show. Because the $20 three-month 50 minute prepaid card included with the sample had run out, I bought another 50 minutes at yachtphone.net. The purchase process turned out to be easy, in a few minutes the phone was able to make calls (aside from 911), and customer service even answered a few questions within an hour on a Saturday.  Plus the phone itself exceeded expectations...

Not that I had high expectations of an unlocked GSM phone -- purportedly usable most anywhere in the world with the right SIM card -- that is also water- and shockproof and only costs $100 with that minimal 3-month service thrown in. Besides, the purpose of the floating Yacht Phone is as a back-up and/or accessory to the smart phone you don't want to drop on deck or overboard, and it certainly seems well suited to that. (Which is why I joke about 'burners', which is the term I learned from the truly great HBO show The Wire for disposable cell phones used by drug gangs to thwart wire taps.)
   At any rate, the YP is very light and tiny, as you can see compared to my Galaxy Nexus below, but note how its screen brightness pretty much matches the Galaxy at 100%. Note also the included USB charger and headset, which are conceptually a good idea -- there's only one port to seal -- but I've never had a USB phone headset before nor any USB cable with such a long male end. Customer service says that some other micro USB cables will fit the phone, but none that I have work. So don't assume that you can use alternate USB charge cables or headsets until you've tried them...

Yacht_Phone_full_kit_cPanbo.jpg

But I had no trouble using the Yacht Phone's little controls and, for the most part, the operating system seemed easy to understand. I only used the manual to find the flashlight and Bluetooth menus, but, heck, they aren't even advertised features. Nor did I realize that the phone included an FM radio, as seen below, and I was pleased to find that it works quite well...   

Yacht_Phone_FM_radio_cPanbo.jpg

I've also tried a bit of texting and talking on the phone now and found no problems with either. In fact the audio seems quite good, usually even better than the Google Voice message I recorded below. I've also told Verizon to forward calls to the YP -- a suggested boat use -- and that worked fine. (A special thanks to my wife for helping with the test even though I was in South Carolina while she was digging out from the blizzard.)  But does a product with "Yacht" in its name cost more than it has to, as boaters tend to believe? Certainly the hardware Yacht Phone sourced is inexpensive but I can't find a cell phone that matches all that it offers for $100. Anyone?

Comments

Ben,

When I was at CES this last January I was impressed with the number of waterproof cases available for smart phones. Here is one we are trying out for our field technicians who are all equipped with iPhones: http://www.amazon.com/LifeProof-1001-06-Carrying-Case-iPhone/dp/B008ER17UI/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1360613393&sr=8-7&keywords=lifeproof. It has an option for a "Life Jacket" that fits around it so it will float if you drop it in. We have used the OtterBox the last 2 years and have yet to have a phone broken although we've broken a few cases. The current version of the OtterBox is not waterproof, but there was a prototype at CES they hoped to release later this year.

Tom

Posted by: Tom Brady at February 11, 2013 3:18 PM | Reply

LifeProof gear is at the top of the heap - that I have seen. A mate of mine was so excited about his, he had to drop his phone (with new case) in a bucket of water. I was appalled at first, but the case did as advertised. I did sink to the bottom of the bucket though :)

Posted by: Eric at February 11, 2013 5:12 PM | Reply

The real exciting thing I saw was a manufacturing process that eliminated the case and coated the electronics with a nano polymer layer that made it waterproof. The developer of this process was showing a Samsung Galaxy phone operating in a container of water with the battery cover off. They were looking to license it to manufacturers as it was a process best done in assembly and not after market.

Posted by: Tom Brady at February 11, 2013 6:12 PM | Reply

On Distant Shores we always use an open "unlocked" phone and have been doing so for more than 10 years - we have had more than 30 sim cards from Syria to St Martin, Netherlands to Norway. For the last 6 months I have been using the Lifeproof case on our iphone and its great to know it is waterproof. The iphone headset fits in the waterproof plug on top but some other headphone plugs seem too big for that. Then you can use the supplied headphone jack that has a seal and waterproofs the phone case again...

Paul Shard
SV Distant Shores II - St Martin

Posted by: paul shard at February 12, 2013 5:59 AM | Reply

LifeProof iPhone and iPad cases do seem well designed, but do not over assume the warranty...

Panbo reader Tom P:

"Hi Ben, A while ago you mentioned LifeProof waterproof housing for the IPhone. I have been using it for a while and have had water poured on it without any harm to the phone. I followed all the directions. Without changing a thing, I took it in a shallow pool while on holiday in Mexico. It worked great for a while 30 minutes or so, but then started to leak. It completely destroyed my phone. I sent an email to LifeProof to ask for help. The response is amazing! Customer service-not! I thought you may want to see the actual response! Basically it says they built them perfect and I are an idiot!

Just an FYI on a cool product but it won't really guarantee the product!"


Customer Service Manager, LifeProof

"We are most willing to inspect your case and replace your case if it is under warranty, at no cost. We suggest that you contact your local repairer if your device needs repair. You may also want to utilize your extended warranty or other device insurance that may be applicable under extended care programs that you may have purchased.

Please contact us if you would like to initiate a replacement case under our warranty program."

Posted by: Ben at February 12, 2013 7:25 AM | Reply

The standard warranty is 90 days from purchase. Extend your warranty free of charge to 365 days (One year) by viewing the instructions, registering, and completing the helpful operating checklist at www.lifeproof.com/support/ If a material or workmanship defect arises and a valid claim is received within the Warranty Period, LifeProof will replace the case only.

PLEASE NOTE: LifeProof cannot be held liable for damages to personal property due to misuse or improper installation, or improper care and maintenance of case and o-ring or gasket seals. LifeProof warranty does not, under any circumstance, cover the replacement or cost of any electronic device or personal property inside or outside of the case.

Posted by: Rcrogers6 at February 12, 2013 9:29 AM | Reply

I'm not at all surprised that case manufacturers do not warranty the case contents. After all, the integrity of the case is usually at least somewhat related to how well it was put on. Plus smart phones not bought with a contract discount are often quite expensive. I think, for instance, that when I first got my phone it would have cost me around $500 to replace if I'd killed it.

These are also reasons I'm liking this cheap Yacht Phone. I've been walking around the boat and marina the last couple of days with it in my pocket and the Nexus safely cradled and charging on board. I get calls on YP no problem but use the Nexus for long and/or outgoing calls.

When I'm cruising that Nexus is really important to my connectivity as it's also the boat's cell hotspot. Plus it's already so big (makes iPhone screens look dinky ;-) that I really don't want to add to its bulk with more than a thin rubber skin. Not that LifeProof makes a Nexus case anyway...

Posted by: Ben at February 12, 2013 12:36 PM | Reply

Curious if anyone has tested the waterproofness of the Yachtphone? In the video on their website, they have several sequences of it in the water and floating. Only one, though, where it is ringing (and therefore we know it is working) while being dunked. But in that particular shot, it appears that the fellow holding the phone has a finger firmly over the cover for the USB plug. Leaves me wondering if that plug cover is really waterproof enough by itself.

Call me suspicious, or cynical, but the video leaves me more doubtful than convinced.

Posted by: Anonymous at February 12, 2013 1:00 PM | Reply

Ben,how do you manage having two different cell numbers?

Posted by: Rcrogers6 in reply to Ben at February 12, 2013 2:21 PM | Reply

I have had good results with the Sony Xperia Active, a waterproof (IPX7) Android phone. At ~$300 it is inexpensive for an unlocked smartphone. I have tested its waterproofness in real-life conditions, blast-reaching at 15 knts during the Ft Lauderdale to Key West race in January.

I do like its small size, which is very much against the trend for today's smartphones. Some phones will barely fit in your pocket these days! When I want a larger screen, I can set the Active as a hotspot, and use a 7" wifi tablet.


Posted by: richard stephens at February 12, 2013 2:37 PM | Reply

Anon, the USB seal on the Yacht Phone seems well gasketed and tight but a little silicone grease is probably a good idea. If you look at my photo from Lauderdale you can see that they posted the phone number so people could call it while it was floating; didn't seem to be a trick:

http://www.panbo.com/assets_c/2012/11/FLIBS2012_Yacht_Phone_cPanbo-6353.html

RC, my Verizon service lets me easily forward my regular cell phone to the Yacht Phone, so I wouldn't give anyone the YP number. Then again, my wife almost didn't answer a call from it ;-)

Richard, I went looking for info on your Xperia and found this test video. Not about waterproofing but sure looks tough:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F92CvRflk18

Posted by: Ben at February 12, 2013 5:38 PM | Reply

Could the Yacht Phone be related to this phone - which is sold in England?

http://www.jcbphone.co.uk/jdownloads/Tradesman/tradesman.pdf

Posted by: Bob Brunelle at February 13, 2013 9:34 AM | Reply

I've also tried the LifeProof case. While it has a great form factor, the acoustics were a deal breaker (no one could hear me speak into a phone with the case on unless I shouted). Some have had better luck with the LifeProof sound gaskets, but the requirement of having to use charging and docking adapters is also a real disadvantage (and taking the case off with any regularity is neither practical nor advised by the mfg.). I currently use a case by DriSuit, in Vermont, which is a bit bulkier but has a two-piece design with a gasketed bottom piece easily removed and "re-installed" due to locking cams. Sound is fine, but the gel-filled touchscreen cover takes a bit getting used to. Ideally, for iPhone users Apple will go with either (1) an OEM ruggedized version (similar to Casio's Android-based g'Zone Commander phone, based on the same shock/water protection concepts as their G-shock phones) or (2) an OEM component-nano-coated waterproof version using the technology previously mentioned. I remember reading about a start up in Massachusetts called "Golden Shellback" trying to market a similar product about 4 or 5 years ago;they had videos of coated blackberrys sitting in a 5 gallon bucket of water sending and receiving calls with no problem. Whatever happened to them?

Posted by: Don at February 14, 2013 1:04 PM | Reply

Here is an alternative phone in the same price range - it is waterproof but does not float. However transmission of sound through my skull could be useful!

http://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/kyocera-torque-hands-on/

Posted by: Bob Brunelle at February 26, 2013 9:34 AM | Reply

Not really about phones, I know, but this morning on Swedisch television I saw some news about a waterproof tablet (about 37 seconds into this clip http://www.svt.se/nyheter/vetenskap/annorlunda-surfplattor-nya-favoriter) and it turned out to be the new Sony Xperia Tablet Z: https://blog.sony.com/2013/02/xperiatabletz/

Hopefully other tablets and even smartphones will follow...

Posted by: Kim at February 27, 2013 7:55 AM | Reply

Posted by: Eric at February 28, 2013 12:20 AM | Reply

Posted by: Eric at March 6, 2013 2:23 AM | Reply

More nano waterproofing... this is the in factory baked on version. http://youtu.be/c83n-vkno8U

In the back of my mind, I have to wonder how these solutions work over the long haul with salt water and corrosion. I'm ready for a silver bullet, but will remain skeptical until proven.

Posted by: Eric at March 7, 2013 7:34 PM | Reply

Posted by: Eric at March 7, 2013 7:35 PM | Reply

Hi Ben
SIM cards simplified.My travel phone is neither waterproof nor smart,by choice.If it is stolen or lost at $59.00 it's no big deal.What this phone is it's a quad band,dual SIM,unlocked GSM phone.It has four phone numbers,text,call forwarding,mp3,fm radio.It has a 1-800 #,a coast to coast Canadian carrier #,a US #,a UK global #.The Canadian # is on one SIM the other #'s are on the other.I get local low cost rates in 190 countries and on 100 cruise ships.I just passed through St.Kitts,St.Martin,San Juan,on a cruise ship.The rate to call from international waters between St. Martin and San Juan via the ships satellite link to Canada was 35 cents to connect and $3.69 a minute.A call from Miami to Toronto was 35c to connect and .09c per minute.A selection of phones and SIMs are available from Telestial.com .Ben I'm in no way affiliated with this company but I am a very satisfied customer.I dont see why you couldn't put a dual numbered SIM froM them in the YP.
DaveD S/V SEICHE TORONTO

Posted by: DaveD at March 15, 2013 8:32 PM | Reply

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