I've discussed personal locator beacons (PLB) before and this is a very hard article to write.
I bought the expensive one on the bottom right in 2007 as an insurance policy knowing that if I got in trouble in the woods, I could push a button and get the cavalry on the way. The lesson of the recent NFL players on the boat in Florida brought this back into focus.
That was a tragedy that did not need to happen. In fact, I read an article that said that the boat owner had discussed getting a locator beacon for his boat but had not acted on it. Now, 3 of the 4 guys are dead. What a waste - my heart goes out to those families for something that could have been avoided.
While I have the one on the lower right, I just bought the one on the lower left as well. The reason is that that model adds the ability to press a button and send an "I'm ok" message or a non-emergency help message to specific people you list with the service. In addition, for $7.95 a year, you get an insurance package that covers the cost of your rescue. I'm sure that helicopter evacuation costs quite a bit. In the current economic climate, I'm sure the various rescue agencies are looking to charge the victim if they do not already do it.
It can run thousands of dollars. California and Oregon already have laws on the books - they can come after you. You might think the 1999 National Search and Rescue Plan protects you from costs... think again. It does not compel State governments to provide free service....
Other than the additional communication options, the only other real difference is that the one on the right has a much larger antenna - it might be able to pick up the satellites faster. I did a test of the SPOT version on the North Branch a few weeks ago and it took about 5 minutes to locate and communicate with the satellites from within the narrow valley at Wallman. So, you just get quicker response by paying more.
On the SPOT version, in addition to the purchase price, you have to pay for the annual service that runs around $100. Both are waterproof, and the SPOT is lighter.
Even if you fish with a buddy, if you go to remote places, it is a risk if you send your buddy for help. Not only will it take him a long time to hike back to the truck and then get someplace with cell phone coverage, but you might go into shock or have other life terminating events while he is gone. Better to stay together and press the button on one of these devices.
So, learn from the NFL situation. You think any of those guys would hesitate on spending this money after floating on that overturned boat for a few hours? Brutal, harsh language - terrible situation. But let's learn for this.
If you fish remote, you need one of these.