Canucks and Beyond

XM Radio: Portable XMp3 Player

12/09/2008 at 6:17pm EST

A while back, some very nice people through XM Radio asked me (and I think about a dozen other bloggers across the country) to try out their new XMp3 Radio and to review the gadget if I wanted to. And there were no strings attached; they’ve already given me the toy which I’m not giving back. :)

imageSo in case anyone else is interested in the technology—and given how much hockey coverage XM is doing these days, I’m sure there are a few of you—here are some specs on my newest toy, plus my experiences with it thus far. Good and bad.

The basics:

  • Records up to 100 hours of XM programming
  • Stores MP3 or WMA files on a removable microSD card (sold separately)
  • Manage your music with the XM2go Music Manager software
  • Pause and replay up to 30 minutes of live XM
  • Record up to 5 channels at the same time
  • Portable Highlights: See what’s playing on XM
  • Set your favorite XM channels

Box unpacked:


Contents include: radio and battery, ear buds, remote control, home dock, home antenna, power adapter, rca cable and usb cable.

Setup: Setting it up and getting it operational are no-brainers. (And that’s saying something, since as much as I love new gadgets, I’m hopeless at getting them set-up.) But that being said, I did run into one problem immediately and that was the satellite reception in my home office.

Being unable to achieve a connection, I contacted customer service several times trying to figure out what the issue was and the news wasn’t good: turns out my office is in some sort of satellite radio black hole. While I can achieve reception in certain areas of my house, my office is not one of them. However the home setup kit came with a very long antenna that can even be run out a window get the best signal. I haven’t tried it yet but trust that may solve my problems eventually.

In summary—on the bright side, customer service was very polite and patient with my problem; on the negative side, the problem isn’t easily solved in my case.

Mobile Use: The truth is, this gadget is all about being mobile, so despite my problems at home it wasn’t a deal breaker. The radio is roughly the size of a slightly-oversized iPod, but feels much more substantial than your typical mp3 player.

Taking it out on walks and on the road—both highway driving and in the city—I had no problem grabbing a signal, although sometimes it could be spotty. But that doesn’t negate by far the coolest thing about this toy: you can record up to 5 shows at once of live radio, and store up to 100 hours to listen to later. Incredibly handy.

Additionally, you can also pause the live radio signal, as it provides a 30 minute buffer to do so. Much like a DVR. I’m finding that to be pretty useful.

In summary—By far, the greatest asset of this device is that it’s meant for mobile use. My preference is to do so by listening to pre-recorded content though, as the spotty signal can really get on my nerves at times. I live in a smaller community outside a larger city, but loaning it to a friend in a major center had the same results: the signal wasn’t always stable.

Programming: Having never purchased XM radio service on any device before, I’ve been a novice to the choices available. The hockey (and sports in general) stuff is great, and I’d find it worthwhile if only for that. There are plenty of other stations available—music and comedy and so on—but so far I’ve mostly followed the sports coverage, and had no complaints. (Although I did catch one Bruce Springsteen concert…)

Design: On the one hand, I thought the operation could have been more intuitive. Not saying that it’s difficult to use in any way, just that using it required a bit of ‘figuring out’ rather than being automatically-logical. But that might be just me, too. I showed it to a few other people who didn’t seem to have any problems navigating around the menus quickly.

And on a more positive note, the gadget itself does not look or feel cheap at all (which is good, because it certainly isn’t!). It feels well put-together and solid, not at all like something that would break easily. It’s very slick.

Here’s a video that CNET did that will allow you to look at it a bit closer:

So that’s it.

Would I buy this for myself? After a few weeks of using it I’d say probably not, but that’s mostly because of my reception problems in my office—and since a big part of my appreciation for a toy like this is to help me keep up with the hockey news throughout the workday, I’m disappointed that I can’t (so far) listen to it while I work. Perhaps that will get sorted out once I find a good spot for my antenna, though.

Meanwhile, I do get my share of use out of it with prerecorded content when on the run so it’s been great that way. And it’s been nice to show off, too. I’ve had a fair number of people ask to take a closer look at it when I’ve been out and about, and from their comments it seems that most didn’t know such portable devices even existed.

And everyone seems to agree that it’s the kind of technology they could get a lot of use out of.

To buy: This isn’t a cheap toy, but has a very good rebate price on it, if anyone’s interested.

XM also has deals, providing $50 off service and activation until the end of January, and a free SD card. They’ve also just put the radio on sale.
*Amazon and XM links are web affiliates.
**CNET has their own more technical review here, that is worth reading before you buy.

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