Pioneer Inno XM2go
Satellite radio has had its struggles in the marketplace. One of the two providers, XM, is trying a new formula: shirt-pocket portability and a bit of convergence - a 4.5-ounce, palm-size receiver with built-in MP3 player - in the hope that the legions of downloading devotees might join XM's 6 million subscribers, who pay $12.95 a month for 170 channels of news, traffic, and music.
Devices are available from Pioneer and Samsung. We tested the Pioneer Inno XM2go (about $400). In its home dock, with corded antenna extended, the Inno pulled down channels even deep in our concrete office lair. Once undocked, it did less well until we got outside. A car kit is also available.
"Cached audio" - the device's capture-and-store function - means you can record a full song, free, even if it's already mid-play. Or set a timer to record a block of programming you don't want to miss. Recorded XM content can't be transferred to other devices or burned to CDs, says an XM spokesman. (That hasn't stopped music labels from suing XM on the grounds that the devices enable copyright infringement.)
Downloading MP3 files and managing playlists is aided by online registration with XM partner Napster (99 cents a song) via PC. Our unit could hold 50 hours of programming. Note: It is not compatible with iTunes' audio format.
The Inno's interface is clean, with smart touches (the display automatically rotates when docked on its side). A "mode" button easily shifts the device from radio to MP3 player. Still, the unit can leave an iPod-loving user feeling that this is a splendid little satellite radio with a bonus function - one still handled better by others.