While people could spend all day arguing which satellite radio company has better content — Howard Stern (Sirius) vs. Opie and Anthony (XM), Martha Stewart (Sirius) vs. Bob Edwards (XM), Eminem (Sirius) vs. Snoop Dogg (XM), NFL (Sirius) vs. MLB (XM), etc. — there is one place where the competition between the two upstart radio companies has been relatively one-sided. That category is the radios, or more specifically, portable radios where XM’s newest two offerings are superior to anything Sirius has on the market.
(In the interest of honesty, I am an XM subscriber and based a large portion of my decision between the two companies on the technology, and Opie and Anthony.)
First, let me tell you what these two XM offerings are up against from rival company Sirius. The S50 boasts the ability to load up MP3′s and record Sirius programs for listening at a later date. It sounds a lot cooler than it really is, though. The S50 is incapable of picking up satellite signals when it isn’t connected to its docking station. So, anything that you listen to on the player will have to be recorded first, before you can listen to it on the go.
Oh, and if you are looking to grab a whole day’s worth of talk radio, you can forget it. The player is handcuffed with restrictions on scheduled recordings. You can have a total of 20 scheduled recordings, but they are limited to 2-hour recording blocks. Does this all sound as confusing to you as it does to me? Combine this with the fact that the FIRST GENERATION of portable XM radios can play content live without the need for a docking station, and it shows you just how far behind Sirius is from a technological standpoint with their receivers.
XM Radio : Pioneer Inno / Samsung Helix
At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) XM Radio unveiled two new radios that should be coming out sometime in the spring. Pioneer and Samsung will be making these two radios and they both have the same basic specs. Like XM radio’s first generation of portable receivers (XM2GO) the two new receivers will be able to pick up satellite signals as you are walking around outside. No docking station is needed, which is a huge advantage over the S 50. Also, this generation of receivers has 1 gigabyte of flash memory on-board so that you can record up to 50 hours of XM content.
And unlike the S 50, there are no restrictions on how or what you can record. In fact, XM has made it even easier to capture individual songs. Under the recording options, you can record by song, channel or scheduled session. Apparently the receiver also uses cached audio so that you can catch the beginning of songs when you grab it from the live feed. Also, while I have never used the Napster downloading service for digital tracks, the player uses a “tag” feature that will let you immediately purchase a song you heard on XM from Napster’s online store when you reconnect the player to your computer. You can fill it up with MP3′s that you already own to create a mix of MP3′s and radio content if you wish.
XM Passport Card
If this wasn’t enough to put XM ahead of Sirius, they also announced something called the XM Passport. The XM Passport is a small card that can be plugged in and out of XM-enabled devices. Obviously, without a lot of XM-enabled devices, this will be kind of a pointless product. But imagine having a little card that can go from a docking station in your home, to a slot in your car stereo and to a portable unit so that you can have a traveling subscription from one device to the other. If you don’t know, the satellite subscription is tied to the radio receiver you own. So, if you have one receiver in your living room in a boom box that costs you one subscription. If you have satellite service built into your car on a separate receiver, that costs you another subscription. With this new passport device, XM could really open up a whole new world of convenience that is currently not possible.
The satellite radio wars are definitely not over. Content will always be a huge part of the battle between the two companies. It is also quite possible, and even likely, that the technological lead that XM has opened up isn’t sustainable. After a while, as the technological leaps turn into baby steps, it will be difficult to differentiate the two services on any basis other than content. Until that time though, XM will have a noticeable advantage on at least one battlefield.