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Satellite Radio Review: XM Radio Expands Technology Lead Over Sirius

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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.)

Directed S50-TK1 S50 Sirius Satellite Radio Receiver System Pack

SIRIUS : S 50 Portable

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.

TAO TXM1020 2GO Portable XM Satellite Radio

TAO TXM1020 2GO Portable XM Satellite Radio

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About Craig Lyndall

  • I’m an XM fan, especially since AOL carries most of their channels for free.

  • The channels are also available for “free” on DirectTV if you are a subscriber to that service.

  • Opie

    How much room do the XM units have for MP3s that come off my computer?

  • I assume you can use the entire 1 Gig, but I don’t know for sure.

  • C.J.

    Nice one-sided argument…notice he’s comparing a device that’s been out for a year vs. two products that haven’t even been released yet…they were debuted at a CES…come on, don’t put up an existing product against a “concept product” and expect it to fare well against the concept.

    Plus, the author is an XM user…hmmm….bias!

    And note that the “rest of the story” regarding the severely disabled S50…the RIAA imposed restrictions on content, hence the 20 scheduled recordings system. If you go back and look at the history of the S50, like when it debuted at the Consumer Electronics Show last year, it didnt have any of those crippling features.

    But these two devices will, if the RIAA has anything to say about it.

  • skipper

    Craig, you are a BAGADOUCHE!

  • Scott

    It was pretty obvious that any critisism towards either company would evoke some sort of personal attack by fans of the shows on those systems. (Bagadouche? Don’t assume an attack on the company means the writer doesn’t like Stern or Opie/Anthony. The basic fact this author put out is Sirius is lagging on technology. Look at the offerings and features of what is out at this moment and decide for yourself. Go to circuitcity and read. Sirius doesn’t have a true portable unit and XM has for over a year. Unit sizes also vary greatly between the two as well as the signal strength put out for each system. While the author detailed the ones coming out this spring, he used the latest news releases available to him to make his comparison. Just look at the ones on the market and see if you draw a different conclusion.

  • It isn’t like I hid my XM status when writing the article. I bought into Satellite Radio rather recently. It would have been nice to have a portable unit to possibly choose from Sirius. Unfortunately there isn’t one. And these two new units only build on the already superior generation 1 untis from XM.

    I did my research. I asked the guys at Best Buy after reading everything I could find. The fact remains that one company has it and the other one doesn’t, regardless of content.

  • jack london

    Great review. Yes he talks about the great new recievers coming out next month, but xm’s first generations portable units led by the MYFI blow the S50 away. It has been out for almost a year now and it can play LIVE satellite while not in its retarded docking station. IMAGINE THAT A PORTABLE LETTING U LISTEN WHILE YOU ARE OUTSIDE WALKING AROUND.

    Sirius is miles behind in the technology department. Even Howard admits that it will take a few years for sirius to come out with a real portable unit.

  • SatRadFan

    XM portables don’t work. Signal goes dead just about everywhere but clear outdoors.

    Sirius has stated they have the technology but will not offer it until it has been perfected.

  • Allan Webster

    I have had a MyFi for about 6 months, and have had no reception problems. I can listen to live satellite while in the mall, at the game, or in the city. When I am in the sticks, I can use the goofy little satellite antenna to get reception. It shipped with a docking station for my car and my house. I don’t know which service has better content, but I do know that I love my MyFi!!!

  • I’d be interested in hearing a review regarding reception with the portable devices. Can you sit at your desk in your office and get a signal? Can you get a signal inside your house? Can you get a signal inside your car? If you do get a signal is it from a ground based repeater?

    I have a hard time believing that these portable devices will receive a signal form the satellite (read: not a repeated) unless you are standing in a field or parking lot. If that is the case, the S50’s form factor and feature set still blow them away.

    Oh yeah… there is also that little issue of content, of which Sirius’ is superior (my humble opinion).

  • Allan Webster

    For my MyFi I use the car kit with great success, never any drop outs in the city or the highway, very few when driving through deeply treed areas, and the home kit in my office with 100% perfect reception. The little portable satellite antenna is great if you are in a beach chair or otherwise stationary, but a bit cumbersome when mobile. I was able to listen with out the antenna in Vegas, Philly, NY, Boston, and Baltimore. I am also able to record 5 hours of audio for playback later. I am trying to keep the content issue seperate, I am concentrating on hardware. If the hardware sucks, the content doesn’t matter.

  • Rob

    I have the Pioneer portable system. I carry it everywhere with me an it gets reception even in basements of buildings. I have had very few reception problems and the broadcasting power on the thing is second to none. I can walk away from my vehicle radio a good 30 feet or more and still hear XM.

  • mike

    I have a MyFi(XM) unit in my office and it gets great service, might I remind you it has to go throu like 3 block walls and a concrete roof now thats service, granted I do have to use my car adaptor for the signal to go throu the blocks and concrete but it is worth it and even when I go to like Cartoys or bustbuy or even Circut city the signal is never there of the Sirius units yes lack of tec. They need to beef it up on the tec before they bring out the big talk of a great company just face it they are behind and so is the stock.

  • YoMama

    First, like mentioned, you need to compare product to product, not product to concept. Second, having “live portability” isn’t the Holy Grail to some. Would you rather watch a live TV stream or the Tivo’d copy? There are definite advantages to the copy, IMO. Third, what is the individual’s motivation? Do you want a clear signal or something that interests you? Personally, I bought my S50 to listen to Howard Stern. By the time I leave my house, the show has been recorded and is ready to go where I go plus tens of hours of automatically recorded music from my favorite channels. Explain to me again why I need to be “live” and worry about reception?

    [quote]If the hardware sucks, the content doesn’t matter.[/quote]

    Likewise, if the content sucks then what good is a constant clear signal? For a Music/Talk service, I’d venture to say that the Music and Talk IS important. In the end, CONTENT will be the king. Remember BetaMax/VHS? Does it matter if a movie would look better if they don’t have a copy for that format?

  • Java-Log LumberJack

    Perfected or not, if the new and old XM unit’s “live” capabilties work even half the time, its still more peferable than not having it at all. I think the resources XM uses pursuing much of there own technology R&D in-house rather than farming it out speaks for it’s self.

  • Nick Burnes

    Looks XM technology =’s Freedom, and Sirius =’s Restrictions. =)

  • cooldrmoney

    Look here you sirius stern fan douches. This is about technology of the product not content and if you wanna go with the content aspect. I’ve recieved xm a few months back and i haven’t been able to turn off 202. I listened to howard not impressed but o and a are full of energy and actually give a $hit about what they do. So to the stern fans go take your nose out of howards ass and throw your s 50 down the toliet and go f your mother. HOO HOO

  • cooldrmoney

    tell em fred


    XM’s quality of programming, advanced portable technology, and price is all far superior than Sirius. XM has relationships with DirectTV (the most successful sattelite TV company, far and away better than Dish Network), with AOL (the most successful online service) & Napster (the most successful music download service), there longevity and productive future is clear.

    Mabey if Sirius did not waste their time spending $500 million on a hack (Stern) who had good material a decade ago than they could put out better, more portable unit and better programming.

    It’s like when the Yankees got Randy Johnson. Overpriced and a few years past his prime.

    Sterns is out of touch, as is Sirius.

  • I have an XM2Go and I love it. I travel all over the country and it works EVERYWHERE! It came with a home docking station, a car docking station and a small antenna for walking around with. Everything in one box, power cords, head phones…everything! This is the first time I’ve ever bought a piece of electronics other than a TV or a clock radio that came with everything in one box. And way to many stations to listen to! I think it was a great investment for me.

  • bigred17

    The NFL is the only thing sirius has going for it. All be it thats a big thing. I do not get this stern thing. How many times can you listen to lesbians moaning on the radio. Or fake ass robin. Ocassionaly it is funny but to me its the same thing over and over. Trust me on this because I could care less about the companies. I have XM for baseball. My buddy has a s50. He is on his third unit. The other 2 crapted out. If you want sirius DO NOT buy a s50

  • Trav

    You have to seriously be retarted to say opie and anthony are better than stern. OHHH great news!!-you can hear those dipshits for free on K-ROCK real soon!!

  • John

    What is your opinion on the recent law suit filed by the Recording industry and the effect it will have on XM’s new recording devices, specifically the ability to search and record a single song?

  • I am actually finishing that article as we speak.

  • Mike

    Have tried both sirius and XM…And although I miss the NFL coverage on sirius, discovering the hilarious O&A (and lil Jimmy) is far more important to me…I’ll trade you Stern and the NFL for Opie and Anthony anyday!

  • dave q.

    sirius is stupid for not getting bubba back on…………… NO NO NO sirius for me anymore ……droped it