Satellite Radio on the Go

by Tod Maffin

One of radio’s strengths has always been its portability. You could carry a small radio from room to room or take it on a walk with you.

Until recently, though, the satellite radio offerings in Canada have been tethered devices -- mostly intended for the car, though with an optional “home kit” you could position the radio in one place in your home.

The problem, technically, is that the antenna must be able to actually “see” the satellite in the sky. So moving your satellite radio to your kitchen involves making sure your kitchen has a south-facing window and clear view of the sky for you to put the small antenna in the window.

Hardly a simple solution.

Now, both satellite providers in Canada offer portable units. I put both of these units to the test recently.

XM Radio

I tested the Delphi XM MyFi -- it should be noted that XM now offers the Pioneer Inno. The MyFi is a nice unit, esthetically. It contains a car kit and a clip-on antenna (to walk around outside with it, you need to clip the antenna to your hat or jacket). It also can store up to five hours of XM content directly on the device. The MyFi can transmit to any FM radio, and has a few trinkets like a personal stock ticker and sports score alerts. Still, Canadian offerings are lacking. While XM Canada sells two portable devices, in the U.S., five models are available. http://xmradio.com/xmp3/index.xmc

Sirius Radio

I tested the Stiletto 100 -- it’s user interface is much easier to navigate than the MyFi but it does not contain a clip-on antenna; rather, you must use a special set-up - a headband earbud headphones with the antenna built-in. If you don’t like the headphones, tough. That said, the Stiletto can store 100 hours of programming and you can pre-schedule the recordings. Like a PVR, this model can pause and rewind live content. Its strongest feature, I thought, was that it could pick up music stations live off your home WiFi network (though, oddly, not talk stations).

The Walkabout Test

If you plan to take a satellite radio on a hike, you shouldn’t get your hopes up. Stand under a leafy tree for more than 10 seconds and you’ll lose the signal. Overall, I found the Sirius Stiletto unit to be strongest in finding and maintaining a signal.

* Disclosure: Both XM and Sirius provided me with review units and accounts to review their products. Both units were returned upon completion of the review. CBC is a 40 per cent partner in Sirius Canada.