Owner Hands-On Review: Delphi XM MyFi Portable Radio

In typically early gadget adopter fashion, I camped out at the local electronics store to pick up one of the first portable XM radios. The latest shiny gadget in my hands these days is the Delphi MyFi portable XM radio, XM being one of two satellite radio companies offering an alternative to traditional AM/FM radio. I had never been a big radio fan, so this nearly irrational jump into satellite radio seemed a bit risky considering it requires a hefty upfront device purchase as well as an ongoing subscription service. But, in a relatively short period time, I was converted! Not only do I absolutely love the Delphi MyFi, but I am becoming a big believer in satellite radio in general.

For those not familiar with this corner of the consumer electronics market, XM and its competitor Sirius are the (only) satellite radio providers, but do not directly sell radios to tune into their service. Instead, they partner with established companies like Delphi, Pioneer, or Kenwood to build the devices. If you are considering exploring satellite radio, I highly recommend using a feature-rich gadget like the Delphi device, which brings so much more to the overall listening experience.

I will pass on some of the high and low points for anyone following in my digital footsteps. First, a couple of points you must understand about the difference between satellite radio versus regular (i.e. terrestrial) radio, to set the context.

  • Targeted Programming - finding exactly what I want to listen to. I have a pretty broad musical taste, but even I get frustrated trying to find consistently good programming on the local FM dial. With satellite radio, there is more "room on the dial". So, if you only want to hear classic rock or comedy sketches or big band tunes from the 40s, there are dedicated channels that are waiting for you.
  • My Stations Everywhere - fostering healthy addictions. This part of the satellite radio pitch finally sunk in on a recent business trip. I was never a big local radio fan who religiously followed a particular morning personality or certain talk show for example, but I could imagine how you would miss the familiarity of your stations/programs when you cannot pick up the station's signal. However, after programming even a few "favorites" from the 150+ available stations into the device's preset buttons, I found it extremely satisfying to know that my music was just a click away even though I was a thousand miles away from home. Whether I was in the hotel, waiting in a remote airport, or even on the plane in flight(!), I still had access to my stations.

Now the good stuff about the MyFi device itself, of which there is plenty!

  • Record on the Go - when I am listening to any station and hear a song I like, I can press a button (twice to confirm) and immediately start recording it right on the device. Then, any time after that, I can recall that recording and enjoy it again. There is up to five hours of available storage, which adds up to a lot of songs, comedy sketches, and news segments. This turns my device into a pseudo-MP3 player, which comes in handy in those situations where I don't have access to the satellite signal - I can still enjoy my music!
  • FM Transmitter - Headphones are ideal for a portable music device, but you may be surprised how many times an FM transmitter can be used as well. Perhaps the most obvious occasion is when you are in the car. The built-in transmitter will send the sound to your car's radio over an unused FM frequency like 88.1 or 94.7. If there isn't too much interference from adjacent frequencies you can effectively create your own radio station without any wires. If you have never seen this in person, you may be thinking this sounds like magic - well it is, but it really works! Look for this particular feature to appear in many more of the next-generation media gadgets.
  • Hunt Down My Tunes - let the radio find your favorite music. Although this works for talk radio too, the music example is appealing enough. In this scenario, you are listening to U2 on channel 9234867 (I know some of you are saying "why would U2 be playing on the country music channel?" and still others are no doubt saying "hey, that's not even a real channel!" but it doesn't matter - try not to get distracted). At any point during the song, you can press yet another button and instruct the radio to take note of the artist (or song). Then, from that point on, if the artist (or song) is playing on another station (e.g. channel X658T@*C - again, try not to get distracted), the radio will beep and give you a few seconds to change channels. This is unbelievable - I can't say how cool this is, especially if you like artists with any depth in their discography. For example, plugging in Eric Clapton means that you will be notified if his music is on any of the blues, classic rock, pop, hits, 70's, 80's, 90's, or reggae (remember "I shot the sheriff" remake?) channels.
  • Memorize This - helping those with poor memories. When you are listening to an unfamiliar artist or a new song by one of your favorite groups and don't have a free hand to jot down the title to buy it later, you can hit another button and the device will store all the artist and song information to be recalled at a later time. That way, when you are in the music store or browsing an online music service, you can quickly recall the relevant information from the device's memory.
  • TiVo on the Radio - finally we have a mainstream time-shifting radio solution. For anyone who has experienced the joys of watching your TV programs on your own schedule will at some point ask the inevitable question of why that doesn't exist for radio! Well, now you have it. The Delphi MyFi lets you program the radio to record upcoming shows based on the satellite radio provider's published schedule and then listen to it on your own timeframe.

Ok, so it is better than sliced bread, right? Well there are still some downsides and plenty of room for improvements.

  • Signal Buffering - with the ability to record on the go and schedule recordings directly on the device, it seems strange that you can't buffer the last n minutes of any channel so that you can pause and/or rewind a song. Would be really handy.
  • Not Really Commercial Free - ok, this is more of a criticism of satellite radio itself than of a particular device. I thought I was going to be paying $10/month for commercial-free programming, but I must not have paid attention. Apparently, this only applies to the music channels. All the talk channels include advertising, which means that news, comedy, and sports channels will have the familiar (and irritating) interruptions. And maybe it's nitpicking, but the music channels could have even less interruptions. The DJs do occasionally pop in between songs to remind you of the station and upcoming events, but my satellite TV provider with its digital music channels has figured out how to do away with even that!
  • Too Many Pieces - I have never seen a box packed with so many individually-wrapped components. I love gadgets, but even I was overwhelmed with the 20+ pieces that came with the radio. Beyond the obvious things like unit itself and separately packaged battery, the headphones, and power charger, you get a complete home cradle solution (with separate antenna, mounting options, audio cables), car cradle solution (with mobile-oriented copies of the home pieces), a carrying case, belt clip, extension antenna, remote control, and (whew!) more! If you are intimidated with new gadgets because you think they are too confusing, you may want a teenager around when you crack open this box!
  • Cost Times Two - As I mentioned above, these things are not cheap (yet), plus there is the subscription costs. So plan on shelling out more than $200 for a "radio" (you can forward this article to your spouse if you are having trouble justifying how this is one kick-butt "radio"), be prepared for paying at least $10/month for your ongoing subscription to the music service.

Before closing, I think I should touch on the sound quality of satellite radio, since for many people, that is a key advantage. You should be aware that, like satellite television, XM and Sirius are digital broadcast, which means it's either on or off. If you have access to the signal, it's "on" which is what you want - and it sounds great, even approaching CD quality. If you don't have access to the satellite signal (e.g. are indoors, not close to a window), then it's "off" which means no sound! Unlike analog AM/FM signals, which can fade or get some static when the signal weakens, satellite radio is much less forgiving. So, when it works, it is glorious, when it doesn't it plain sucks. My experience with things like this is that people tend to get much more frustrated when their service jumps back and forth between all or nothing as opposed to having the quality change slightly, but always be available. I am writing this on the plane that just took a turn toward Chicago and dropped my XM signal - completely, as in no sound.

Look for even more consumer adoption of this new satellite radio option as the providers are going gangbusters with their advertising campaigns. Device manufacturers like Delphi are doing their part to make sure gadgets like the MyFi radio offer exciting new features that make the upgrade much more appealing.

Want One?

Purchase the Delphi MyFi XM2GO Portable XM Satellite Radio Receiver from Shopping.com.


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