If you're looking to purchase a portable XM radio, you might be wondering about the distinctions between the three available contenders: the original , the newer , and this product, the Tao TXM1020. After having looked at all of them, we can assure you there's no need to stress over the decision: all three products are more similar than they are different. In the Tao's favor, though, imitating the groundbreaking MyFi isn't exactly a bad thing.
The most obvious difference between the two players is their design. The TXM1020 has an all-black, hard plastic casing that gives the appearance of ruggedness compared to the silver case of the MyFi. The backlit buttons on the Tao TXM1020 feel sturdier and are raised more prominently than those of the MyFi, which makes it easier to navigate the controls by feel. The Tao's button layout is also very similar, except that the Mute button is moved to the center of the thumbpad for easier access. We appreciated this design improvement since we often had to find the Mute button quickly--for instance, to hear announcements on the subway.
How were we getting satellite reception from inside the subway tunnel, you ask? We weren't. Like the MyFi, the Tao TXM1020 has the ability to prerecord and store as much as five hours of satellite radio. It's a useful feature that solves the problem of losing reception when you're on the go, but we did feel restrained by being able to schedule only two recording sessions in advance. Also, you'll have to turn off the TXM1020 before the scheduled programs air or it won't record them--a minor inconvenience; we accidentally left it on a couple of times and missed our shows. You also have the option of manually recording the current broadcast at the press of a button.
As does the MyFi, the Tao TXM1020 comes loaded with accessories. Tao includes a car kit, a home kit, and portable accessories, so the only thing you need to tote from location to location is the receiver itself. The largest difference between the two products' accessory kits is that the Tao TXM1020 does not come with a "personal antenna," which the MyFi includes to augment reception in portable mode. Since we did the bulk of our testing in New York City, which has a lot of terrestrial repeaters, we really didn't miss the antenna. If you find yourself in areas with spottier coverage, however, you can order the company's personal antenna.
Another difference is that the TXM1020's included earbuds have an in-line volume control. This prevents having to fumble with the receiver to adjust the volume, but doesn't matter if you want to use third-party headphones for better sound quality, such as the earbuds we used for testing. Both the TXM1020 and the MyFi have a battery that you can recharge either in the car or at home, and when we tested them head-to-head, they lasted a little more than five hours.
Typical of most satellite radios, the TXM1020 has a few features that make it more convenient than AM/FM radio. For instance, the display shows the current song's title and artist, and if you press the memory button, the Tao TXM1020 stores this information so that you can check it out later. The TuneSelect feature allows you to store as many as 20 favorite songs or artists, and the TXM1020 will alert you when they are playing on another station. Another nice feature is the built-in FM transmitter, which allows you to tune any FM radio to a specific frequency to listen to what's playing on the Tao. The TXM1020 can also scroll stock quotes and sports scores on the display and can even be used as an alarm clock. Unlike Xact's Sirius-compatible , however, the Tao--and its portable XM brethren--doesn't double as an MP3 player.
Even with our upgraded earbuds, sound quality was not the TXM1020's strong point. Don't take this as a knock against just the TXM1020; the MyFi's sound was basically the same. In a way, this criticism applies equally to most satellite receivers, since the compression used on the audio broadcasts gives the music a sound similar to low-bit-rate MP3s. But Delphi's car-friendly and Polk Audio's decidedly nonportable both yielded discernibly better-sounding audio, so the portable receivers still have some room for improvement.
We were also a little disappointed by the TXM1020's inability to get consistent reception on a commuter bus from New York City and New Jersey. We were hoping to be able to channel-surf throughout the trip, but the dropouts came too frequently to make it an enjoyable experience. Even when we connected the smaller car antenna and placed it by the window, we could not get a consistent signal. We also had the MyFi with us, and it suffered from the same reception problems. Luckily, this issue can be avoided by recording ahead of time.
Overall, the differences between the TXM1020 and the MyFi come down to styling. We prefer the look and feel of the TXM1020, but that's merely a matter of personal preference. Like the MyFi, the TXM1020 is a stand-out product that delivers a portable experience that isn't available with any competing Sirius radio. Be sure to check out our satellite radio guide for more information about the differences between XM and Sirius.