One of the biggest drawbacks of satellite radio is that your subscription is tied to a single device. If you want to listen to programming in more than one location--say, your car and your bedroom--you've got to choose between some unappealing options. Transportable radios involve a tangle of cables and awkward docking adapters, while adding additional tuners (or online streaming) to your monthly subscription quickly ratchets up the bill. But that dilemma may soon be a thing of the past, thanks to the XM Mini-Tuner. As the name suggests, the $30 device is a diminutive plug-and-play XM module. You assign a single subscription ($13 a month) to the tuner, allowing you to get satellite radio reception when it's plugged into any compatible XM-ready receiver.
The Mini-Tuner is actually the third name of this product, which was originally unveiled at the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show (it was previously known as the XM Passport, and later as the XM Pass). It also shows up in some catalogs as the "Audiovox CNP2000" (Audiovox manufactures it for XM), but rest assured, it's all the same device. At 1.3 inches wide by 1.65 inches long by 0.44 inch deep, the XM Mini-Tuner is about the size of three CompactFlash cards stacked together. That's small, to be sure, but in this age of clip-size iPod Shuffles and MicroSD cards, it's not the tiniest gadget or accessory you'll see this year. The bottom edge has a proprietary connection that snaps into compatible hardware. It draws power from the host device, so there's no battery worries.
As of early 2007, few if any products have a slot that accepts the Mini-Tuner directly. But it's the promise of future product compatibility that makes the Mini-Tuner so potentially attractive. We'll soon be seeing car stereos, tabletop radios, and even GPS systems on the market that accept the Mini-Tuner. (While the first wave of products will likely require an adapter dongle, later models will offer a slot to fit the Mini-Tuner directly.) Eventually, anything from portable DVD players to home theater products will be fair game. As more products with the Mini-Tuner slot become available, the utility and value of the little accessory will only increase.
In the meantime, there's a workaround: The Mini-Tuner Home Dock (CNP2000H) ($30). The Home Dock includes a small cradle for the Mini-Tuner, a standard XM antenna, and the necessary connecting cables. With the Home Dock in place, the XM Mini-Tuner becomes backward-compatible with any product that's XM-ready. That includes the majority of top brand A/V receivers produced over the past few years. Of course, those XM-ready home audio products could already use the Mini-Tuner's predecessor, the CNP2000 Connect and Play (essentially a tuner/antenna combo). But that older solution didn't have the portability of the Mini-Tuner, nor its potential to be used in portable and car audio devices.