Using the iPhone's touch-screen interface, users can search for available channels by channel number, station name, or category. When browsing, the app displays both the station name and the currently playing song.
The artist and title data are also displayed when listening. A tagging feature allows people to mark songs they like for later purchase. Users can also receive notification when a tagged song or artist is playing.
If you live in one of the 20 most congested American cities, the SkyDock app also gives access to weather and traffic updates.
Features available across most XM Radio tuners are also available on the SkyDock, including tracking your favorite sports teams with alerts, displaying sports scores and stock quotes on a ticker, and saving favorite channels.
With the capability to receive both satellite signals and redundant terrestrial signals where available when a clear sky view isn't available, the XM SkyDock's performance is on par with the best factory-installed XM Radio systems that we've tested. It even works indoors, albeit with slightly reduced audio quality.
However, when used over wireless FM transmission, the audio can suffer from excessive static in areas with crowded airwaves. However, this is more of an issue inherent with FM transmission and not necessarily the SkyDock itself. To stay on the safe side, try to use some sort of wired connection, even a cassette tape adapter would work in this case.
The biggest issue we had with the SkyDock is that the XM app must be running for it to play back audio. This means if you pop out of the app to reply to an SMS or want to use your iPhone for navigation, then your music playback will stop. We can understand the need for the iPhone to be connected, but with a device as multifunctional as the iPhone, consistent playback would be nice.
Overall, the XM SkyDock met all of our expectations for an app-based XM Radio tuner. The design of the hardware and the app are both very conducive to on-the-road usage and allow the user to safely and quickly navigate the hundreds of channels available on the XM service. Giving the users multiple ways to connect to their car stereos (including a built-in FM transmitter) also helps to boost the design score.
We like the song-tagging feature, finding it helpful for quickly marking artists that we liked for later purchase. The alerts also made it easy to find the music that we wanted when it was playing.
While the SkyDock isn't as plug and play as we'd have liked, the addition of an external antenna goes a long way toward maintaining a clean signal and great performance--if not somewhat limiting device portability.
However, the fact that the app must be running at all times somewhat limits the usefulness of the XM SkyDock on a multifunction device like the iPhone that users are likely to be using for calls and navigation as well as audio playback. We've docked a point from the performance score for this reason.
Overall, the XM SkyDock is a great way for an iPhone and iPod Touch users to add a low-cost satellite radio tuner to their vehicle, as long as they aren't power multitaskers.