Delphi SkyFi3 (XM) review:

Delphi SkyFi3 (XM)

Close-up of the cradle's back.

The SkyFi3 ships with a car charger, an XM antenna, a remote control, earbuds, a USB cable, and two car-mounting kits--one that mounts to your vent and the other that sticks on your dashboard. When mounted, the SkyFi3 is extremely accessible. It can be positioned in either landscape or portrait mode--we prefer landscape--and it makes for easy and safe control while driving. While we don't recommend advanced procedures such as setting the FM transmitter frequency while hurtling down the interstate at 80mph (the built-in transmitter effectively beams XM or other audio to your car's FM radio), this unit is definitely easier to use than many other receivers, including Delphi's own Roady2. By the way, like most receivers, you'll have a mess of wires coming off the cradle unless you take the time to tidy things up.

The SkyFi3 with all of its bundled accessories.

Lots of features for a fair price
At $200, the SkyFi3 can do what $400 products can do. That is, outside of simply receiving XM content, it can play back digital audio by way of an expansion slot, pause/replay the last 30 minutes that you were listening to (time-shifting), record any song you want (its buffer allows you to capture an entire song even if you pressed Record a quarter of the way through it), and list them by name in your library. This recorded content will not be accessible if you stop your XM subscription.

Searching for content is no problem on the big display; you can sort by artist, category, channel, and recording session and add songs to custom playlists. Though your MP3s must be added to your collection via Micro SD cards, you can mix and match content in playlists. As extras, the SkyFi3 includes a programmable stock ticker as well as the Artist and TuneSelect feature that locates favorite artists and songs on the XM network when they are available.

Once you stop your car, you can take the SkyFi3 along with you on your jaunt into the park. Listen to recorded content or get the funky-looking antenna headphones to listen to Live XM. While it's not as all-inclusive as the Inno/Helix, the SkyFi3's portable experience is not bad at all. Like other like devices, you can't take your XM recordings and transfer them to a computer, though you can tag songs to be purchased on XM+Napster (a tweaked version of Napster that, among other things, allows you to access XM streams online and facilitates Micro SD transfers). The SkyFi3 is also firmware upgradeable.

Sound quality is decent, with Live XM programming coming in punchy and powerful (though a tad compressed sounding). You can choose from nine preset equalizer settings. The FM transmitter isn't as powerful as we'd expected it to be. In downtown San Francisco, we had a difficult time with a clear signal on our fave channel, 88.1 (hmmm, could the FCC have forced Delphi to ratchet the signal strength down?). Anyway, it works fine in some areas of the Bay Area, but we weren't too impressed as we've seen some transmitters overpower the 88.1 signal. Of course, with all satellite radio receivers, be prepared for signal dropouts as you go underground, in and out of the concrete jungle, under bridges, and so on. Our MP3s sounded pretty decent, too, though not as good as the best-sounding MP3 players. Definitely switch out the earbuds with your own pair of good headphones.

Battery life is rated for 8 hours while using the SkyFi3 on the move and listening to recorded content. CNET Labs mustered about the same in its drain tests. From the Delphi Web site: "The Standard Live Wearable Kit (SA10252) allows users to enjoy live XM for up to 90 minutes with power from the SkyFi3's internal battery. The Premium Live Wearable Kit (SA10228) provides up to 7 hours in 'live XM' mode and 40 hours in stored music mode with an external rechargeable battery." Finally, speaking of these headphones, some retailers are currently offering a promotion where they are included for free with the SkyFi3.

What you'll pay

    Visit manufacturer site for details.

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