If you've been following the slow but steady evolution of satellite radio, you probably know that the majority of these space-age radios come in three basic types: in-dash car radios; dedicated home-audio components such as the ; and plug-and-play head units (the ) that can shuttle between car- and home-based docking stations. Pioneer's new XM2Go Radio, the AirWare, belongs in a fairly new category: it's a Walkman-style, hang-on-your-hip portable that's functionally identical to the and portable radios. A $12.95-per-month XM subscription is required to access XM's 150 music, sports, entertainment, and news channels--that adds up to something like 3,600 hours of content per week! So you're bound to miss some of your favorite shows, but the AirWare can record as much as 5 hours of XM broadcasts. It lists for $330, but we've seen it going for almost $100 less online.
At 7.2 ounces, the AirWare feels a little heavy, and it's twice as thick as a svelte iPod. The 'Pod influence is most evident in this XM Radio's brilliant, 2.5-inch white LCD. The entire keypad is backlit, so the radio is easy to use under low-light conditions. The numeric keys provide direct channel access, though we usually used the side-mounted scrollwheel to search for our favorite stations. You can store as many as 30 of your favorite channels as presets, as well as check stock quotes and sports scores on the screen. Programming these functions is a fairly straightforward deal. Pioneer rates the rechargeable lithium-ion battery for as much as 5 hours of use--and our AirWare matched that claim almost to the minute.
The ability to timeshift your audio listening is one of the AirWare's prime highlights. You can record as much as 5 hours of programming to the unit's 128MB internal flash memory, though the programming chores remind us of setting up a VCR to timer record. Fortunately, if you want to record what you're hearing live, the one-button record feature couldn't be easier to use. Just be aware that after you've maxed out the AirWare's five-hour capacity, it records over the oldest tunes and shows. Furthermore, it won't let you save a tune, fast-forward, reverse, or change the songs' order; all you can do is erase the entire memory and start over. The recorded sound quality is more or less on a par with the live XM sound. That said, XM sound doesn't approach CD quality or even standards; it's more like a low-bit-rate MP3, through stereo separation was pretty good.
We were disappointed that the AirWare didn't include some obvious extras. With digital recording already built in, adding more or expandable flash memory and MP3 functionality would seem to be an easy addition. Furthermore, as good as XM's programming is, we would've preferred to have the option to switch to our local AM or FM stations as well. On the design front, the AirWare is not without its quirks, either: its recessed headphone jack won't accommodate fat plugs and rebuffed our Etymotic ER-4P, , and headphones. Our jack fit, however, so compatibility appears to be a hit-or-miss proposition. Pioneer includes a set of emaciated-sounding ear buds that will do in a pinch, but we imagine most AirWare buyers will want to upgrade to something better--just make sure the plug fits the AirWare's recessed jack or invest in a short extension cable.
Otherwise, connectivity covers a range of applications at home, in the car, and on the go. In any case, you won't be forced to buy any extras to hook up your AirWare. You get a home antenna, a charging cradle, RCA cables, and a remote control; at home, you can either use the RCA outputs or the FM transmitter. We went for the latter approach and appreciated the ability to hear XM, wire-free, over any FM-enabled audio device; any home stereo, boombox, and tabletop radio worked perfectly. The automotive connectivity suite includes a car cradle, a 12-volt cigarette-lighter power adapter, and a magnetically attached XM car antenna; you listen in the car via the FM transmitter or a cassette adapter.
Volume capability over headphones was more than adequate; we cranked our tunes to a comfortably loud level on New York City's noisy subways. Reception indoors and out was inconsistent, but that's not unusual for satellite radios. That said, the AirWare's internal antenna performed as well or better than separate XM antennas inside our apartment. Out on the streets of Brooklyn, Staten Island, and Manhattan, we enjoyed mostly strong reception, but there were places where we'd turn a corner and get zilch. In those dead zones, we listened to the tunes and news shows we had recorded at home. The included belt clip/storage case's clear, soft plastic front offers access to nearly all of the AirWare controls without removing the radio from the case.
Despite our nitpicks, we came away with good feelings about Pioneer's AirWare--its nimble size, decent sound quality, friendly ergonomics, and recording capabilities make for a mighty attractive package.