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Delphi SkyFi3 (XM) review: Delphi SkyFi3 (XM)

The SkyFi3 doesn't really bring anything new to the market, except, of course, a Micro SD expansion slot. Its broad feature set mimics those of the Pioneer Inno/Samsung Helix (twins separated at birth), but both of those so-called deluxe portables cost a bit more than the SkyFi3's $200. However, the Inno/Helix are more compact, include vibrant color screens, and are really designed to be used on the go, as they have integrated receivers. The SkyFi3 has a monochrome screen that's much less flashy and a build that feels a little cheap, and its on-the-move Live XM capability relies on a pair of $49 headphones that have the receiver antenna built right into them. Still, the SkyFi3 makes a nice audio companion for those who spend lots of time in their autos, and it's flexible enough to be used almost anywhere. Plus, its 30-minute time-shift capability is three times that of the Inno/Helix.


Delphi SkyFi3 (XM)

The Good

The Delphi SkyFi3 is a competitively priced plug-and-play satellite radio receiver/recorder. It can pause and replay programming up to 30 minutes, is lightweight and easy to use, and includes a large and legible screen. It plays back digital audio files via the expansion slot and can be used while afoot with optional antenna headphones. It includes a car kit and a remote control.

The Bad

The Delphi SkyFi3 has a budget build quality, with a monochrome screen with no channel graphics and no built-in antenna, so you must use optional headphones for true portability. It lacks a Micro SD card, has subpar rated battery life, and can't store your own digital audio files on internal memory. It has a substandard FM transmitter and charging the device over USB isn't guaranteed.

The Bottom Line

The Delphi SkyFi3 XM receiver/recorder is a flexible solution for home, car, and on the go for those who don't want to spend big bucks.
Delphi is back with another portable plug-and-play XM receiver. The SkyFi3 is a lightweight unit (65 percent smaller than the SkyFi2, which is not truly portable) that can be used in concert with the Live Wearable antenna headphones (a $49 accessory) for true portability. However, the SkyFi3, armed with its big-buttoned interface; expansive and bright, nine-line, 2.8-inch display; and vertical and horizontal flexibility, is ideal for car use. Budget build quality aside, the SkyFi3 packs in many features and decent performance for a reasonable price.

Looks aren't everything
Measuring about 4.4x2.25x0.7 inches, the SkyFi3 looks and feels like a big-screen, high-capacity MP3 player (it has very little internal storage, though). It's extremely lightweight, too. By design, it's meant to be stashed in a pocket or bag; even without the optional receiver headphones, the SkyFi3 can be used in much the same way as the Samsung Nexus: to play back MP3 and protected WMA files or any recorded XM content. The respective caveats: your personal digital music collection needs to be stored on tiny Micro SD cards (up to 2GB these days) that fit in the slot on the top of the unit, and you get up to 10 hours of recorded XM content. While digital audio files can be stored internally on the Inno/Helix, you're limited to only 1GB.

The 2.8-inch screen features large text, and the backlight makes the display very easy to read, even from a few feet away. Viewing many channels listed on a single screen is a nice treat. The unit's buttons are substantial as well--a five-way navigation controller (the center being play/pause) and the Mode/Power (MyMusic, LiveXM, and Auxiliary input), Display (portrait or landscape), and Menu buttons.

The SkyFi3's right spine includes a lightweight plastic (read: cheap) volume rocker and a hold switch, and you'll find a headphone jack and a Micro SD slot on top. The bottom includes a power port, a standard USB port, and the dock connector. As shipped, the unit can be charged only within a car via the cigarette lighter adapter--there is no wall charger in the package.

If you want to extend the SkyFi3 into the home (without the antenna headphones), spring for the $60 Home Kit, which includes an AC adapter. Unfortunately, while we were able to get our unit to charge over USB, Delphi states that the SkyFi3 doesn't officially support it-- so it may not work for you depending on your system. Still, the way Delphi sees it, 80 percent of satellite usage use is in the car.

The bottom of the SkyFi3 includes the dock connector and USB and power ports.

Of course, the device's primary objective is to offer an intuitive and safe way to enjoy XM (more than 170 channels at $12.95/month) in a car. The SkyFi3 comes with a vehicle cradle, which includes five two-way buttons (each way represents a number, or one of 30 presets broken down into three banks); additionally, three of the buttons can be pressed in the center to record content, store a preset channel, or to either input channel numbers directly or choose from a list. The cradle's buttons are tactile and easy to press, though it takes a bit of practice to consistently press the center buttons. The cradle also features a line input (for your iPod, for example) and a line output (just in case your stereo has a line input).

The docked SkyFi3 in horizontal mode.

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.


Delphi SkyFi3 (XM)

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 9Performance 6