Pioneer Inno review: Pioneer Inno

Pioneer Inno

Troy Dreier

See full bio
6 min read

Editors' Note: As of November 2008, this product has been replaced by the Pioneer XMP3.


Pioneer Inno

The Good

The most portable satellite radio receiver yet, the Pioneer Inno (and its twin, the Samsung Helix) lets you listen to live radio and stored content on a device about the size of an iPod. It has an attractive, easy-to-learn interface, and it can schedule recordings or record any XM song live.

The Bad

We got only 5 hours of satellite playback from the battery, and the Inno's 1GB storage capacity is too small for power MP3 and WMA users. You can't skip backward in the song list or pause a live stream, and there's no way to add more storage space.

The Bottom Line

The Pioneer Inno is compact, gets great reception, and lets you enjoy live satellite audio and your own tracks on the go. Better battery life and more storage would make this XM portable even better.
Pioneer's XM-ready Inno

Oh, the humanity. Satellite broadcaster XM has always been one step ahead of rival Sirius, but with the Pioneer Inno and its twin, the Samsung Helix, XM is officially two steps ahead. While XM is already on its second generation, Sirius hasn't released even one portable receiver yet; the best it has, the Sirius S50, can't play live content unless it's plugged into a dock. First came the Delphi XM MyFi and a few similar devices, which were great but a bit too bulky. Now come these slimmed-down models, which put a satellite receiver in an unbelievably small package and throw in MP3 and WMA playback, song recording, and FM transmitting. XM's required subscription service ($12.95 per month) matches Sirius's in offering a wide variety of music and talk with an arguably better roster of big-name hosts, such as Oprah, Ellen, and Snoop Dogg, as well as MBA and NHL sports coverage. XM also currently has 2.5 million more subscribers. While the Inno will make many users happy, we hope the next generation has better battery life (Inno has 5 hours of live satellite playback time) and more than 1GB of storage or an SD slot. The Pioneer Inno measures 2.2 inches wide, 3.7 inches tall, and a slender 0.6 inch deep; it weighs 4.5 ounces. You could park it in your jeans pocket and not even know it's there, which makes it far slimmer than the Delphi XM MyFi, XM's first portable receiver.

The Pioneer Inno next to an Apple iPod.

The brushed-metal front features a 1.67-inch-diagonal color screen, which displays bright and clear graphics when the Inno is playing an XM channel. Below that is a simple button layout with Mode, play/pause, and Disp buttons along the top and a directional pad below. When the player is on, the buttons glow with a cool, blue light that makes the device a snap to use in dark settings. The right side contains hold/power and volume switches. A short, fat antenna protrudes from the Inno's upper-left corner.

At the time of this writing, we hadn't tested the Helix, but if you're wondering about variations, we think there are only two: the Helix has a somewhat different look with slightly alternatively shaped buttons (although in the same layout), and it comes with different earphones. The Inno comes with soft rubber in-ear 'phones, while the Helix has earbuds like the iPod's. We normally find in-ear 'phones uncomfortable, but these felt good.

While the Inno offers a host of features, the successful interface manages to keep everything simple and orderly--something we couldn't say about the Sirius S50's controls. We were able to use the Inno just fine right away, without consulting the manual. Use the up and down arrows to scroll through the channels and the center button to select. You can also scroll through channel categories with the right arrow. Pressing the Mode button lets you switch over to your stored content. While playing a song, pressing the center button calls up a menu of advanced features and controls so that you can record a song or a channel, bookmark a song for later reference, browse through your stored songs, create a playlist on the fly, or adjust any of the settings.

The Pioneer Inno's bundled accessories.

If the Pioneer Inno received only XM content, it would still be a great player. With a few clicks, you can save any song you hear to the Inno's 1GB of storage, even if that song has already started. You'll still get the full song because the Inno holds the beginning in its buffer. You can then browse your saved songs by artist or title or build a playlist.

Considering that the Inno already uses buffer storage, we were surprised that we couldn't skip backward in a song stream to hear songs that had just played. It's an odd omission, since many receivers, such as the Delphi SkyFi2, already offer that feature.

The Inno's 1GB of storage is partitioned to allocate 50 percent of its space to XM recordings and 50 percent to your own MP3 and WMA tracks, although you can change the partition to devote all the space to XM. (Be warned: repartitioning will erase all your data.) If you use all the space for XM, you'll get about 50 hours of recording, but if you divide it in half, you'll get 25 hours of XM and about 8 hours of your own tracks. XM songs are stored in a format called AACPlus; XM refuses to comment on the bit rate. We hope Pioneer increases the storage; imagine how attractive a 10GB or 20GB version of the Inno would be.

To use the Inno with your Windows 2000 or XP PC, you'll need to load the included XM+Napster software. This is basically the same as the underwhelming service we recently reviewed but with integration features for the new devices. You can organize your stored content into playlists on your computer, but you can't hear XM songs you've saved to your Inno. Drag and drop MP3 or WMA tracks to load them, but be aware that while the Inno can play DRM-protected WMA tracks purchased à la carte from online stores, it can't play subscription content--even from Napster, ironically. Songs transfer quickly with the included USB 2.0 cable.

The home docking station (seen here) is included.

We ran into our only glitch while scheduling recordings with the XM+Napster software. Our schedules transferred to the Inno, but the channel selections got messed up along the way. So when we tried to schedule a recording on channel 75 (Hear Music, "the sound of Starbucks"), we instead got channel 95 (Luna, which plays hot and cool Latin jazz). We hope a fix is forthcoming.

You can bookmark songs while listening to the Inno; your bookmarks will then appear in the XM+Napster software, with purchase links if the song is available from Napster's online catalog. It's a handy feature for when you don't want to forget a title.

The Inno comes with a home dock, which you use to connect the device to your home stereo; other accessories include an antenna, a simple belt clip, earphones, cables, and a replaceable battery. We also tried the Belkin Holster Case ($29 list), which has a useful swivel belt clip.

Besides the Inno and the Helix, two less expensive players are debuting: the Samsung Nexus 25 ($219 list) and the Nexus 50 ($269 list). They're a bit more compact than the Inno, but they lack a color screen and, like the Sirius S50, can't play anything but recorded content when away from their docks.

While on the go, you'll need to use the Pioneer Inno's included earphones, because they contain the necessary satellite antenna. Since the player is so small, we were surprised to get consistently great outdoor reception with the Inno, although that may have been partly due to our location. Whenever we looked at the antenna setting, we saw that most of our signal was coming from XM's terrestrial repeaters--earthbound signal amplifiers--instead of the satellite. XM has more than 1,000 terrestrial repeaters, but the New York City area, where we did our testing, certainly has a higher concentration of them.

With the home dock and the included antenna, we got great reception indoors as well. The optional Belkin Antenna Headphones for XM ($39) produced a stronger signal and let us use the Inno indoors without connecting to the home dock. Their hard-plastic design is fairly uncomfortable, though.

Our only performance complaint is with the battery life. XM public relations told us to expect 5.5 to 6 hours of battery life when playing satellite content (a number oddly missing from the product's packaging and promotional material), but we got only 5 hours. That's way too low for a portable device. XM PR promised 15 hours of battery life when playing recorded content. We'll update this review with information on how the battery performs with the Inno playing only MP3s.

The user guide contains information about the Inno's one-year parts-and-labor warranty and the 90-day warranty for the battery. It also lists a toll-free number for customer support.


Pioneer Inno

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 7Performance 7
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