If satellite radio has a corner on any market, it's in the car; and with the increasingly narrow selection offered by terrestrial radio in many areas, it's no wonder. But for those who want to listen to Sirius or XM at the gym, in the train, or on the streets, the selection is a bit more limited, namely because many portable receivers aren't as adept at picking up satellite signals because of the small size of the units, and thus, their antennas. With the XMP3 for XM, Pioneer aims to offer the most compact device while still retaining reasonable reception. For on-the-go use, the $279 device fairs well, but it doesn't hold a signal as well as an in-car unit with an extended antenna. Still, the recording features are well-implemented and the memory-expansion slot supports high-capacity cards--both big pluses for a satellite radio receiver.
The Pionner XMP3 is the smallest and lightest portable satellite radio receiver we've had our hands on. It measures just 3.6 inches tall, 2 inches wide, and 0.6 inch deep and weights a scant 3.1 ounces. Although it's constructed mainly of plastic, the device feels well-constructed and has a certain understated design appeal with its stubby antenna and nice 2.5-inch color screen. Below the display are four dedicated buttons--back, menu, keypad (for manually entering a station number), and options--and a mechanical, rocking scroll wheel that serves to navigate among menu options and XM stations as well as record station content and scrub through tracks and play/pause in MP3 mode. A dedicated volume rocker, a power/hold switch, and a mini USB port deck out the sides of the player. The mini USB is used for syncing only; Pioneer includes a wall-wart adapter for power. The power jack and a docking port take up the bottom side of the device; a standard headphone jack as well as a microSD-card slot for memory expansion take up the space next to the antenna.
You'll need that extra storage, too; the XMP3 only offers 2GB built in. A little more than 1GB is made available to you for syncing MP3s and WMAs, while the rest is dedicated to the XM radio functions, of which there are several. First and foremost is recording, and Pioneer seems to have all of its bases covered here. You can record up to five channels, schedule recordings of up to 75 hours of your favorite channels, and set up automatic recording of up to 15 to 30 hours of those channels as well. There's also a one-touch recording option, which lets you record up to 10 hours of individual tracks. In addition, you have the ability to pause and replay up to 30 minutes of live radio.
All of this is made simple by the XMP3's straightforward interface. Four main menu icons line the type of the display on most screens: Live XM, My Music Library, Auto Recordings, and Settings. The Live XM menu is divided into five selections of its own: Favorite Channels, All Channels, All Categories, XM Highlights, and Schedule Recording. It couldn't get much clearer than that. Likewise, music files are organized by ID3 tag, sorting them into Artist, Album, Playlist, and so on. And as you scroll through XM stations, each channel is clearly identified by name and content. The playback screen is also clear and visually pleasing, with a faded-out station-related image behind the title and artist (in reasonably large font) of the currently playing song. The MP3-playback screen displays track information, but no album art, instead opting for a generic icon.
All of that is well and good, but performance--especially when it comes to XM radio reception on-the-go--is always going to be a concern in a device as compact as the Pioneer XMP3. In our testing, we found that the XMP3's processor was up to the task, speedily switching among menu functions and picking up stations. When the unit was hooked up to the home dock with the extended antenna, reception was great. However, we experienced some drop-outs while walking around with the player, particularly while entering and exiting buildings. MP3 and WMA files sounded pretty muffled through the included headphones, though not terrible. Swapping in a set of Klipsch Image X5s improved things. Music came through clear, with nice mids and a reasonable amount of low-end. Sound quality is not stellar, but it's far from bad.