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XM + Napster

The XM/Napster partnership has some kinks to work out before it's ready for the mainstream. Check out our First Take of the beta version for more info.


XM Satellite Radio and Napster are both ambitious companies, so it's a surprise that the beta version of their new integrated service is so paltry. In its current state, the service will certainly leave customers underwhelmed and disappointed. However, if XM and Napster add a lot of advanced features to the final version, we'll pretend this ugly incident never happened.

XM + Napster's main screen, listing the channels with a brief description.

To use XM + Napster, download the latest version of Napster and select XM Radio Online from the Radio pull-down menu. First-time users will need to enter their XM account number, found by going to channel 000 on your XM receiver. The interface lists the various genres down the left side and presents a three-tab view of the channels in the center. The first tab lists all the channels with a brief description of each, and the second tab lists what's currently playing on each one. It takes a few seconds for your computer to get this information, so occasionally, you'll go to a station and find the song you wanted is already over. In the third tab, you can see your 10 favorite channels.

If the currently playing song isn't available for download, there won't be a download link in the upper-right corner.

Upside: The synergistic payoff of having XM and Napster together is that listeners can instantly buy songs they hear on the XM channels--that is, if those songs are in the Napster library. If they have Napster To Go service, which allows unlimited, untethered downloads for $14.99 per month, they can download songs that will sync with WMA DRM 10 portables. Content we downloaded and purchased transferred perfectly to a Philips portable. As with the browser version, you can save your favorite channels as presets.

The Presets tab, showing the user's 10 favorite channels.

Downside: Sadly, that's all XM + Napster does. There's no way to make a list of your favorite artists or songs so that you can be notified when they're being played on one of the channels. That's something the late, lamented XM PCR, which played XM stations through a PC, could do. There's also no way to schedule recordings or pause a live stream. XM account holders can already tune into many of their favorite XM channels online using the browser-based client accessible through the XM site. In fact, XM offers more music channels online than it does via satellite. This cobranded version, which works through Napster 3.5, ports over the browser interface and functions but doesn't add anything new. Unlike the browser version, XM + Napster doesn't run on Macs. XM + Napster carries 77 stations, almost all music. It's missing most of XM's talk stations, but so is the browser-based version. The browser version, though, carries 10 AOL radio stations not found here.

The What's On tab of XM + Napster, showing what's currently playing on each channel.

XM + Napster's performance was adequate but not great in our testing. Scrolling through the channel list was slow, and the interface often froze for a second or two while we were doing it. The application crashed a few times, so it's not that stable yet; you can add improved stability to the list of things we'd like to see in the final release.

Outlook: We expected a lot more from these two powerhouses--hopefully, we'll see it when the final version comes out. For the time being, though, XM + Napster leaves too much to be desired. Adding to the confusion will be XM's upcoming Samsung Helix and Pioneer Inno portable XM devices with built-in recording of XM stations and MP3/WMA playback.

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