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XM SkyDock review: XM SkyDock

XM SkyDock

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Antuan Goodwin
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Antuan Goodwin

Reviews Editor / Cars

Antuan Goodwin gained his automotive knowledge the old fashioned way, by turning wrenches in a driveway and picking up speeding tickets. From drivetrain tech and performance to car audio installs and cabin tech, if it's on wheels, Antuan is knowledgeable.

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5 min read

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The XM SkyDock is an XM Satellite radio receiver that works with iPod Touch (1G, 2G) and the iPhone, iPhone 3G, and iPhone 3GS with iPhone OS 3.0 or better. With its easy installation and slick app-based interface, the XM SkyDock seems like a relatively hassle-free way for an iPhone/iPod Touch user to add satellite radio to their vehicle.

OVR
6.3

XM SkyDock

The Good

The XM SkyDock's app-based interface allows users to tag their favorite songs and artists and store up to 12 favorite channels. The unit installs quickly without tools for most applications. The Skydock offers a variety of out-of-the-box connection options for car stereos, including an auxiliary audio output and a built-in FM transmitter.

The Bad

The unit only plays back audio when the XM app is open on the iPhone, which means you can't multitask while listening. Installation is a bit more involved than simple plug and play.

The Bottom Line

The XM SkyDock is an easy and relatively inexpensive way for iPhone users to add satellite radio to a vehicle, as long as they aren't power multitaskers.

Design
The SkyDock is based on a simple and familiar cradle on an arm design. That plugs directly into your vehicle's 12-volt power or cigarette lighter port.

Starting with the cradle itself, the SkyDock features adjustable arms and a trio of spacers that allow it to accommodate an iPhone or an iPod Touch, with or without a case. However, the bulkiest of cases probably still won't fit and although moderately thick hard plastic shells may actually fit between the arms, the dock connector may not reach. Your mileage will vary.

Just below where the iPhone/iPod sits is a pair of power buttons for the FM transmitter and the satellite radio receiver. Between the buttons is a blue power indicator light.

The cradle connects to its 12-volt power adapter via a rotating joint that allows the iPhone to be displayed in a portrait or landscape orientation and a flexible arm that can be positioned for optimal viewing.

The 12-volt connector is a bulky bit with integrated connections for the satellite radio antenna, an FM antenna, and an audio output. The tip of the 12-volt adapter features a rubber ring that protrudes slightly for a very snug fit that takes a good amount of force to insert or remove, so there's little chance that the SkyDock will break free during spirited driving.

Installation
However, installation of the XM SkyDock isn't as simple as just plugging it in and slapping an iPhone into the cradle.

Users must also install a magnetic satellite radio antenna--preferably outside of the vehicle, on the roof, hood, or trunk. This, of course, means routing and hiding the 10-foot antenna cable. Be sure to do this carefully so you don't damage any of your vehicle's weather seals.

Once you have your antenna installed and connected, there's the small matter of connecting the SkyDock to your vehicle's speakers. If your car stereo features a 3.5mm auxiliary input, connecting the XM SkyDock is a simple as using the included audio cable. If no auxiliary input is available, the SkyDock features a built-in FM transmitter for over-the-air commandeering of an FM frequency and an FM antenna output for use with an FM Direct Adapter (sold separately).

Finally, there's the issue of activating the XM Radio tuner on the Internet using a device code--either on a PC or using the iPhone's data connection. An XM Radio service plan is required for operations. Plans start at $9.99 per month for the most basic plan and top out at $16.99 for the most exhaustive channel package.

Features
When you connect your iPhone to the XM SkyDock, it will begin charging the device and prompt you to download the free Sirius XM SkyDock app. Once installed, the app gives users control over the SkyDock hardware.

Using the iPhone's touch-screen interface, users can search for available channels by channel number, station name, or category. When browsing, the app displays both the station name and the currently playing song.

The artist and title data are also displayed when listening. A tagging feature allows people to mark songs they like for later purchase. Users can also receive notification when a tagged song or artist is playing.

If you live in one of the 20 most congested American cities, the SkyDock app also gives access to weather and traffic updates.

Features available across most XM Radio tuners are also available on the SkyDock, including tracking your favorite sports teams with alerts, displaying sports scores and stock quotes on a ticker, and saving favorite channels.

Performance
With the capability to receive both satellite signals and redundant terrestrial signals where available when a clear sky view isn't available, the XM SkyDock's performance is on par with the best factory-installed XM Radio systems that we've tested. It even works indoors, albeit with slightly reduced audio quality.

However, when used over wireless FM transmission, the audio can suffer from excessive static in areas with crowded airwaves. However, this is more of an issue inherent with FM transmission and not necessarily the SkyDock itself. To stay on the safe side, try to use some sort of wired connection, even a cassette tape adapter would work in this case.

The biggest issue we had with the SkyDock is that the XM app must be running for it to play back audio. This means if you pop out of the app to reply to an SMS or want to use your iPhone for navigation, then your music playback will stop. We can understand the need for the iPhone to be connected, but with a device as multifunctional as the iPhone, consistent playback would be nice.

In sum
Overall, the XM SkyDock met all of our expectations for an app-based XM Radio tuner. The design of the hardware and the app are both very conducive to on-the-road usage and allow the user to safely and quickly navigate the hundreds of channels available on the XM service. Giving the users multiple ways to connect to their car stereos (including a built-in FM transmitter) also helps to boost the design score.

We like the song-tagging feature, finding it helpful for quickly marking artists that we liked for later purchase. The alerts also made it easy to find the music that we wanted when it was playing.

While the SkyDock isn't as plug and play as we'd have liked, the addition of an external antenna goes a long way toward maintaining a clean signal and great performance--if not somewhat limiting device portability.

However, the fact that the app must be running at all times somewhat limits the usefulness of the XM SkyDock on a multifunction device like the iPhone that users are likely to be using for calls and navigation as well as audio playback. We've docked a point from the performance score for this reason.

Overall, the XM SkyDock is a great way for an iPhone and iPod Touch users to add a low-cost satellite radio tuner to their vehicle, as long as they aren't power multitaskers.

OVR
6.3

XM SkyDock

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 6