Gadget Review Tao xm2go Receiver and XM Satellite Radio
By Kailas Narendran
• Music, everywhere, whenever
• First ever portable XM antenna & tuner
• Auto song/artist search and recording for later
• Large display makes use easy
• Non-intuitive interface
Satellite radio is the future of musical airwaves, and the Tao receiver is the messenger. Although a bit bulky in size, it packs a punch, delivering a bajillion (around 150) channels of digital audio, streaming music, talk and inane drivel (Fox News Channel), to you, wherever you are. The receiver is packaged with a home and car kit, giving you ultimate flexibility in listening environment. The receiver itself, although a little challenging to figure out at first, has quite a few innovative features, including saving song names on the fly; scheduling recording of radio shows, on-screen sports and stock ticker; automatically finding a selected artist/song; and recording up to five hours of music for listening. Most exciting, it’s the first XM receiver with a built-in antenna, letting you take the service wherever you go.
Like most consumer electronics, this device is packed with features. In addition to the ones listed before, it has a built-in FM transmitter, scanning mode, and many more that allow you to do more than necessary while listening to music. On the downside is its limited user interface. It’s uncommon for a feature-rich piece of equipment to give you an elegant solution to access all of them (a la iPod), and this player is no exception. It took me quite a while poking through the manual to find out where features where buried, and how to use them. In the end, it wasn’t too much of a hassle, and things actually worked as described (contrary to many previous experiences with new hardware). While I wouldn’t buy this for my parents, I think it’s definitely within the capabilities of the Gen-Y and some Xers.
For those who haven’t experienced it, satellite radio is pretty damn cool. In the end, whatever tuner you get is only as good as the music that comes through it. Satellite radio makes use of (you guessed it) satellites that broadcast music over various parts of the earth. There are three companies that provide service, XM, Sirius, and WorldSpace, the first two providing exclusively to the US market. Hardware is not compatible between service providers. In large cities (like Boston), the satellite signal is repeated through ground stations, so you get a good signal, even without a view of the sky.
The only solid difference among providers is programming. XM has the majority market share in satellite programming because of good business decisions during their growth. I found that their programming lineup was quite varied, perfect if mainstream radio just doesn’t float your boat. There are lineups from new radio, to decades, country, urban, Christian, world, electronic, and more; there’s also a lot of sports radio (not my type of listening, but it gets some excited). Bottom line is lots of variety, with anywhere from zero to few commercials. Unbeatable.
I found the real value of this system to lie in one’s travels around New England, where rural areas become very much so. Spending a lot of time driving around New Hampshire and Vermont, in addition to the greater Boston area, I’ve found an excellent signal, and only occasional dead zones which only last for a few seconds.
Although the Tao receiver does have an internal antenna, the reception in the car isn’t great, and you do need to use the car kit; the Home kit is probably required unless you put it near a window. The recording feature is actually quite useful, if you find yourself making long trips to a basement, you can simply record and playback later.
It does have a built in, rechargeable battery with decent life, so it’s perfect for portable use.
The bottom Line
I really enjoyed playing with the Tao XM receiver, and was quite impressed with XM’s radio service. If you spend a significant amount of time in your car, you will be blown away by how much local radio bandwidth is wasted on crappy advertisements. The Tao receiver actually comes with a car and home kit, along with headphones and a random assortment of other stuff to let you do everything you want, right out of the box.
Since the Tao comes with all the accessories it’ll set you back by about $150, give or take. There was a huge range of prices I found, with the cheapest being $103 after a MIR (www.abesofmaine.com). After you buy a receiver, you will have to pay for service. With XM this starts at $13/month, down to $10/month if you sign up for multiple years. Interestingly enough, you can cancel at anytime and get your cash back. Find more about the Tao at http://www.taolife.com and XM at http://www.xm-radio.com.