The MyFi comes well equipped with a full complement of accessories for domestic and automotive use: auxiliary antennas, plug-in power supply, mounting cradles for the home and car console, various utility cables and a useful remote control. The downside to using the attachments is, of course, cable clutter.
The Delphi MyFi delivers clear audio when there is an unobstructed view of the southern sky (where the signal originates) or when it is close to one of the terrestrial repeaters XM has installed in major cities. But reception can be rather spotty when you are mobile and tall buildings or mountains block your line-of-sight downlink. Indoors, more often than not, the signal breaks up when something cuts your invisible tether to the heavens. So inside city buildings, unless you are near a window, reception is intermittent even with the clip-on antenna. At my office, I got good results by attaching the antenna to a venetian-blind slat and tinkering with the skyward aim.
Unfortunately, indoors--at the gym, at work, while shopping, or on planes or subways--is often just where you want to use a portable music machine, and windows are not always accessible. These frequent outages would be a fatal flaw but for the engineers' foresight in equipping the MyFi unit with the ability to digitally record five hours of programming, which you can play back anytime the signal fails.
Use of satellite radio has exploded during the past year. More than 5.4 million subscribers currently pay the $12.95 a month to get service from XM or Sirius, the competing satellite radio providers. Right now XM leads with over four million users, but Sirius is making progress, having signed up 1.4 million customers. Each offers somewhat different (and incompatible) programming, so before you buy I suggest trying out the services through their Web sites (www.xmradio.com; www.sirius.com). If National Public Radio, shock-jock Howard Stern or all Elvis all the time is your thing, you might want to wait until the end of this year, when the first handheld, Sirius-format radio is expected to arrive. XM features NPR refugee Bob Edwards, Major League Baseball, wild men Opie and Anthony, and a premium Playboy channel. Your choice. Note that Tao and Pioneer plan to roll out portable devices for receiving XM radio by year's end.
Satellite radio can lead one to develop an insatiable desire for all kinds of unfamiliar music and talk, in the way shortwave radio opened up new worlds for listeners in the past. I ended up educating myself about exotic music styles I had never much listened to before.
One disappointing aspect of the MyFi is its inability to let you produce customized playlists--you can hop between the songs and shows you have recorded, but it will play those automatically only in the order in which you saved them. Nevertheless, I found the MyFi to be a fun gadget, perhaps attractive enough to make me change my tune and buy one. But personal satellite radio is no slam dunk. The cost of admission is still a bit steep, and I might just wait around for some further miniaturization and enhancement of the technology before I think about plunking down the necessary cash.
Truth is, I'm really holding out for a combination iPod/satellite radio--what some geeks call a wireless iPod, iPod Satellite or SkyPod. This version of the "ultimate personal music player" would let you listen to your own tunes or somebody else's whenever and wherever you wanted. The Net has been rife recently with rumors and reports of discussions of this possibility between the two satellite radio companies, Apple, and the makers of MP3 players. Although this marriage would most likely require overcoming some thorny technical challenges, one can only hope that the coming of the SkyPod is in the stars.
This article was originally published with the title Heavenly Music in Your Hand.