By Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla
iPod Touch and iPhone owners who have a hankering for XM satellite radio but possibly not enough space in their vehicles now have a viable solution. The XM SkyDock iPhone car adapter ($129) works in concert with the XM SkyDock app to convert an iPhone or an iPod Touch into a road-worthy and commercial-free satellite radio.
iOS devices are famous for their chameleon-like quality of assuming different roles and functions with software and hardware attachments. The XM SkyDock needs an app plus the car mount in order to work. A perfect stocking stuffer for your favourite iPod Touch or iPhone user who would also enjoy satellite radio, the XM SkyDock is a neat alternative to standalone satellite radio units (although one may argue that at $49.99, the XM Snap is a smarter, cheaper solution).
Installation on most cars should be straightforward and take anywhere between 15-30 minutes. Our test vehicle, a Jeep Liberty, didn't seem ideal for this solution because the goosneck of the XM SkyDock was a bit too short in relation to where the car lighter/ac power was located so it was hard to reach and manage from the driver's side.
Once you hook up your iPhone to the dock and plug it in, you need to setup the satellite antenna on the dashboard or the windshield and then connect these to the dock as well. You need to take off any iPhone or iPod Touch protective case or cover in order to get it into the dock which is a bit of a hassle if you have one of those hard to remove cases.
The third and most crucial part of this installation is finding a suitable (meaning unnocupied) FM station to run the SkyDock's signal through.
Here's where the value of a direct input to the vehicle's sound system can be seen because once you have an isolated and direct connection to access satellite radio you are spared the difficulty of fiddling with the stations to get a usable signal. If your car stereo offers a line-in plug, then you are in luck because this is the fastest and most hassle free way to get the audio into your stereo.
As you can imagine, finding free space on the airwaves in the city is a chaotic endeavour and you will often find your XM signal booted by FM radio static. Should you manage to find a good and free frequency, however, you should be good to go. The iPhone app seems to work well and while we did notice some delay in navigating the menu at times, we think this is a multitasking on iOS 4 issue rather than weak software.
Should a phone call come in while the radio is on, it will be automatically muted and you have to pick up the phone to take the call, not the safest option around. While it would be great if some hands-free calling functionality would have been included in the XM SkyDock (no doubt this would have added to the cost) you can manage handsfree if you have a Bluetooth headset which officially puts you in the realm of "too many things going on."
Driving on the open road and with unhindered line-of-sight access to satellites, the XM SkyDock is a good solution for iOS owners who want all the benefits of satellite radio. The XM SkyDock performs just like any other XM satellite radio and even has the added benefit of touch control via the iOS devices.
It helps that the dock acts as a charger so the device is fully charged when you get to your destination. We also like that you can tag favourite musicians, sports teams and assorted content which are saved into the system. This generates an alert once any news or performance relating to your favourites is on the air.
The best thing about the XM SkyDock is that you can easily take it apart and store it without anyone knowing that you have a satellite radio in your vehicle. Conversely, if you forget your iOS device in your car and it is stolen, well you lost an iPhone/iPod and your satellite radio.
The worse thing about the XM SkyDock is that it relies on way too many components in order for it to work smoothly. You need your iPhone or iPod Touch, you need the dock itself, the antenna and the line-in connector. If any of these components fail or are underperforming then the experience is less than enjoyable. If you can live with this and are confident that your vehicle has the right dimensions to manage the XM SkyDock, then it is a good solution for on the go XM satellite access.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5