The brushed aluminum finish is sleek and contemporary. Buttons are integrated into the surface of the device except for the volume and power buttons which are raised types. Cool blue backlights illuminate the buttons borders. A four-way directional keypads surrounds a button bearing the XM logo, which serves as enter and menu key.
You have to spend some time with the manual to learn how to navigate through the device. Ten buttons overall are responsible for getting you through all the record, channel, volume and MP3 features, and it’s not always intuitive getting around. To access your favorite stations, you hit the right arrow key, which you’d only guess by trial-and-error or by caving and reading the manual. Hitting the left arrow either jumps you through categories or allows for direct tuning using an onscreen dial pad.
Pioneer Inno Screen
Recording can be real time or scheduled. The device needs AC power in either case and a strong XM signal. The built-in memory buffer lets you record a song up to 10 minutes in length from the beginning even if you came in during the middle (as long as the device was on and tuned to that channel).
The TuneSelect feature stores favorite artists or song titles and automatically switches channels if the band or song appears elsewhere on the XM grid. None of my faves ever popped up, but I thought it was a fun idea. You can also bookmark songs or artists so you can remember them later. Then when you connect Inno to the PC using XM+Napster software, you can download songs to the Inno if you didn’t record it earlier.
You can also set the Inno to deliver data that’s retrievable via the Display button on the front panel. You can select stock quotes or baseball scores. I chose the latter but I wasn’t psyched about either since I don’t know which is performing worse right now: my stocks or my St. Louis Cardinals.
You can get the optional car kit ($70) with all the cables and adapters required to play back the unit through the car stereo (including a cassette adapter which is a better-sounding alternative to using Inno’s built-in FM modulator). It’s a messy solution with all the wires, but it works, and it’s a sound add to a long road trip.
Charging took between 4-5 hours. I plugged the AC charger into several outlets and heard annoying high-pitched ringing during the charging stage. It was very distracting in a quiet room.
Pioneer Inno Accessories
Through the antenna repeater system in Manhattan, I was able to pull in the XM signal fairly easily without the external antenna. In the ‘burbs, it was more spotty. I loved being able to get reception on the fly. I could listen to the Cardinals game before dozing off to sleep in the way I used to listen to my transistor radio under the pillow as a kid. Even better, the next morning I just had to recharge the battery rather than plunk down money for a 9-volt replacement.
Although I could get reception in New York City, it was a come-and-go signal—especially as I walked around both in the apartment and on the street. I’m used to that with AM and FM reception when I drive through Manhattan so the dropouts didn’t seem that unusual for a radio. The difference is that the record capability is one of the major selling points of this device. If I heard a song that I liked, hit the XM button to record the song, and then lost the signal midway through, that recording became useless.
The other thing I noticed, especially in the 100-degree heat, was the exceptionally warm operating temperature of the device. I might appreciate a pocket warmer on a December day but it wasn’t a welcome addition in August.
Recording is easy. Press and hold the XM button and you’re recording the current song. From the recording menu, you can select current music or a scheduled recording. I wish the clock radios in hotels around the country were as easy to set as the timer on the Inno. You want to be sure you have a solid signal, though. I tried using the terrestrial signal and nothing recorded even though I was able to tune into music. So I did what the manual prescribed and connected Inno to its cradle and to the external antenna (two of the pieces and parts that are sure to get lost if I take the ensemble from the house).
But I found out what happens when you don’t reach the 8-hour minimum in a one-month period. All the music I had recorded from XM vanished. That’s quite a punishment for missing a few hours of connection. If you have an annual subscription to XM and miss a month while traveling abroad or dealing with medical issues, should you be stripped of your stored content? I say no.
This isn’t just an XM issue. It’s the way many subscription-based digital music services operate. I guess XM and Napster’s response would be that any song you want to own you can buy from Napster and download to your PC and the Inno. Those won’t disappear. But the digital music world sure feels a lot like Big Brother.
I loaded the XM+Napster software according to instructions, but Napster seemed to recognize me from a previous version on my PC and told me Inno wasn’t compatible with my Napster to Go service. I didn’t want to delete the songs in my Napster library so I went into Windows Media and synched tunes from there. That route worked fine and my Martin Sexton library of tunes loaded in no time, filing in between Led Zeppelin and Top Tracks. I like that WMA and XM tunes can play together well in the same music list.
I like the Inno. It’s a great size, has a readable, detailed display and is easy to navigate. Reception depends as much on your location as anything, and I put it through two pretty tough tests: cacophonous New York City and a tree-filled suburb. The signal cut out in both places when I’d move the device just a few inches from a sweet spot. But I couldn’t expect any more under the less-than-ideal conditions.
Live XM on the go is a very appealing feature. The recording function isn’t useful in that mode, however, unless you just want to grab a tune you like because you need a strong signal via external antenna to ensure high-quality recordings. Maybe that will improve down the road.
Inno’s flexibility is its biggest strength. It plays at home, in the car, and on the road. It’s not about being an iPod replacement so its modest 1-GB of storage doesn’t bother me much—in this generation. Sure, I’d like to store all of my music on one of these babies, but that’s down the road when storage costs come down. It’ll happen in time.
The negatives that stuck out were Napster’s finicky behavior and the Inno’s short battery life. Live radio sucks up a lot of juice. I got through a Cardinals’ game and a couple of hours of music before it was time to fuel up again. I won’t be taking Inno on my next trip to Tokyo, but I sure like the idea of being able to have my favorite XM channels with me wherever I go.
- Intuitive to use
- Easy to carry
- Sounds good
- Smart design and idea
- Napster can be finicky
- Short battery life