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Now Batting: The XM Inno

Have you ever tried to surreptitiously listen in your office to that baseball game that’s being played so inconveniently in the middle of the afternoon (like today’s Yankees/Rangers game)? Wanted to listen to it while walking around, but forgot your transistor radio?

Have you ever tried to surreptitiously listen in your office to that baseball game that’s being played so inconveniently in the middle of the afternoon (like today’s Yankees/Rangers game)? Wanted to listen to it while walking around, but forgot your transistor radio? The Pioneer inno, as well as the nearly identical Samsung Helix, is XM Satellite’s $400 answer to this pressing humanitarian need, giving the user the ability to listen to live satellite radio while walking around, and in a pretty stylish way, too.

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The inno’s dimensions are comparable to a full-size iPod, except that the front edges are beveled slightly, and the bottom rounded. The body is made of a metallic bluish-gray facade, with a small stubby antenna protruding out the top. Taking a cue from the Motorola Razr, the buttons on the face are all outlined with bright blue lights.

The inno comes packaged with goodies, including a cradle to recharge the unit, a 20-foot antenna, a remote control, uncomfortable headphones that also double as an antenna, and a pair of ear buds that, while snug in the ear canal, sound muddy. (Not helping this is the fact that, unlike the iPod with its myriad audio profiles, you can only adjust the treble and bass levels.) The device plugs into the cradle on its side, which seems a little awkward, even if the crisp screen automatically reorients images 90 degrees when plugged in. The cradle also comes with a line out jack for connecting the unit to a home stereo, but it’s almost redundant considering the power of the unit’s FM transmitter. Aside from the fact that you have your pick of the spectrum to stream the device, it also comes in clearly even when the stereo is a good 15 feet away. Annoyingly, though, the same transmitter that works so well in the home is next to useless when trying to stream it to your car stereo.

Outside the office, reception was remarkably clear, with only a few dropouts even in the cavernous avenues of New York; In fact, walking from Penn Station to Grand Central, I got better reception than the FM radio for my iPod. One of the nice things, especially when listening to aforementioned baseball games, is that the screen displays and continually updates the score, inning, and number of outs. While that’s no so demanding for, say, a pitcher’s duel, it’s quite helpful when you’re dealing with a slugfest and rambling announcers.

For those times when you can’t get a signal, you can listen to music you’ve uploaded to the device from your computer (not with iTunes, of course). Adding to its functionality is that, like your old-school tape deck, you can record music being broadcast over the air; thanks to the device’s 10-minute buffer, if you’ve been listening to the same station, you can even start recording mid-song and get all of it. You can even program the inno to record a certain station at a specified time. Unfortunately, the song can’t be downloaded onto your computer, and there’s only 1 GB worth of storage on the inno, which seems paltry these days. Even so, the ability to record songs has drawn the ire of record companies, who are seeking $150,000 for every song downloaded by XM customers. As Geddy Lee, the frontman for Rush sings in “The Spirit of Radio,” (which I recently recorded on the inno)
One likes to believe in the freedom of music
But glittering prizes and endless compromises
Shatter the illusion of integrity

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