Editors' Note: As of November 2008, this product has been replaced by the Pioneer XMP3.
Oh, the humanity. Satellite broadcaster XM has always been one step ahead of rival Sirius, but with the Pioneer Inno and its twin, the Samsung Helix, XM is officially two steps ahead. While XM is already on its second generation, Sirius hasn't released even one portable receiver yet; the best it has, the Sirius S50, can't play live content unless it's plugged into a dock. First came the Delphi XM MyFi and a few similar devices, which were great but a bit too bulky. Now come these slimmed-down models, which put a satellite receiver in an unbelievably small package and throw in MP3 and WMA playback, song recording, and FM transmitting. XM's required subscription service ($12.95 per month) matches Sirius's in offering a wide variety of music and talk with an arguably better roster of big-name hosts, such as Oprah, Ellen, and Snoop Dogg, as well as MBA and NHL sports coverage. XM also currently has 2.5 million more subscribers. While the Inno will make many users happy, we hope the next generation has better battery life (Inno has 5 hours of live satellite playback time) and more than 1GB of storage or an SD slot. The Pioneer Inno measures 2.2 inches wide, 3.7 inches tall, and a slender 0.6 inch deep; it weighs 4.5 ounces. You could park it in your jeans pocket and not even know it's there, which makes it far slimmer than the Delphi XM MyFi, XM's first portable receiver.
The brushed-metal front features a 1.67-inch-diagonal color screen, which displays bright and clear graphics when the Inno is playing an XM channel. Below that is a simple button layout with Mode, play/pause, and Disp buttons along the top and a directional pad below. When the player is on, the buttons glow with a cool, blue light that makes the device a snap to use in dark settings. The right side contains hold/power and volume switches. A short, fat antenna protrudes from the Inno's upper-left corner.
At the time of this writing, we hadn't tested the Helix, but if you're wondering about variations, we think there are only two: the Helix has a somewhat different look with slightly alternatively shaped buttons (although in the same layout), and it comes with different earphones. The Inno comes with soft rubber in-ear 'phones, while the Helix has earbuds like the iPod's. We normally find in-ear 'phones uncomfortable, but these felt good.
While the Inno offers a host of features, the successful interface manages to keep everything simple and orderly--something we couldn't say about the Sirius S50's controls. We were able to use the Inno just fine right away, without consulting the manual. Use the up and down arrows to scroll through the channels and the center button to select. You can also scroll through channel categories with the right arrow. Pressing the Mode button lets you switch over to your stored content. While playing a song, pressing the center button calls up a menu of advanced features and controls so that you can record a song or a channel, bookmark a song for later reference, browse through your stored songs, create a playlist on the fly, or adjust any of the settings.
Considering that the Inno already uses buffer storage, we were surprised that we couldn't skip backward in a song stream to hear songs that had just played. It's an odd omission, since many receivers, such as the Delphi SkyFi2, already offer that feature.
The Inno's 1GB of storage is partitioned to allocate 50 percent of its space to XM recordings and 50 percent to your own MP3 and WMA tracks, although you can change the partition to devote all the space to XM. (Be warned: repartitioning will erase all your data.) If you use all the space for XM, you'll get about 50 hours of recording, but if you divide it in half, you'll get 25 hours of XM and about 8 hours of your own tracks. XM songs are stored in a format called AACPlus; XM refuses to comment on the bit rate. We hope Pioneer increases the storage; imagine how attractive a 10GB or 20GB version of the Inno would be.