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A sign for XM Satellite Radio hangs over its exhibit space at the New York International Auto Show in New York. Mark Lennihan/AP Photo (Mark Lennihan/Mark Lennihan/AP)
A sign for XM Satellite Radio hangs over its exhibit space at the New York International Auto Show in New York. Mark Lennihan/AP Photo (Mark Lennihan/Mark Lennihan/AP)

Gizmos

XM radio for X-mas Add to ...

In the clash of the satellite radio titans of Canada - XM and Sirius - it's hard to pick out any clear winner.

Channel selection, audio quality and plain cool factor all put these units far above conventional radio, not to mention both boast ways to customize the look and feel of the digital display.

But compare them I must, so here goes my take on two similar units: XM's xPress RCI versus the Sirius Starmate 5. Either one would make an excellent (expensive) stocking stuffer.

Sirius Starmate 5

$80 to $100, subscription $15/month

Available at Best Buy: SiriusCanada.ca

I set up the Sirius Starmate through a cassette adapter connection (sold separately). The company includes a quick-start guide to get you going, which is pretty accurate. The only hitch is, it took me a few tries to turn the unit on and off to get the satellite radio working correctly with my Toyota JBL.

For those not wanting extra equipment, there's also the option of a direct FM connection where you pick an unused station on your car radio and link it wirelessly with the Sirius. I found it counterintuitive that you have to turn the satellite radio on first and then the car radio to get it to work, but it was a minor quibble.

Sound quality was excellent - less so with the FM connection - with just a little tinge of fuzz on the edge of it. It's possible that in an area without many buildings (mine was tested in a suburban neighbourhood), it would be even clearer.

There are two options on the display for the Sirius Starmate 5: a slow scroll through the song's title, or a tiny text option that lets you see both artist and name. I found both hard to read, even with the option of different colour choices.

The real selling feature of this unit is its saved search of your favourite artist or song; as the radio is playing, this S-Seek function will alert you when it appears on any of the unit's stations.

XM xPress RCI

$149.99, subscription $15/month

Available at: Best Buy, Future Shop, XMRadio.ca

Newly launched for the holidays, the XM boasts a full-colour display with scroll-and-search to find the station you need. The screen is high-contrast and has enough room to include the entire song's name on the display, allowing you to read it with a quick glance.

The best part is its auto-tune function, which allows you to browse through the channels with the scroll button rather than manually selecting every time you want to switch stations.

Still, I found the scroll button somewhat counterintuitive at times. For a while I kept accidentally pressing the forward and back button to go through the stations rather than scroll through them. Perhaps someone less used to old stereos wouldn't have as much trouble, though.

As with the Sirius, I tried both a direct cassette connection and then FM tuning to connect the car to the satellite radio. It was a bit hard to find the FM connection option in the menus, but a bit of searching around helped me find it fairly quickly.

The audio quality with the cassette connection was excellent, and it was hard for me to hear any extra noise. With the FM, it wasn't quite as good but still quite pleasant.

Like the Sirius, you can set up alerts for your favourite band or song - but setting it apart, sports fans will appreciate the XM's GameSelect function on the radio that alerts you when your favourite team is on the field or ice.

 

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