XM SkyDock: The full in-depth review - Orbitcast

XM SkyDock: The full in-depth review

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XM SkyDock Review Photo 4
When I first had the chance to play with the XM SkyDock back in August, I boldly stated that Sirius XM Radio "hit the ball right out of the park" with this latest device. I was enamored with the concept of being able to combine my iPhone and a satellite radio in a single neat package.

That was then. The question is, does the sentiment still hold up?

This full in-depth review of the XM SkyDock satellite radio/iPhone dock comes to you after a week of hard testing to find out all the intricate details about it.

But, do I still feel the same about the SkyDock as I did two months ago?
In short, yes, I love it. But I have to caveat this by saying that the XM SkyDock may not be perfect for everyone. Read on (and please excuse the finger print smudges in the photos).

XM SkyDock Review Photo 3

Installing the SkyDock
First impressions are always the most important, and the XM SkyDock is no exception. My first impression of the install was incredible. Out of literally dozens upon dozens of satellite radios that I've tested, this was the simplest install I've ever done.

When the SkyDock showed up at my doorstep I immediately opened it up and was a little surprised. There are almost no wires in the box!

For anyone who has done a DIY satellite radio install, you feel my pain (and joy). In the box there's one wire for the satellite antenna, a small AUX wire that's not really necessary with their new PowerConnect FM transmitter (more on that in a minute), and a couple clips for fitting the dock to your iPhone. But that's pretty much it.

For the first time in a very long time, installing a satellite radio was simple again.

I do have one point of criticism though: the antenna wire supplied is significantly shorter than others I've encountered in the past. This required a bit more "creativity" when it came to routing the cord through my truck. But it also comes with the added benefit of not needing to hide the massive amounts of antenna cable that have been left over either, so some people will like this feature.

XM SkyDock Review Photo 8

Using the SkyDock
What can I say? It's the best interface for a satellite radio yet. By separating the interface from the hardware, the SkyDock now benefits from Apple's touchscreen technology without any native hardware limitations.

Menus are easy to navigate, the touch sensitivity is accurate (it leaves a white mark to show you where you pressed - nice for eyes-on-road use), and a simple swipe of your finger lets you scroll through channel categories or individual channels with ease.

There's a couple glitches here and there - particularly when flipping from landscape to portrait modes (mine would get stuck). But it's nothing a simple software update can't solve, and definitely not a showstopper.

I also really like how responsive the SkyDock is. As soon as you are snapped in to the XM SkyDock and start the app - you immediately get audio. Other players like the Slacker App or Pandora have an annoyingly long start-up time, and as such I was surprised when the XM SkyDock fired up audio instantly.

XM SkyDock Review Photo 6

Does the PowerConnect FM Transmitter really work?
Without a question, it works great. The PowerConnect FM Transmitter is truly the best thing that Sirius XM could have developed.

Ever since mid-2006 when the FCC forced Sirius and XM to pull radios because of their super-strong FM transmitters, satellite radio has had issues with the do-it-yourself install. Now with the PowerConnect FM transmitter, the signal is sent through the vehicle's own electrical system surrounding the radio - making for an amazing signal.

Don't believe me? Give it a shot for yourself. I tested it in several vehicles, and had flawless performance for each one. Even if you buy the SkyDock and never activate the XM subscription, it kicks ass as an FM transmitter/iPhone charger.

XM SkyDock Review
iTunes Tagging
One of the newly introduced features for the XM SkyDock is the ability to tag a song for later purchase on Apple's iTunes. It's neat, sure, but not a big game changer in my opinion. Consider it a "nice to have" feature especially since you don't need to leave the device to purchase the song, but again, not a game changer.

XM SkyDock Review Photo 11

The Verdict
Three words: simple, simple, simple. The SkyDock brings simplicity to satellite radio. If you are one of the millions who own an iPhone or iPod Touch and prefer a clean install, this is the radio for you.

There's is one drawback about the XM SkyDock that I think power-users would have an issue with: no timeshifting. If you've ever owned an XMP3, Stiletto 2 or any of the other dozens of satellite radios with pause/replay functionality - this is a feature that would be sorely missed.

But the tradeoff is simplicity. And for many people, that's where it counts. With the XM SkyDock it's just one device with multiple uses.

If you're a power-user who simply needs to take your satellite radio recordings with you, then stick with the XMP3 or Stiletto 2. If you like a clean and simple look, with the convenience and flexibilty of the iPhone interface - then check out the XM SkyDock.

Check out more photos below...



XM SkyDock Review Photo 5
XM SkyDock Review Photo 9
XM SkyDock Review Photo 10
XM SkyDock Review Photo 12
Was this review helpful to you? If so, please consider buying the XM SkyDock from Amazon. Your purchase will help support Orbitcast, plus you get free shipping and the lowest price that I've found on the SkyDock yet.

53 Comments

I'm still wondering about this.

I own a Stiletto2, and an extra first-gen iphone. Do I treat this as a stream subscription, or an additional radio at $8/month?

It would be an additional radio.

That said. I second this review in saying that this device has the best FM transmission I have ever heard.

Mat, while there is a streaming application that works with the iPhone and iPod Touch, the Skydock application and Skydock setup require a full satellite radio subscription. The Skydock simply includes the sat chipset and is the radio; the iPod Touch and/or iPhone simply become the touch screen interface to control it.

So, you can add it as a secondary sub provided you have XM. If you have Sirius, you would need to do a full XM subscription. Remember the Skydock works on the XM network!

Thanks Ryan for the Review! Almost as good as my own! hehehe ;)

Great review! Although I'd like to hear more about how the dock behaves when you get a call on your phone or if you hear the callers voice over the speakers of your car. Does the xm portion of the software shut off when the phone rings.

Can this be played in the office somehow?

Good review - I have one question. Do you have to remove your iphone jacket/protective case to use the SkyDock? That could be a drag everytime you want to use it in the car.

Can't wait to use it in Hawaii. The state is dragging their feet in approving Sirius's license. Radio companies here are nervous as hell.

Great review. Thanks!

Appreciate the fact that lack of timeshifting was brought up. Big drawback in my mind. Hopefully they'll be a 2nd gen skydock that includes it.

Wouldn't it be simple for them to just stick a memory card in it for timeshifting???

My only issue is the fact my cig lighter is in my armrest. Not sure how I'd plug it in.

Really? I am a Sirius subscriber, and they would charge me full price? This company does great content, but it is by far the shittiest, most convoluted business plan and strategy in the known universe.

It's not that hard to become a simple, customer appreciated company. Apparently they know how because they do the exact fucking opposite thing every time.

@Gregg: I wonder if the timeshifting is a limitation with Apple, more than a technological limitation. I would even be happy with timeshifting of TALK content, and forgoing music pause/replay if that's where Apple has a problem.

@SiriusinHawaii It depends on what kind of iPhone case you have. The XM SkyDock comes with adjustable grips that are compatible with many aftermarket cases - but sometimes those cases can be mighty thick. So it depends on what you have.

I read that this may have the capability to play other radio apps (Pandora, Slacker, Wunder Radio, Pocket Tunes). Does it?

My biggest gripe with this is the lack of location flexibility. I use Sirius in my home more than in my vehicle and my FM transmission/reception is shoddy in my vehicle regardless. This would answer all of the vehicle problems audio problems, but severely hinder my ability to listen to it indoors (unless I got a DC > AC converter and auxiliary cable to a set of speakers, but that's too messy).

@Ryan Saghir, great review! I feel similar to you on the new hardware. I do think it is well worth the money especially when you look at other iPod/iPhone vehicle docks (most decent ones are $60-90 USD) so a few extra bucks could net you a far superior sounding dock. I'm truly amazed at the sound quality as I have a XMP3 direct connected to my factory head unit in my vehicle. I actually had a "better" more "full" sound comind from the SkyDock then my XMP3! I was shocked.

@Travis Hudson, you really need to hear how this FM transmission works... It is truly clean and sounds absolutely direct. Also, I feel your pain for the inhome use as I would like a SkyDock Home package so I can use the iPod/iPhone for a single solution for live listening. I hope one day that we will see some recording function integrated, but for now I think that it is a really strong leap forward for Sirius XM. It is truly taking advantage of the "most used" personal audio platform. Hopefully SiriusXM develops similar products for the Microsoft Zune or Other popular phone/personal entertainment devices.

If you put a gun to their heads, put their nuts in a vice grip, and threatened to make them watch Hanna Montana and 2 1/2 Men.... and then proposed to them the idea of being customer friendly.... I guarantee you that they would rather you squeeze the trigger, tighten the vice grip, and then turn on those two piece of shit tv shows rather than show ANY CONCERN FOR THEIR CUSTOMERS. I am so disgusted with these people I can't see straight. Without a doubt, the most SHIT ATTITUDE, SHAMEFUL, utterly PATHETIC disregard and disdain from a company towards its own customers that I have ever seen. A great technology and terrific product; unfortunately the service sucks, and the management is ABYSMAL!!! They are damn lucky everybody hasn't cancelled, because they sure as hell have done everything in their power to compel subscribers to do just that.

@Edgewater Joe Yep, all audio from the iPhone gets piped through the SkyDock. So that means Slacker, Pandora, Pocket Tunes, plus your own iTunes library - they all are "supported" by the SkyDock.

I'm really glad that Sirius XM decided to allow that. If this was a few years ago, I'm not so sure they would have done the same thing....

The only problem I have is the adapter is really tight fit, and rips the inside out of the socket.

Thanks for the review.

This is not for me. The lack of recording capability is a dealkiller. I'll stick with my Inno.

It is, however, perfect for two other family members. The 'Powerconnect' is a great idea.

......on a related note, I notice that these things are being sold at Radio Shack stores. Previously Radio Shack only sold Sirius hardware. That is a significant move. I only hope that somehow the Radio Shack employees have been trained to be able to answer the customers' questions. They need to know that the Sirius hardware is for football and the XM hardware is for baseball.

That does it! I'm gettin' me one!

This thing sounds like a big step for the company but I still have some issues. For starters why no Sirius version? I have Sirius right now and I'm not going to go through the trouble of switching to XM just to be able to use the SkyDock. Another major gripe of mine and perhaps some of you might feel the same is the potential complexity/confusion involved with the two iphone apps. One lets you hear limited channels (no Stern) and the other is only for use with the SkyDock. If they could consolidate both of those and get one app with Stern/sports/music etc.. on the iphone it would be an easier and less confusing transition. I am quite aware of the issues with the sports and Stern mobile rights but am trying to look at this from an average consumers point of view.
As it stands I would purchase an iphone myself right now if I could get some sports and Stern on the fly, but in order to do that I need to be in my car with the iphone, so to me it is a basically an attractive solution for the car only.

Also, as some had asked above, what happens when you get a call? while using the Dock?

@Copa: The Skydock is compatible with XM and Sirius. I have a Sirius subscription and picked one up last night. I just called them and replaced my existing Sirius radio on the account.

Is there a picture of the antenna and how easy that would be to setup?

Everywhere I have been looking says all you can get is the Best of Sirius on this unit. Even Sirius themselves said it's an XM only radio. Did you just give Sirius your ID # and presto? I would love this setup.

Stupid F'n merger.

The Itouch/Iphone application for Slacker doesn't support caching of chnnels like the blackberry and Slacker portable radio does. This is a major deal breaker for me. I don't give a crap over the interface, I use aux inputs.

It will be a complete sub at $8.99

As long as you have a window and an AC/DC adapter, you can use the SkyDock in a office.

Working example: http://tiny.cc/2sycy

Great for the home today on NFL Sundays with the Best of Sirius package.

I was wondering if the stalk is removable? I have a custom mount that I would rather attach it to. Maybe a pic of the back would answer my question? Thanks!

Is the stalk removable? I have a custom mount I would rather attach it to.

I just got this for my wife and and quite blown away! The install was easy because the antenna was already run for a recently deceased Roady XT. The interface is fantastic and the power connect sounds much better than the built-in FM mod in the Roady XT (her Volvo XC-90 does not have an aux input and uses a useless MOST optical system). My wife thinks it's fantastic as well. Very easy to use, and the tagging/iTunes feature will be great for her.

I'm so impressed, I may replace my aging XM Commander with this!

@ Tstar1234 - The cradle is not removable from the stalk, from what I can tell, so using a custom mount is not likely to work.

When you say the FM transmitter works through the electrical system does that mean it doesn't matter where the antenna on the car is located? My wife's 06 Pilot doesn't have an AUX port and her antenna is in the back window so FM transmitters never work becasue the signal won't go far enough. If i'm reading your reivew correctly antenna placement shouldn't matter.

Kraig

Kraig: Exactly - it doesn't matter where the antenna is located now. The signal is delivered through the electrical system from the cigarette lighter and directly surrounds the radio itself. It's actually a genius design, and it's patent pending.

Honestly - I've never experienced a better FM transmitter before. This is by far the best!

I'm curious about long-distance travel. We drive from the midwest to the east coast, and with other FM transmitters, I'm always having to find new stations to tune into. Is this an issue with the XM Skydock?

I also have a Volvo XC90 (2005) and had to cancel my XM subscription because the techs at Best Buy couldn't hook up my roady to the car's internal antenna without screwing up the electrical system. So I'm wondering if the SkyDock works without having to attach anything to the fiber optic antenna? Because I really miss my XM radio....

I am confused. Is there a wire necessary for the FM transmission?

No, you plug in the FM transmitter into your power source on your dash and the signal is sent through the electirical system.

The only wire you'll have is on going from the skydock to the XM antenna, unless you decide to plug into an aux port.

just hooked mine up yesterday; replaced a old xm skyfi2, this is far better; have one question; does anyone know if phone calls should be heard over your car speakers also; I can hear it ring but hear no voice when I answer the call; I'm thinking it worked once when I was testing it when installed but have not been able to hear anything since. I'm guessing no; but just looking for a second opinion. other than this I am really injoying this unit;
thanks

1. Is the antenna install similar to other radios?
2. Does the antenna use the same plug? For example I want to hook up an antenna in each of our cars and move the Skydock between the two. One of my cars already has the antenna installed. Can I use it or do I need to buy a new 2nd antenna?
3. Can your local iphone music be played through the FM transmitter?
Thanks!

I bought a Skydock and really like it. However, I left it plugged into my cigarette lighter overnight, it was off, and in the morning I was barely able to start my car.

I am wondering if this is an issue with the Skydock or with my car (which wouldn't surprise me as I have an aftermarket stereo I self installed).

Jake, from a review on Cnet it said you have to actually turn it off becasue if you don't it will stay on after you turn off the car. So basically it was sucking power from your car battery all night. It's not a issue per say because I believe the info says you have to manually turn it off as well.

I purchased the Skydock yesterday for my wife’s Pilot but I’m taking it back today for an exchange. The power wouldn’t stay on. It would come on for about 5 seconds and then turn off. After about 20 minutes if finally came on and stayed on but it would always tell me it couldn’t connect. I called XM and they were worthless. The first rep had no idea what I was even talking about the and “tech” told me to take it back. So I’m going to give it another shot tonight.

I got the new unit last night and installed it and it works exactly as designed. The only downside is it’s a little flimsy feeling but signal is crystal clear through the FM transmitter. My wife said it even produced a clear signal in downtown Denver which surprised me. Did find out why they only made it for XM. If you try and add the best of Sirius package it automatically voids any specials offers. I had a half price deal for $88 for a year but when I said I wanted the best of Sirius it made the annual subscription jump to $204. Still worth it but leaves you feeling a little bitter.

I just received the XM Skydock for Christmas and I have yet been able to stick it into the cigarette lighter. It just won't go any further. Did you eventually have better luck at it? Is there an adapter that can be used that would accept a slightly larger plug?

I got this unit for christmas and your post was exactly what we went through getting it activated. I repeatedly thanked my boyfriend for giving me aggravation for a christmas present (and every time he offered to return it and get me full-on satelite radio, I told him, no, I was going to beat them at their game and I would get it up and running and love it-- and I do love it now that it is working)

I could not get clear answers to some problems or issues I had and I could not get the rep to transfer me to someone who could. I advised my non-customer service rep in both of my extended calls that this was bad marketing and horrible customer service, and that at as a manager I dont allow my staff to service our customers w/out the knowledge of our service/(product) or the w/out empowerment to do their job (and these poor people on the phone didnt even know how to respond to my comments). My boyfriend also had issues when he tried to activate the service before he gave me the unit under the tree and when he got the email asking abt his experience, he told them it was the worst ever.

why can't a company that engineers a great product be as concerned with the "soft" side of their product?

I am having the same problem of the power not staying on. Did you get another one and did that one work fine?

After I exchanged my first unit I didn’t have any issues. It is a tight fit in the outlet for sure, but it did work in my wife’s 06 Pilot and my 04 Titan. One suggestion is to take the unit out of any case it’s in. The iTouch/iPhone does have to securely fit in the connection or the power won’t stay on because it’s designed to turn off when the unit’s not attached. Once I took it out of the silicone case it worked great. I have a feeling that’s what my problem was with the first unit.

We drove from Denver to Des Moines and it was crystal clear and only had to change the FM station once each way. The screen is a little touchy when scrolling is really the only complaint we both had. I’m going to get a second unit to put in truck as my dash unit is dying after 3 years.

When talking to the CR rep they clearly just have a manual they are going by depending on what info you give them. If customer says X is happening turn to page 6 for suggestions and customer says Y turn to page 9. The call center is probably a third party company that handles multiple companies calls. I managed a call center for a number of years and visited multiple call centers like this. Very cheap versus having an in house staff but the service level is poor.

I got one of these for xmas too, it's pretty cool. I guess whether this works for you will depend in part on your car. For me it's less than ideal because my gearstick bumps into the Skydock stalk every time I put it in first, which is pretty annoying. I'm still trying to decide whether to tolerate it or not, although I'm worried I might get pissed off one day and throw it out the window.

The position of the Skydock means I sometimes scratch my hand on the little IPhone gripper thingies when I reach for the ignition, another potential reason for it ending up on route 66. (Only a problem when the IPhone is not in the dock).

If you have good ears and a decent car stereo you might notice the sound quality via the built-in FM transmitter is pretty poor for serious music listening, as you would expect because it's only FM after all, although it's fine for voice. I need to try and figure out if there's a way to use the aux out with my car stereo, but there's nothing obvious.

Overall I like it, but I can't help wonder how many people wipe out due to looking at all the devices they have in their cars, like this thing and GPS units for example.

I also got one of these for Christmas. Very happy with it after some initial frustrations installing the antenna.

Observations - Good:
* FM signal is crystal clear. Much much better than the Kensington unit I was using prior that isn't compatible as a charger my iPhone. Very pleased with the performance.
* I'm new to XM radio but the Skydock app seems very user friendly. Station tuning is immediate and the app is very responsive. Application navigation is very intuitive. Well done.
* Love the fact that all music sources play through the device. Consolidates all car music sources as well as chargers to one device. Worth the price of admission alone.

Observations - Not so good:
* Apple's policy of not allowing multi-tasking hurts. If this app is open, you can't make outgoing calls. You can receive calls and the app will restart where it left off after the call, but only if you don't remove the phone from the connector. This is an Apple issue.
* Not sure why, but the phone does NOT play through the device's PowerConnect FM transmitter. Everything else does (iPod, Pandora, Slacker, Last.fm, etc.) If the phone also played through, depending on the sensitivity of the mic in the iPhone, there would be no need for Bluetooth in the car.
* My iPhone occasionally gets confused and inhibits the "disable Auto-lock" feature from working. Not sure if it's exchange integration or what but after receiving an SMS txt or phone call, the phone will lock after my timeout period regardless of what the application settings are for Disable Autolock. Not a deal breaker, but frustrating. Improves my driving by not distracting me though ;^)
* All configuration of the app has to be done while connected to the dock, with a valid antenna connection and powered -- favorites, config, etc. That makes sense since the radio itself is in the dock, but is a pain. Adding some ability to do offline configuration would be nice.

I was curious if anyone was able to use this with a Camry? I just got a skydock for christmas and today was the first day I was able to use it. I have a 2005 camry and there is a ledge right above the cigarette lighter which will only allow the skydock to be plugged in sideways. Which is fine, however the ledge then sits on top of the aux and fm ports so those are blocked and I can't use them.

I don't know if anyone else has experienced this, but I'm not impressed with the powerconnect fm transmitter. I had previously used a belkin tunefm for my iphone and skyfi2 both of which performed much better than the skydock.

It's really unfortunate b/c I have been looking forward to this device for months now. I also don't want to ruin it for everyone but if you have a Camry or are reliant on the FM Transmitter I would suggest something else.

I've been thinking about one of these but was concerned about docking inside a house. My favorite xm station is the verge which you can't get on XM online. So the only way for me to hear it is the radio in my car.

Is there an indoor mount for this?

Brad,

You could probably use an A/C to 12v auto adapter liek this one:

SEM-AC/DC: AC Wall Plug to 12V DC Auto Plug Adapter

Can you plug more than one iTouch into the SkyDock? My brother and I drive the same truck at different times and have our own iTouches. Do you have to have a subscription for each iTouch?

Yes you can, it’s the dock that you register not the iTouch itself. So as long as the iTouch/iPhone has the Skydock ap it will work with any Skydock.

Does this work with a home dock?

The cool thing about the Skydock is that you can plug it into an AC to DC adapter that is equipped with a cigarette lighter socket and "ta-da" you have an XM Radio receiver that you can use in the house with your stereo system. I have done that with mine and I love it. I have an iPod Touch connected to the SkyDock and then the SkyDock plugged into the AC to DC adapter. I bought an extension for the XM antenna so that I could run it outside but you don't have to if you can put your antenna on a window sill facing south. I don't know how durable the SkyDock is and wonder if it is built well enough to run 24/7, but I am giving it the test. I has been running for about 6 months non-stop. You can, of course, turn off the SkyDock and XM application if you don't want it to run all the time but, I figure, what the heck....why not let it run all the time.