Sirius XM for iPhone Review

Sirius1 Last week, we rounded up and reviewed a number of free music applications for the iPhone as an alternative to the just-announced Sirius XM app. Now that we’ve had a few days to test what Sirius has to offer, we’ve definitely made up our minds as to whether it’s worth the $12.95 per month fee for non-subscribers, $2.95 a month for Sirius XM Satellite Radio subscribers and the $0 a month for Sirius XM internet subscribers.

First let’s tackle the two most important aspects of any music app: sound quality, and selection and variety of songs.

Siriuscats

Unfortunately for Sirius XM, sound quality is horrendous. Plugged into my Subaru Outback’s stereo auxiliary jack, I couldn’t turn hard rock songs up loud enough at all. The sound would distort, and there was little to no low-end bass. There was some serious distortion and lossy compression on top of that low fidelity, as well. I switched directly to Slacker and Pandora from Sirius as I was driving, and the noticeable uptick in sound quality was dramatic.

Channel selection hovers around the 100-channel mark. There are 16 pop, 21 rock, 11 hip-hop/R&B/dance, seven country, three Christian, seven jazz/blues, three classical, three Latin, five comedy, and 16 news/talk stations. A number of sports talk stations are also represented, including ESPN Radio, MLB Home Plate and NFL Radio. The big news is that Howard Stern’s channels are not carried on the iPhone app, but are carried online as part of the same subscription package. Personally, I prefer Jason Ellis’ afternoon show on Sirius’ Octane Faction station when I’m in the mood for raunchy radio talk, but that’s just me.

Of course, this is streaming radio, so when you change stations you’re landing wherever the song happens to be. Internet radio apps like Pandora, Slacker and Last.fm start up fresh for every song.

Display and Performance: The other big factors for successful iPhone music apps are ease of use, look and how well it performs. This is where the Sirius XM app holds its own.

Siriusloading

The app loads in about 12 seconds on a 3G network. Launching a channel takes about another three to five seconds. But the nice thing is that switching to a new channel was faster for me, averaging only about three seconds each time. This is much faster than most other music apps I’ve tested, which can take that amount of time to skip songs on the same channel and around 10 seconds to change stations altogether.

During my entire time of testing — about three hours in a car and three hours at a desk — the app never crashed mid-song. It did, however, have issues when first opening and trying to connect to a network on a few occasions in Chicago, which is one of AT&T’s notorious 3G horror areas. In the Chicago suburbs, it never had a problem.

Siriussonglist

The display and layout of the app is dead simple, with the stations listed by category. Expand the category and you get the station names along with what songs are currently playing. This is terrific for browsing, say 21 rock stations when you’re in the mood for early 1990s Seattle rock. (Let’s not call it “grunge,” shall we?)

Best of all is the use of black type on a white background. This standard of web pages is almost completely absent on the iPhone. Most music apps use a black background with white text, but when the sun is beating through your windshield, black type on white is much more legible.

Siriuschannel

I would, however, like a better full-screen image for each station, instead of a giant logo. I’d rather the current song playing was that large.

Final Thoughts: The Sirius XM app works extremely well in all ways except the one that counts most to music fans: sound quality. I would like to think that this is something that would be fixed in a future update. Most iPhone apps are upgraded frequently, but given how long it took Sirius XM to come this far, we don’t expect an update to be in its near future.I would only recommend it to those folks who have the Internet subscription already.

By David Thomas | June 24, 2009 | Comments (4)

Comments 

Kuntry

Ellis is on Sirius 28-faction not octane

Michael

I use this app and the sound quality is perfect - either when using headsphones or in my Altec Lansing docking station. Your poor quality may be due to your signal strenght where you are at.

Also - my app launches in only 3 seconds on my new iphone 3GS - are you using the older 3G model - everything runs slower on that model of the iphone.

There are 120 channels to be exact - you stated "Channel selection hovers around the 100-channel mark" this 120 figure is found everywhere - not sure why you just didn't state the exact number in your article.

Michael,
If connection has something to do with sound quality (not buffering, actual quality of the sound coming out of the device) I would be shocked. But perhaps someone at Apple or Sirius could enlighten me.

It still wouldn't change the fact that in the same situation the other apps sounded better. My tests with Audio Technica sound isolating headphones were also done using wifi, with the car speakers being 3G.

No I didn't test the 3G S, but the 3G has about 100x more units on the market right now.

Good to hear the speed is better on the 3G S, and like I said switching between station times were great on the app.

Leptus

I have Pocket Tunes as well as the sirius app. The sound quality of Pocket Tunes is better than that of Sirius. Sirius stream is almost a song behind that of Pocket Tunes as well. Not sure why. One last thing; I don't know why, but having the Sirius app on my phone coincides with Pocket Tunes being logged off of my Sirius account. Deleted Sirius and now PT stays logged in. (for the record, I wish the Sirius app sounded better, because it is much more user friendly)

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