This past Thursday, Sirius|XM released its Premium Online streaming application for the BlackBerry Curve (8500 & 8900), Bold (9000 & 9700), Storm, Storm2 and Tour. As a longtime subscriber to Sirius (and, in the interest of full disclosure, a shareholder), I must admit I got overly excited about the announcement. My excitement waned, however, when I realized that a separate subscription is needed after the seven-day free trial.
That a separate subscription is required for the streaming apps shouldn’t come as a surprise. For quite some time now, Sirius|XM has offered two tiers to the streams available on the combined broadcaster’s websites. For $2.99 per month, subscribers have access to both the Premium streams at sirius.com and xmradio.com, and the smartphone apps now available for the iPhone and newer BlackBerry models. On the upside, carriers haven’t placed any restrictions on the application, so it should be available via any US mobile provider1 that offers a supported BlackBerry model.
In the few days I’ve had to test the new app, I must say it is well designed. The interface is attractive and well laid out. On my Storm, buttons are spaced far enough apart that there’s little risk I’ll choose the wrong option. There are two rather small buttons present when a station is playing, but they are placed on opposite sides of the screen. The first is a play/pause button roughly 1/8″ in diameter that appears above and to the left of the “now playing” information. The second is an information button of the same diameter appearing in the upper righthand corner of the same display. While the former’s purpose is self-evident, the latter presents a menu of the following options:
- Channel detail – presents a short description of the selected channel, similar to what is available by visiting either the Sirius or XM websites.
- Add or remove from favorites
- Help Settings – it should probably read Help & Settings or Help/Settings as it brings the user to the Settings screen.
- Subscription Options
- Close Menu
Centered on the screen below these two buttons is the name of the current channel, followed by the track name and artist. Along the bottom edge of the screen are five buttons:
Again, each of these buttons provides a self-evident function. Categories mirror those available on a satellite receiver, as do the channel names. To avoid confusion between the Sirius and XM channel numbering schemes, numbers are omitted entirely.
As best I can tell, every music channel available via a satellite receiver is accessible through the BlackBerry application. Most non-music channels are also available, with some exceptions. While an NPR channel is provided, it is neither NPR Now or NPR Talk, but instead a special lineup created just for the internet and smartphone services. Also missing are Howard Stern’s channels, but Sirius|XM Stars is present. For a complete lineup of channels, one must download the Sirius channel guide from http://www.sirius.com/pdf/channelguide.pdf and look for a small blue dot to the right of each channel. If the dot is missing, the channel is not available.
When browsing the channel lineup, the track currently playing on each station is displayed, providing a preview of what you might expect to hear on a given channel. Adding a particular channel to the Favorites list is as simple as pressing the BlackBerry button and selecting “Add to Favorites.”
As for the audio quality, I was surprised by how good the streams sound. The quality is on par with both the Pandora and Slacker Radio applications available for BlackBerry, which, considering that I am listening through a small mobile phone speaker, is a positive sign. The application buffers a respectable portion of a selected channel, so even in areas of poor wireless coverage, the stream generally continues uninterrupted.
Not surprisingly, the application does drain the battery fairly quickly, though no faster than similar offerings from Pandora or Slacker. In just under two hours of testing, my BlackBerry was ready to be recharged.
While visually appealing and quite functional, in my opinion, the Sirius|XM BlackBerry app is only worthwhile for the access to sports, talk, news, and entertainment programming it provides. That being said, I do not often listen to the non-music programming available through Sirius, and certainly not with enough regularity to justify access to that content via my BlackBerry.
Though I enjoy the variety of music available through Sirius|XM, with no-fee competitors such as Pandora and Slacker Radio, I cannot justify spending $2.99 per month for the premium streaming service.
The fee notwithstanding, I rarely use Pandora on my phone, further reducing the likelihood I would listen to music via the Sirius|XM application often enough for a subscription to be a sensible investment.
Screenshots copyright Sirius|XM Satellite Radio
- The Terms of Service indicate that the Premium Online service is only available to subscribers in the “48 Contiguous United States, the District of Columbia, and for SIRIUS subscribers only, Puerto Rico.” As the Canadian units are still independent companies, I am not entirely surprised that the service isn’t available there. ↩