Portable Satellite Radio Buying Guide

August 18, 2016 – 10:03 am

Portable Satellite Radio Buying GuideIn our fast-paced society, convenience has become one of the more important factors in consumer purchasing decisions. Hence, the audio player market now primarily consists of devices that allow people to listen to music or other audio while they multi-task throughout the day. The iPod comes to mind when discussing audio device convenience. Now, technology has presented consumers with an audio player that not only stays with them on the run, but provides high sound quality that is unmatched within its product genre. Portable satellite radios have revolutionized the way people listen to music and news reports.


In 1992, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) allocated "S" band frequencies to transmit satellite signals. It took a few years, but technology caught up to the frequency spectrum allocation, especially in the realm of digital music players. Two companies, XM and Sirius, claimed the satellite spectrum frequency. In 2008, the two companies merged to form Sirius XM Radio. Design and construction refinements produce audio players that capture satellite signals from as far away as 22, 000 miles.

How a Portable Satellite Radio Works

Portable satellite radios work on the same scientific principles as portable digital players, such as iPods. Manufacturers design them to be compatible with the lifestyles of people who are always on the go. The portable part of the equation includes docks that hold the radios in place virtually anywhere, whether a radio secures to a driver's dashboard or on a coffee table. Most designs comprise lightweight materials that enhance the ease of transport. Portable satellite radios typically include rechargeable batteries and headphones.

Portable satellite radios receive signal transmissions from powerful built-in antennas. Digital radio stations transmit signals to the satellites that encircle the Earth. Then, the satellites return encoded signals to subscriber radio receivers. Users program their satellite radios to receive scrambled data, which the radios immediately unscramble for user enjoyment. The data transmitted includes the audio file, along with a brief description of a song, such as song title and artist. Users find that reception works best in wide-open spaces and worst in the middle of large buildings.

Satellite radio providers house large storage systems that contain vast amounts of music and programming. Radio station programmers exercise a simple point and click maneuver to select the songs or news reports that they want to beam into space. Digital compression, as is the case with other digital transmissions, reduces the bandwidth used to transmit the satellite signals. For a monthly fee, satellite radio subscribers have access to over 100 channels.

Why Portable Satellite Radios Have Grown in Popularity

People who are on the go demand products that they can immediately access. Portability is one of the primary reasons for the popularity of iPods. The same principle applies to portable satellite radios. The greatest benefit of these radios is that it allows users to listen to satellite radio wherever they travel.

Another reason for the increasing popularity of portable satellite radios is the crystal clear reception. Standard radios and stereos do not match the breadth of audio signals that a portable satellite radios receives. Except for an occasional disruption due to a major storm or sunspot activity, satellite radios provide the best reception among any other audio transmission medium.

A vast majority of portable satellite radios allow users to store up to 100 hours of data, including MP3 player and WMA files. The high level of storage comes in handy during long vacations or business trips. Remember that MP3 and WMA files consume more memory than satellite radio content and that most portable satellite radios split the memory evenly between digital music and satellite radio broadcasts. Still, no other audio device offers such a breadth of listening options.

Important Features of a Portable Satellite Radio

Ask a dozen portable satellite radio users what they look for in a radio and there will probably be a dozen different answers. However, savvy portable satellite radio listeners know there are some features that are indispensable and that form the basis of their search criteria.


Most portable satellite radios offer six standard display lines. Some users want more information, without having to scroll through additional lines. Larger display sizes also make it easier to see the lines. Consider a portable satellite radio that presents bright, easy to read colors, such as red or yellow.

Internal Memory

Portable satellite radio memory ranges from four to 50 hours. While the size of the internal memory matters to most users, so does the storage capacity of the memory. For instance, can a portable satellite radio store live broadcasts that users want to listen to at another time? Can a portable satellite radio upload digital music files? Most portables only devote half of the internal memory to file uploads.


Ease of use is an important factor to consider, since users will carry around the portable radios wherever they go. First, look for lightweight construction to lighten the load. Second, consider dial size and access. Finally, users should ensure that operating the radio does not place undue stress on their hands or wrists.

Number of Wireless FM Frequencies

As with internal memory, the more wireless FM frequencies, the better experience for the user. More choices increase the likelihood that a user will find an unused frequency, which comes in handy in FM frequency saturated radio markets, such as Chicago or New York.

Ease of Surfing

Channel presets make surfing for favorite music or talk radio stations much easier than having to move a dial to find a favorite channel. Most satellite radio manufacturers store presets within internal banks, allotting one channel number per bank. If a user has a satellite radio that contains two banks, with 10 buttons per bank, then the user can reset 20 stations. Once again, this is a handy feature to have in large radio markets.

In the Mood for a Melody

Save the names of song titles or the artists that create the songs, so the portable satellite radio can alert users whenever a saved song or artist comes on the radio. Once users hear a favorite song, they can save it and when the song plays on the air again, the portable satellite radio will sound a beep to alert users, who only have to push a button to gain access to that song.


Customize a portable satellite radio to display stock quotes or news headlines. Just select the stocks or the source of the news. The wireless remote option allows users to control their radios from virtually anywhere. Myriad portable satellite radio accessories, such as an external antenna, allow users to create unique listening experiences.

How to Shop for a Portable Satellite Radio

First, make a list of the components needed for a fully functioning portable satellite radio. Most satellite radio receivers connect to a car or home stereo. Check to ensure the radio has a built-in antenna as well. Internal antennas are more powerful and reliable than external antennas, which tend to break or malfunction during heavy use or bad weather. Subscribe to a satellite provider service, remembering that the hardware plays over the satellite company's frequency. Next, decide on the type of portable satellite radio. Users have two primary options.

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