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A hands-on review of the XACT Visor satellite radio

Raising the bar by lowering the price

XACT Visor SIRIUS satellite radio

The XACT Visor satellite radio made me do a double take. It happened two days after I'd installed the uniquely designed Visor in my van. I was gathering my notes for this review when I pulled up the radio's page on the Crutchfield website to double-check something. The Visor's page loaded in my browser and I saw it?a selling price of $50.

These days, most new satellite radios are going for around $100-$300 dollars. That's why I was boggled when I saw the Visor's price. My eyes spun around with little spirals, my tongue shot out of my mouth and smoke billowed from my ears. I bounced around the office exclaiming, "A satellite radio for $50!" Where my office mate found the giant mallet, I don't know, but that's what it took to settle me down.

Okay, all cartoony hyperbole aside, fifty dollar satellite radios are here. After having used it for two days, I thought the XACT Visor was pretty cool. But upon learning you'd only pay a fraction of what I considered the usual price for such a device?it was an incredible bargain.

By now, the smart consumer in you is asking, "Hey Robert, what's the downside? What am I not getting?" You're right to ask. There are a couple of convenience features that this radio doesn't have. Let's take a look.

  • Chief among the missing features is a ?song memory' so that the radio can alert you when one of your favorite songs is playing on another channel. The Visor won't do that.
  • The other sacrifice is the one-line display. Most satellite radios have three or four lines. Despite only having one line, the display scrolls fast enough that I quickly got comfortable with it. It doesn't take long to show me the artist and song title.

"That's it? Surely there must be more that I'm sacrificing at this price? Ah, what about an antenna or a remote control?" Not to worry; they're both included. The Visor has everything you need for listening in the car, and is a full-function satellite radio.

XACT Visor SIRIUS satellite radio

The XTR3 comes with everything you need to listen in the car.

The only short-coming that I found in the XACT Visor is navigating across categories on the single-line display. Since you can't see a list of categories, or channels within a category, you need to have a pretty good handle on navigation.

Similarly, selecting the right preset station can be tough because there is no way to scroll through the 36 presets. Unless you can remember which channel you stored on each preset, you have to press each one in turn until you find the channel you want. The best way to handle this is to take the time to organize your presets. There are six groups (or "bands") of six presets?36 presets in all. I put my most-often listened to channels on five of the first band. These are three music channels, the comedy channel, and the kids channel. On the second band, I stored my favorite rock channels. My favorite news and entertainment channels live on the third band. That's enough to keep me in touch with my favorites. From any one of them, it's easy to scroll through the line-up to find anything else that might strike my fancy.




Installation

Installing the XACT Visor is a simple process. Decide where you want to mount it (I took advantage of the sun visor clip); plug the power cable into your cigarette lighter; then plug in the antenna cable. I always cheat with the antenna. For the short term, I just lay the antenna on the dashboard. Most of the time it'll work just fine there. You can mount it on the exterior of the vehicle and run the cable for a nice installation later.

If you mount the Visor on your sun visor, you'll quickly notice that the radio is upside down. It's okay, it's meant to be that way. Holding down the "Display" button for a few seconds causes the writing on the display to flip over so it's right side up.

Controls

The Visor's controls are pretty standard and work the way they should, but I do have two complaints. The control buttons surrounding the display feel a little clunky and stiff.And then there are the preset buttons. I don't like the zig-zag layout. It makes it difficult to feel my way around them. Maybe they just take some getting used to.

XACT Visor SIRIUS satellite radio

The zig-zay layout of the presets takes some getting used to.

The saving grace comes in the form of the side-mounted control dial. It is very responsive and allows you to flip through channels and categories fast. To change channels, just turn the dial. When you stop on a channel, the radio switches to it?and fast too. If you just want to see what's playing elsewhere without interrupting the channel you're listening to, put the radio in "category" mode by pressing the "Category" button then pushing the dial in (or pressing the select button on the remote). Now you can freely surf the SIRIUS dial while your music plays on. If you find something else you'd rather hear, just press the dial to select that channel.

XACT Visor SIRIUS satellite radio

The remote control, on the other hand, is easy to use...

Personally, I found myself using the remote control more often than the buttons on the radio itself. For me, it was easier to navigate the presets from the remote control without looking away from the road. It's a small, credit card style remote. It's great being able to store the remote under my CD visor!

XACT Visor SIRIUS satellite radio

and it stowed away nicely in my sun visor.




Time for a road trip

Okay. I have the thing hooked up and I've familiarized myself with the controls. Time to head out on the road and test the XACT Visor in its natural habitat. At first, I slid the mounting clip over my sun visor to take advantage of this unique way of mounting the radio.

The Visor satellite radio slid onto the mounting clip easily. That part was nice — easy on, easy off. The radio looked nice, I could see, and had perfect access to, the preset buttons. That was very handy. Taking advantage of the many presets is the way to go when it comes to making satellite radio easy to navigate, and this model has 36 of them!

XACT Visor SIRIUS satellite radio

While I liked the look of the radio mounted on the visor, it got in the way on my drive home west over the mountains.

I really enjoyed having the satellite radio mounted to the bottom of the sun visor while driving around town. Until driving home that evening . . . into the sunset. I reached up to pull down my sun visor but couldn't due to the Visor's mounting clip. It protrudes from the rear of my sun visor just enough to risk breaking it if I try to lower the sun visor. This isn't going to work. I toughed out the glare, vowing to move the satellite radio the next morning.

The next day, I relocated the Visor to the windshield (four small suction cups are included for this task). I tried mounting the radio in several different locations, mainly just because I could. It's easy to do and there's the feng shui of the situation.

My favorite spot was above the rear view mirror. That's right, I said "above." The Visor is that small. It was the perfect, out of the way spot, except that I could neither reach nor see the preset buttons.

XACT Visor SIRIUS satellite radio

Next I moved it to a spot below the mirror. I love having the Visor mounted on the windshield. I do worry about one thing though. I live in Virginia, which happens to be one of the three places where it is illegal to have a radar detector. And you may have noticed that at a glance, the Visor looks a lot like just such a device. The entire time I had this unit, I was afraid I'd have to walk up to my editor and tell him that the police confiscated my radio, and would he mind reimbursing me for the ticket?

XACT Visor SIRIUS satellite radio

If I were keeping this radio, instead of just borrowing it for this review, I'd use the included adhesive pad and mount it right on the dash. Everything would fall into place there. Also of note, the remote sensor is located toward the rear of the top of the Visor, behind the preset buttons. When the radio was mounted on the sun visor or on the dash, everything was fine. In some of the positions on the windshield, the eye was blocked. Usually I could fix this by flipping the unit upside down and repositioning the bracket. Once I did this, the remote worked easily again.

XACT Visor SIRIUS satellite radio

I finally settled on a dash mount.




XACT Visor SIRIUS satellite radio

Is this the satellite radio for you?

The Visor satellite radio is one of the first of the new wave of more affordable satellite radios now on the market. For the most part, it is a real contender for attention in the satellite radio showroom.

People who are used to relying on visual menus for navigating their MP3 players and other equipment will likely be turned off by the display's single line of information. I was at first, but I quickly got the hang of it. It's no different from using your car stereo to get around on an MP3 disc.

The real thing that bothered me about the Visor is the absence of a song memory function. That's one feature that I really love on some other satellite radios. But then, many other satellite radios also cost twice as much as the Visor, so for that kind of trade off, I can live without it.

Having six bands of six channel presets does a lot to help alleviate both of my complaints. I can easily organize all of my favorite channels into the presets, so they're easy to get to, which allows me to quickly search for an artist I like.





Here are five reasons why you should consider the Visor SIRIUS satellite radio from XACT.
  1. It offers several flexible mounting options, so you're sure to find one that works for you
  2. If you're curious about satellite radio, but don't want to spend $300 to try it out
  3. If you are shopping for a very cool gift for someone else
  4. You need a second (or third) satellite radio for your other car or another family member
  5. It only costs $50.



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