At Oshkosh this summer, SiriusXM introduced a new portable weather receiver for the iPad, the SXAR1. The product is now shipping, and we’ve had a chance to fly with it on a few longer trips. Here are some of our reactions.
The unit itself is well made – it is fairly compact and very light weight. It features four status lights: power, GPS, Bluetooth and SiriusXM connection status. Like most wireless accessories, though, you can view status information on your iPad as well. The SXAR1 pairs with your iPad via Bluetooth, and this proved to be a solid connection for both weather and audio. We do wish you could connect to two iPads simultaneously, but for now this is not an option.
On our flights, we simply put the SXAR1 on the dash, turned it on and forgot about it. After engine start, we were receiving full weather products – even on the ground and even in Canada. If you’re in North America, you’ll get a signal; it’s very simple. We also had no problems with overheating, even when operating in direct sunlight for over an hour. Battery life was not a concern for us – we flew for two hours and still had over 70% battery life left.
A receiver is only as good as the app that it connects to, and at this time, the SXAR1 only works with the WSI Pilotbrief app. This is not a full-featured app like ForeFlight or Garmin Pilot, but it does include full VFR and IFR charts with moving map and multiple weather overlays. Its real strength, as you would expect from WSI, is weather. It will display the full suite of SiriusXM Weather products, including animated NEXRAD radar, satellite, METARs, TAFs, lightning, echo tops, storm cells and more. The app also offers status information, including signal strength and age of weather.
One of the main advantages of SiriusXM Weather over ADS-B weather is the high resolution radar. This looks great in the app, and WSI even goes so far as to offer both composite and base reflectivity for the radar. This is a complicated subject (most pilots prefer composite because it’s a worst case look at storms), but a trained eye can use both images to get the best view of a storm.
There is also a full XM Radio controller built into the app. This allows you to pair a Bluetooth headset or audio panel to the SXAR1, then control the radio station and volume from the WSI app. This is a nice addition on a long flight, especially for passengers:
Overall, we found the SXAR1 to be a reliable way to get in-flight weather. There are no altitude limitations, and the high resolution radar is just like watching the local TV weather report. Coverage in Canada was an added bonus on one trip, something that’s not possible with ADS-B. We do wish the device worked with more apps (we ended up running WSI side-by-side with another EFB app), but SiriusXM says they are considering that.
The SXAR1 is available for $699, but a $300 rebate is being offered through the end of October. At just$399 after the rebate, that’s a great price. The SXAR1 does require a monthly subscription through SiriusXM.