The idea left us cold at first, but after testing it, we've warmed to the concept. If you're listening to a music channel, it doesn't matter whether it's live. Plus, listening to recorded content gives you the option of fast-forwarding though songs you don't like. Tne S50 isn't for everyone; its several limitations (more on those later) and its steep price will keep many away. Still, we think the Sirius S50 should find an enthusiastic audience, especially among car commuters. Samsung's Nexus is a similar MP3/satellite radio device for the XM service.The first reason to love the Sirius S50 is its elegant black design. The portable unit is attractively small, measuring 3.9 by 1.9 by 0.7 inches and weighing just 6.5 ounces, with a brilliantly vivid TFT display showing 262,000 colors. There are no controls on the front to mar its sleek surface. The hold button and the volume controls are on the left side, while power, menu, and playback controls (most of which pull double duty if held for a few seconds) are on the right.
The Sirius S50 is available only with a car dock, and the combo lists for a steep $329.99. A Sirius representative told us that the vast majority of satellite radio listeners listen in the car. A home dock costs $99.99. This inflexible bundling is a major hurdle for anyone who wants the S50 purely for home or portable use.
The car kit, which we didn't use for testing, holds the Sirius S50 upright along the dashboard and includes an FM transmitter for listening to songs through your car's stereo. The large and spongy five-way navigation control is easy enough to use while driving. It also offers audio navigation, which speaks the names of the channels and setting screens as you turn to them so that you don't have to take your eyes off the road for long while using it. The car combo also includes headphones and a belt clip for portable use, as well as a USB cable for connecting to a Windows 2000 or XP PC.
The home kit, which we did use, has a matching black dock that features a large tilt button for selecting options. Either kit can connect to your PC via a USB 2.0 connection (cable included) so that you can load your own MP3 or WMA tracks, manage the S50's content, or download firmware updates. Sirius has already released a crucial update that broadens the S50's recording options so that you can schedule recordings of music channels, not just talk channels. We're disappointed that neither dock has numbered buttons for quickly tuning in a station; you'll need to scroll to them.
Both the car and home kit include a slim remote--apparently for backseat passengers, in the case of the car kit.The satellite-radio-based Sirius S50's features seem odd at first since they're mostly built around saving content for later use instead of live streaming. However, we found that they work well as long as you remember to record the content you want.
When in the car or home dock, the Sirius S50 functions much like any other satellite radio receiver, although it has some handy extras. Click the heart icon while a song is playing to store not just the title and artist info, as with other receivers, but the whole tune. It's then added to your song list and is available any time you want. You can also pause live streams, which seems ideal for talk radio or entertainment. All in all, though Sirius has been a step behind competitor XM in terms of subscribers, the $12.95-per-month service is robust, with more than 120 channels, including virtually every musical genre; talk shows; NFL, NHL, and NBA broadcasts; and of course, Howard Stern.