Sirius S50 Portable Satellite Radio

The Short Form
$330 plus Sirius subscription / 2 x 3.875 x 0.625 IN / 6 OZ / / 888-539-7474
•Sleek, sexy look. •Plays MP3 and WMA files. •"Love" it? Save it!
•Receives Sirius only when docked. •Home dock costs extra. •Short battery life.
Key Features
•Records Sirius programming or stores MP3/WMA files •1 GB storage for up to 50 hours of Sirius programming •2.25-inch, 176 x 220-pixel LCD •Optional home dock, $99 •Requires subscription ($12.95 a month)
"Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?" With a dial full of free AM/FM, that's how many people feel about paying for broadcast music. But when the milk goes sour - a dearth of new music, the same mix repeated ad nauseam, and obscenely frequent commercial breaks - it's time to starting looking for a new cow.

If you're ready to "buy the cow," Sirius satellite radio is a terrific alternative. Until now, though, there hasn't been a way to take Sirius beyond your home or car. The S50 solves that problem. By design, it doesn't have a built-in antenna like a traditional portable radio - rather than expose subscribers to the spotty reception endemic to handheld satellite receivers, Sirius gave the S50 a gigabyte of memory to store music. It's a full-fledged satellite receiver when in its car or home dock, where you can record up to 50 hours of Sirius programming for later. Or you can transfer digital music files from your PC.

SETUP The S50 comes with several accessories, including the stylish car dock, which features a wireless FM transmitter. Also included are an AC charger, earbuds, Windows software called My Sirius Studio, a belt clip, a carrying pouch, a USB cable, and a remote.

A home dock ($99, shown here) mimics the functionality of the car kit. It should have been included instead of or alongside the car dock, since most people will want to dock the radio overnight to fill it with programming for the next day.

PERFORMANCE After transferring a few albums worth of MP3 and WMA files from my laptop, I could browse them on the S50 by Artist or All Songs, or by playlists created in the My Sirius Studio software. Only half of the S50's memory is available for transferred music, meaning there's always space for recording new Sirius music - a smart design.

Artist and title info is easy to read on the vibrant display. Sirius channel names and logos appear at the top of the screen, and the background wallpaper changes with the program material - a guitar for rock, graffiti for hip-hop, and so on. Too bad it doesn't display album art.

All controls are located on the side. While not as intuitive as the iPod's Click Wheel, operation is quick and easily mastered. Both car and home docks do feature a scroll/tilt wheel that simplifies operation.

As a Sirius receiver, the S50 functioned admirably. I liked the voice navigation that announces station names or menu selections so you can keep your eyes on the road. Battery life is pretty weak, though. It's rated for 6 hours - a couple too short in my book - but I only got about 5.

Recording Sirius programming is the S50's real hook, and like a TiVo it stores a 30- to 60-minute buffer allowing you to pause or replay anything you missed. Pressing the heart-icon button (called "Love") automatically saves a song to your My Sirius Songs playlist. The S50 automatically creates play­lists of the three channels you listen to most often. Listening to hours of recorded music from my favorite channels - First Wave, Alt Nation, and The Coffee House - was great, as was the ability to skip the occasional lame tune.

While you can schedule recordings, they're limited to 2 hours at a clip. Relax, Howard Stern fans - recordings can be linked together to get the whole show. You can schedule only 20 recordings, but recurring shows count only once. Incredibly for a music-based service, recordings can't be scheduled on any of the music channels (Nos. 1-99) - only on the 45 or so talk channels. Instead, you have to save your music one song at a time! That's a major bummer, but Sirius says this will be corrected in a software revision that should be available by the time you read this.

BOTTOM LINE The S50 is Sirius's first stab at letting you take its eclectic mix of programming with you on foot, and it comes in a sweet-looking package. The lack of real-time mobile listening is mildly disappointing, and paying $99 for the home dock is disheartening. But if you can't bear missing Howard, or just want a portable that plays more than your music collection, the S50's pocket full of Sirius fits the bill.

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