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.
The Sirius S50 has 1GB of storage (a bit low for an MP3 player), and half that can be used for your own tracks downloaded from a PC. These can be either MP3 or WMA songs, and the player supports WMA DRM 9, so you can load purchased songs but not subscription content. The other half of the storage space--or all of it, if you don't manually load any tracks--is for Sirius content. The S50 keeps track of the three music stations you listen to the most and automatically records content while on and tuned to that station. Sirius content is in a proprietary compressed format and at a variable bit rate. When the S50 is full of recorded Sirius content, you'll have approximately 50 hours of music. You can use the settings to delete a channel that you don't want automatically recorded but not to set a channel, which we find too limiting.
Getting automatically recorded content requires having your Sirius S50 on and docked; if you have only a car connection, you must record content while driving and listening. We loved leaving it on at night with the home dock, then getting hours of fresh new content in the morning, but that requires an extra purchase. You can also set timed recordings on the S50, as long as it's connected to a dock. Recordings can't be longer than two hours--another irritating limitation.
When you're using the S50 away from a dock, you have the option of listening to three types of recordings: songs manually added, scheduled Sirius recordings, or favorite-channel recordings that the player creates by itself. You can listen to anything on the go except live content. If you want that, look to theor the , which both work with competitor XM Satellite Radio.
The Sirius S50 comes with a one-year limited warranty. The Web site list a toll-free number and has an e-mail form for customer care.Using the Sirius S50's controls can be awkward since the right-side buttons take care of different tasks depending on which menu you're in. We never quite got the hang of them, often having to go back and select the correct item the second time. The sound quality is surprisingly good for recorded, highly compressed content, and the included earbuds don't look like much but provide a well-rounded sound, with good clarity and enough bass.
The S50's biggest drawback is its battery life, which is a big minus if you use it as a portable player. It's rated for a low 6 hours of battery life, but we got only 4 hours, 15 minutes of use playing Sirius recorded content with the screen dark the whole time. That's way too short when you have 50 hours of music to get through. In our opinion, a portable device should get 12 hours just to get into the average range. If you can't listen to it all day undocked, it's not much of a portable.
The battery is replaceable, although Sirius doesn't currently sell spares. Look for them to become available in the near future.