A different way to listen to music
The Stiletto is not intended to be an MP3 player, although it can play MP3s and WMAs, including subscription tracks (though subscribing to both Yahoo Music and Sirius is overkill). In fact, you get less than a gigabyte of storage for your own tracks (2GB overall for the unit). We'd love to see something closer to 8GB. The Stiletto's main gig is its satellite radio, the receiver and antenna for which are built into the chassis. In addition to playing Sirius' 130-plus channels of music and other content (sports, talk radio, Howard Stern, even content from Playboy), it can record up to 10 hours of songs. It can also record up to 100 hours of channel-specific content--or blocks of music that aren't specific to a song. It's easy to save and access 30 presets--up to 10 presets in each of three banks.
We've seen many other satellite receivers that can pause and replay a song or channel--including Sirius' own S50 and the XM Inno/Helix. The Stiletto does this well (you can rewind the last 60 minutes of live recording) and with razor precision. It's a Tivo-like feature, and you can schedule recordings in any time increments (60 minutes by default). By recording regularly, you can expect to have instant content to access when you are offline or just don't have a satellite signal (and as satellite users know, there can be down times indoors, underground, and between tall buildings). With receivers like the Stiletto, you'll more often be listening to recorded content than you'd think. And thanks to the Radio Replays feature, which quietly records your favorite stations into any available space, you'll always have stuff to listen to.
In addition to your own MP3s and the content you've recorded into the well-organized library, the Stiletto combats satellite patchiness with a unique feature: the ability to hop onto a Wi-Fi network and stream Sirius content via the Internet. While it works only with 802.11b networks, the feature works well. When you select Internet Radio, the system scans for networks and then displays a list with signal strength and WEP/WPA status. When you hop on one, your channel list will populate. It doesn't yet work with pay-only hot spots like those from T-Mobile, but you can easily enter passwords for conventional hot spots. This feature is most practical at home or at the gym, where the only signal you might get is Wi-Fi. It's important to note that Wi-Fi sound quality is much worse than the excellent-sounding satellite sound--maybe a step above AM radio, though you can now opt to receive "CD quality" 128kbps streams for an extra $2.99 /month. You're also limited to a little more than half the channels with Wi-Fi, though you'll still get the most popular ones, such as the one with Howard Stern. Also, you can't pause and replay, nor can you record Internet-based songs (though you can add the tags to your favorites database).
The Stiletto can also display stock and sports tickers. The sports setting enables you to select your favorite teams in all the popular leagues.
The My Sirius Studio software is necessary to transfer MP3s and WMAs to the Stiletto (transfer times are on the slow side). You'll also see a list of your favorites, as well as the stuff you've recorded in the software upon syncing (though you can't transfer or listen to recorded content). In addition to playlist management and streaming Sirius channels over the Internet, the software will check for updates to the Stiletto firmware (updates over Wi-Fi are supposed be coming soon). You'll also get Yahoo Music Engine in the package, and though we haven't tested the subscription feature, we'd don't see why anybody would really need this.
Nice sound--but battery life and antenna headphones could be better
The Stiletto is a decent performer, though as with all satellite radio devices, the more access to the open sky, the better. With the antenna headphones (which offer a boost in performance), live satellite was pretty decent in San Francisco--even when walking between skyscrapers. I did most of my listening near a window on the fifth floor of a building. From there, the plain old earbud route worked well, with two of three signal bars present. Sound quality is nice and punchy, especially with my big Sony cans on (some readers will swear that Sirius sounds a little better than XM, and I tend to agree). Strangely, there is no equalizer.
Battery life is a problem with most portable satellite radios, so luckily the Stiletto comes with two of them--the standard one that juts out and the slim one that holds half the juice. The standard battery is rated to last 4 hours for live satellite radio, 8 hours for Internet radio, and a nice 20 hours for library music (including MP3s and recorded content). For basic playback (with the satellite receiver turned off), CNET Labs' tests managed to beat the rated time by 3.2 hours. While library playback is impressive on paper, 4 hours for live radio isn't ideal. You'll find, however, that once the Stiletto no longer powers the receiver, you can switch to Internet or Library mode and still get a few hours out of it. It would be useful to be able to charge the extra battery while not in use, but you can't. Also, while there is an onscreen recharge indicator (a green plus-sign), you can't tell if the unit is recharging when it's powered off. I also noticed that the Stiletto gets really warm.
Though it's far from perfect, the Stiletto 100 is a fine first effort and sets the bar high for future versions. The pricey device could be a little slimmer, ship with better headphones, have better battery life, and include more memory--all things that could one day make the iPod an afterthought for music lovers. But for now, the excellence of this product stems from an interface that maximizes enjoyment for the user.