Howard Stern's migration from terrestrial to Sirius satellite radio is rapidly approaching. If you're ready to make the leap too and are looking for the most compact Sirius plug-and-play receiver you can find, the company's Starmate ST1 (no relation to the TV show) is right up your alley. The $99.99 unit comes with a car kit, but that price doesn't include the optional home kit--that's another $40 (list). Rebates, however, can get the Starmate down to as low as $50, among the best prices we've seen for a plug-and-play receiver. Programming costs $12.95 per month.
At 2.4 by 4 by 1 inches and 6 ounces, the Starmate is bigger than an iPod and about the size of a small cassette Walkman. The flip side of the unit's compact size is that the station-preset buttons are tiny, and the display is limited to just three lines. Worse, the display font for programming information is on the large side, and there's no way to change it, so many song titles scroll--not ideal if you're supposed to be keeping your eyes on the road. Text is displayed in red, which stands out at night but can wash out in broad daylight.
The Starmate offers 30 presets, which can be accessed in five groups of six via the Band button. A toggle switch lets you navigate up and down, one channel at a time. The included remote control also allows you to directly enter a channel number and adjust or mute the volume.
Like many other satellite radio plug-and-play receivers, the Starmate has a built-in FM transmitter. It can broadcast to any of 100 different frequencies, which is useful if you live near urban areas with crowded airwaves. While this versatility is common in Sirius receivers, the best XM plug-and-play receiver can transmit to only 14 frequencies. The Starmate's S-Seek function alerts you whenever a specified song, artist, or sports team plays on an incoming station. However, the Starmate can store only 10 such items, while similar units, such as the Audiovox SIR-PNP3 and the JVC KT-SR2000, can store 20 or more.
While the Starmate is easy to carry between car and home, it doesn't come with a cradle that houses its ports, so you'll need to remove the power adapter and the antenna cables each time you move the unit. The included antenna has suction cups to attach to your car window or dash.
The receiver's car kit includes a cigarette-lighter power adapter, a roof-mounted antenna, and a large (compared to the Starmate unit itself) suction-cup mount for the windshield. We had a tough time getting the mount to adhere, and if you don't remove the Starmate from your car when you get out, the unit is displayed more conspicuously than if it were mounted on the front console. The mount fit perfectly in our cup holder, however. Sirius recommends threading the antenna cord through to the trunk and hiding the cord in the window molding. The antenna will also work if you place it on the dashboard, but we experienced more signal dropouts that way.
Getting good reception at home was more of a crapshoot. You may need to run the home kit's 15-foot antenna near a window, if not outside, which limits where you can place the receiver. If home reception won't work, subscribers can listen to Sirius stations online--a viable alternative, though lower in audio quality.
Overall, the Starmate ST1 is a good choice among smaller transportable Sirius receivers, as long as you don't mind somewhat cramped buttons and a scrolling display. With a $50 rebate, it becomes an excellent value as well.