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Sirius Stiletto 100 review: Sirius Stiletto 100

Sirius Stiletto 100

James Kim

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8 min read

8.0

Sirius Stiletto 100

The Good

The Sirius Stiletto 100 can stream online content via built-in Wi-Fi, record live satellite songs, and be used as an MP3/WMA player with subscription compatibility. You can pause and replay live streams, the GUI is intuitive and fun to use, the main controller is well designed, and it comes with two batteries.

The Bad

The Sirius Stiletto 100 design is a bit chunky; you're limited to less than 1GB of MP3 or WMA music; the antenna headphones are uncomfortable; its USB port is proprietary; Wi-Fi does not support 802.11a/g; audio quality when using Wi-Fi isn't top rate; rated battery life for live radio isn't stellar; pricey.

The Bottom Line

The intriguing Sirius Stiletto 100 is packed with useful radio and digital audio features, and it's easy and fun to use. However, some consumers may find the Stiletto too bulky, and battery life isn't stellar.
Sirius Stiletto 100
CNET finally received the much-ballyhooed Stiletto 100, the portable Sirius satellite receiver that can nearly do it all. It was purchased by an editorial staffer with the intention of returning it after the review, but after some serious pIaytime with the unit, I might just buy it from her. After all, the Stiletto 100--Sirius' answer to XM's Inno/Helix devices--has a huge feature list, including pause/replay and recording of live streams, and still it is a very intuitive and fun player to use. The $350 (kind of pricey) device can play MP3 and WMA files and includes a built-in wireless feature that streams Sirius content from the nearest Wi-Fi hot spot. Though the device is a bit bulky, and battery life isn't stellar, the overall package will satisfy many users, particularly fans of Sirius and its 130-plus channels.

I haven't had this much fun with a gadget in a while (and that includes the Zune). Much of my fun can be linked to the Stiletto 100's thoughtfully designed interface. Despite carrying myriad features--many of which intersect and could thus cause confusion--the device is incredibly simple to use. And, like most satellite radio devices, there is the constant discovery of new music and content.

Good design makes a difference
The device itself is unusual. Measuring 4.5x2x0.7 inches (and weighing 4.6 ounces), it appears very unstiletto-like. In fact, it's more like a clog. The device's thickness is accented by the standard battery pack that juts out the backside. Impressively, the Stiletto actually ships with two batteries, the second being thinner and sitting flush with the rest of the backside (more on the batteries later).


The Stiletto conveniently ships with two batteries-- one is larger than the other.

The Stiletto's chunkiness doesn't bother me. It's durable and certainly pocketable, and the overall industrial design matches well with the device's musical heart. You can't fully understand the Stiletto, however, until you've seen its 2.25-inch screen, which is larger than the Inno/Helix. The screen is bright and rich with colors, although it does attract fingerprints. The icon-based main menu is simple: Satellite radio, Internet radio, Library, Radio replays, Recording, and Settings. Each menu option lights up as you pass over it, and the combination of the sharp fonts, oversized graphics and audio feedback gives the Stiletto 100 an aura similar to the Sony PSP. As one observer noted, it's like a video game.

The dynamic aesthetics (including nice background graphics and colorful station icons in the corner such as a record playing on a turntable to denote the Electronic/Dance channels), and the audio feedback (including chimes and a unique voice announcing the current channel) are excellent. But even more than that, the GUI is very intelligently laid out. For example, text cues indicate exactly where you are--whether it's a recorded song from the library or live reception via satellite. The interface indicates the current songs playing of any channel, from which channel a given song was recorded, and more. This is critical to the Stiletto's appeal since the library is such a mishmash of both recorded content and your own.

Controlling the Stiletto is like driving a Cadillac--nice and smooth, thanks to the one-inch diameter Media Dial. This mechanical "click wheel" is made of tactile rubber with raised edges; the dial offers notched feedback so you get pinpoint control (though sometimes it's so hypersensitive that you pass your intended option). A small select-button sits in the center, and the dial itself can be depressed in four directions: up, left, and right for the playback controls, and down to activate your favorites. The latter, represented by a heart icon, will activate recording of a song or station.

Beyond the wheel are four "corner" buttons: Back, Home, Options and Display. The Back and Home buttons will be used most often, and there's no mystery where these buttons will take you because, in general, there aren't too many options or suboptions--a good 10-minute session should be enough for most users to acclimate to the Stiletto.

The Stiletto's left spine features dedicated volume buttons and the power/hold switch, while the bottom includes the proprietary dock (used with the antenna headphones, optional home or auto kits, and the USB connection) and a standard headphone jack. You can use regular headphones with the device (earbuds are included), but you'll get the best reception using the antenna headphones, which, by the way, are stiff and incredibly uncomfortable. We also find it inconvenient that you can't charge the device while the antenna headphones are attached. As I write, I'm sitting near a window and prefer the stronger signal of the headphones, yet I can't charge the Stiletto. (Note: You can charge via USB.)


The bundled antenna headphones aren't a necessity, but they do improve signal strength especially when using indoors. Incidentally, they wrecked my ears.

The Stiletto was definitely designed for portable use. The Stiletto package costs well over $400 (plus the $12.95/month Sirius subscription), which is pricey considering it does not ship with car docking hardware--available for $69.99. You do, however, get a decent bundle: two pairs of headphones, a USB cable, an AC power adaptor, and the two batteries. There's no case or belt clip, however.


The Sirius Stiletto 100 with its accessories.

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.

8.0

Sirius Stiletto 100

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 7
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