A Sirius (S50) disappointment

December 10, 2005

I was so excited after reading the Forbes article on the Sirius S50 a few weeks ago that I snapped one up. Then the backorder delays started. Then reports of RIAA-hobbling started to drift in. After using the device for nearly a week, I have to say my friend and neighbor Lance was right- it’s a big disappointment.

The design is by PortalPlayer- the same company that reportedly makes parts of that um.. other popular portable music (and now video) player. The package includes a complete installation kit, a standard cigarette lighter power adapter, an FM adapter (for installation into your line), and the docking cradle. The first thing that hit me was the cheap plastic feel of the cradle. I expected it to be more substantive; the dial used for tuning felt loose. The weight of the device also leaves it feeling cheap- I had to check the box twice to make sure the battery wasn’t floating around.

Speaking of the battery, a cryptic sheet in the install kit tells you to remove the plastic sheathing over the contacts on the device, but fails to mention you have to pry the backplate off the device, remove the battery, and then remove the plastic.

Next I activated the service and did a quick install in my car. The packaging was thoughtfully put together, but not at the vaunted Apple level. I put the antenna on my roof strung out the window and got a signal pretty easily. Activation was simple. The device has an announcement voice that announces station names as you switch, and a nice, easily readable display. They should however have put more thought into their UI design. From the time you first power on the device, the overloaded animation at boot creates a “tearing” effect on the screen as its hardware tries to keep up. Not a good sign on “second read”. Nor is the cheesy heart icon used to designate favorites presets-er no… It’s for recording. Overall the UI feels a bit 2002 for a device of this price.

Speaking of the recording feature. A big selling point is the ability to play/pause live record and schedule record your favorite programs. But unfortunately you cannot listen to one station and record another- ala TiVo or Media Center w/ dual tuners. So basically if you want to record a live program and not listen (defeating the purpose), you have to switch to another input. Apparently these and series of RIAA-induced changes are getting folks in an uproar. Here’s a list of the hobbled features from Orbitcast:

  • Recordings are limited to a maximum of 1 hour each.
  • Only shows (yes, that’s right only shows – not music) can be saved with a scheduled recording.
  • You can record individual songs – not schedule a recording – after the song ends, the recording stops.
  • Scheduled shows are limited to a maximum of 20 with a maximum of 2 hours per each recorded session.
  • If you attempt to schedule more than 20 recordings, you will be prompted to delete an existing scheduled recording or to discard the new recording schedule.

    The final straw for me is the utter lack of FM repeaters in the Seattle Eastside. If I don’t have clear line of sight, forget it. I can’t schedule recordings with my car in the garage, and I’m not going to leave it outside in order to record.

    But wait! It supports MP3 & WMA right? Sort of. You can transfer music using the My Sirius Studio software, limited support for WMP via manual sync of non-DRM’d content. Sirius Studio was about the worst performing player I’ve ever seen on import of my tracks and transfer to the device. Playlists do not import. Album art does not transfer either. No support for PlaysforSure subscription content. No support for podcasting unless I manually transfer. Big thumbs down.

    Lastly, there are bugs. I’ve had to reboot the device five times in three days with a No S_RAM (sp?) error when cradled and started. I’m not sure what is going on there.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m impressed by the Sirius service, but I cannot recommend this device as the way you enjoy it. Lance- you were dead on on this one in my opinion.

  • 8 responses to A Sirius (S50) disappointment

    1. 

      These "features" or limitations are well documented if you do a little reseach. THIS is the main problem with the S50. People snatch it up because it looks cool and the marketing hype.
      Also, reading the directions helps out. It is very different from other sat receivers so there is a learning curve.
      And…. it is the very first version fo a brand new product. Of course some things won’t perform as expected, just like most new gadgets that are released!

    2. 

      To be fair, you had some very valid reasons to love the concept of the S50. As a Stern fan it was in theory going to give you your fix without a lot of transferring hassles. I’m sorry to hear about the build quality, that’s disappointing especially for the price of this thing. It’s essentially an undistinguished 1GB flash player that should retail for no more than $150. Just get TimeTrax and you’ll be much better served listening to Howard on your scratched up (speaking of build quality again) Nano.

      Lance

    3. 

      Regardless of whether these limitations are documented, it seems like a sucky product. Maybe it’ll get better with future versions.

      I’m glad these criticisms were rounded up and summarized as this may have just saved me a few hundred bucks.

      Thanks.

    4. 

      Well, thanks for giving such information. I’ll keep its drawbacks in my mind. Lets see if its future versions get better.

    5. 

      "The design is by PortalPlayer"

      The chip is by portal player.

      "an FM adapter (for installation into your line)"

      There is no FM adaptor.

      "The weight of the device also leaves it feeling cheap"

      It’s within 4 grams of the iPod mini.

      "pry the backplate off the device, remove the battery, and then remove the plastic."

      It’s in the manual, however.

      "From the time you first power on the device, the overloaded animation at boot creates a "tearing" effect on the screen as its hardware tries to keep up."

      It’s actually multiple frames creating animation, so how would it "tear"?

      "2002"

      Do you remember what portable digital audio players could do in 2002?

      "ala TiVo or Media Center w/ dual tuners."

      You want a TiVo or Media Center w/ dual tuners portable and in your car? Eh… how much would you be willing to pay for that?

      "Recordings are limited to a maximum of 1 hour each."

      When recording live. Otherwise, it’s 2 hours

      "Only shows (yes, that’s right only shows – not music) can be saved with a scheduled recording."

      Recently released firmware allows for scheduled recording on any channel.

      "You can record individual songs – not schedule a recording – after the song ends, the recording stops. "

      See above.

      "Scheduled shows are limited to a maximum of 20 with a maximum of 2 hours per each recorded session."

      As opposed to what?

      "The final straw for me is the utter lack of FM repeaters in the Seattle Eastside."

      Did you fail to notice that this is a SATELLITE radio? FM repeaters?

      "manual sync of non-DRM’d content."

      Supports WMA-DRM7

      "No support for PlaysforSure subscription content. No support for podcasting unless I manually transfer."

      It actually does support subscription content… from Sirius.

      "I’m not sure what is going on there."

      agreed.

    6. 

      "I’m not sure what is going on there."

      Obvious.

    7. 

      Hey, I like it. You just need to deal with it.

    8. 

      Got the S50 for X-Mas… I had to wait for the rain stop before installing this sucker. I have to say, the recording feature being limited to two hours (when the promotional material boasts up to five) is kind of a drag for now (can’t record the full Stern show…). Sirius has, however, acknowledged this and will be putting out a software update that will un-lock this feature (basically making scheduled recordings do so in aac format). So…contrary to this scathing review, I love this unit! It works great in the car, and as previously mentioned by other posters, functions perfectly according to the directions. As for user interface…why even mess with the manual controls when they provide one of the best laid out remotes for this type of system? Even my Alpine remote can’t top the Sirius one (and my Alpine is pretty ‘effin’ sweet!). To prospective S50 purchasers I say this, If you are of average intellect and are literate, you will love this product! If you have any sort of internet savvy, you will be ecstatic at the amount of updates and "chetas" there are already out for your downloading and modifying pleasure (GPS and sat-phone features are being boasted as well!).

      Cheers!