S50 Test Drive, Part II

Phil Harvey
The Philter
Phil Harvey, US Bureau Chief
12/30/2005



5:20 PM -- The Sirius S50 is the greatest radio I've ever owned, but it ain't perfect.

As a follow up to this post, here are five areas where the Sirius Satellite Radio (Nasdaq: SIRI) S50 could improve.

  • Stability
    With all the docking, moving, plugging, unplugging, the S50 holds up well. But I've experienced two instances in about one month when the device will get stuck on the title screen. And I've found two fixes for the problem. One is to take out the battery, wait a few minutes, and put in it back. The other fix is to update the S50's software via a USB connection to a PC. Both fixes work and don't result in any lost content. But both could be avoided, I think, if the S50's code and components were a bit more rugged.

  • Video
    How can a device come with such a beautiful 252,000-color display and not have any video services attached or available? Sirius has said it is developing video content with Microsoft, but the release of the S50 with no video story at all was a mistake. Maybe the RIAA's meddling over how much content a Sirius device can store may have had something to do with the lack of video. But you'd have to assume that because Sirius won't say anything publicly about video other than what it published during CES 2005.

  • Did I mention stability?
    When I try to power and run the S50 docking station (which has an FM tuner) in my wife's Prius (hybrid), the docking station loses power intermittently. That, of course, resets the player, stops my music. What a buzzkill. I'm not sure what the problem is with that other than it may be traced back to the S50's sensitive components. The Prius might cause a slight voltage change as the gas engine cycles on and off. But the S50 is the only device that gives me fits when used in the Pirus.

  • Merchandising and marketing
    Why did the world's greatest portable entertainment device debut with just a car kit and no home docking station? Sirius PR says the home docks are "just hitting the market." That's just too late.

  • Channel guides
    Why isn't there a TV Guide-like listings grid that shows what's on every Siruis station AND what's coming up in 30 minute to 1 hour blocks on Sirius.com? Do they realize how much more stuff S50 users might be recording if they only had an easier way to find it?

So those are the improvements I'd suggest (as if anyone would ever ask).

Another observation: The S50 has a cool sports ticker feature that keeps up you up to date with scores and game alerts while the player is docked. Might that be a way to sneak advertising into a "commercial-free" broadcast in the future?

Final note: Why hasn't Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), or EchoStar Satellite LLC already bought Sirius? It has content, a geography-agnostic distribution channel, devices that are fully integrated with all its services, and -- from what I can tell -- an extremely loyal membership that numbers more than 3 million. What's not to like?

— Phil Harvey, Nice Devices Editor, Light Reading

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