The Pitch A cleverly conceived journey through the history of sonic media (though, regrettably, the creators don't include the phonograph cylinder). Cassettes, 8-track cartridges and CDs are lined up like so many dominoes, all tumbling with a mighty clack. The surprise comes toward the end, when a crashing jukebox sets off an iPod chain reaction. All those perfect things fan out before a seemingly mammoth Sirius Stiletto 2, which the narrator touts as revolutionary: "Everything else falls short." So is Sirius's revamped portable player really about to give the iPod a run for its money? Or are the headphoned masses (Howard Stern aficionados excluded) not yet ready to pay monthly subscription fees? The Spin Sirius is at a major crossroads right now, as it tries to seal its merger with XM—a merger which still awaits that all-important regulatory approval. Part of Sirius's rationale for why the merger should go forward is that there's plenty of competition nowadays from a myriad of sources—a satellite radio monopoly, the company argues, won't be harmful because consumers can also get their music fixes from online music vendors and portable devices. Sirius wouldn't mind a bit, however, if it had a healthy share of that portable market, which is currently dominated by thin rectangles that store files. The Stiletto 2 can do that, too—though the internal memory is piddling at 2GB—but the product's real hook is the Wi-Fi streaming of Sirius programs. There's also the nifty ability to store 100 hours of shows, a feature which makes the Stiletto 2 resemble an audiocentric DVR. Good stuff, though your mileage will vary according to how much you value Sirius's core properties—Stern, of course, but also the NFL and NASCAR.
Counterspin Aside from the lack of memory in which to store MP3s, the Stiletto's chief fault may be the fact that its radio capabilities are tethered to Wi-Fi. Isn't an appreciable amount of portable music listened to while on the go? So while you're roaming, if I understand things correctly, you're basically stuck with your stored music; it's not until you settle down in one place that you can listen to the satellite channels. Still pretty neat, but is that enough to convert non-subscribers? Especially seeing as how Sirius doesn't seem to be subsidizing the Stiletto 2 very much—just $30 off the MSRP, plus a month free if you sign up for a one-year subscription. That just doesn't seem like the kind of deal that's going to lure folks into giving portable satellite radio a try, now, does it?
Mission Accomplished? Sirius is right in one sense: the future of music may well be rental. The current 99-cents-per-song model is going to have problems once access to the celestial jukebox goes under $10 per month. What Sirius is offering is a step in that direction; the only problem is that with radio programming, you're still at the mercy of the DJs. On top of that, does Sirius have any plans to stream via 3G networks? That seems like a mammoth technical challenge, seeing as how we're only just now getting reliable web access for mobile users. But until Sirius can cut itself free from Wi-Fi, it's probably going to be preaching to the choir with the Stiletto—a choir that, more often than not, is going to have first encountered satellite radio as an automotive feature.
Hype-O-Meter 6 (out of 10). The Stiletto 2 is still too expensive and too light on internal memory to break big. But it's an interesting step in the right direction, toward the next generation in portable entertainment. My hope is that, at the very least, this will push Apple and Microsoft to move more quickly on perfecting mobile downloading of media. When I hear a song I like while out shopping for sneakers, by golly, I should be able to download that song right then and there—and I don't want a service provider telling me, "Sorry, we don't have that one." Someday...