The "Real" Zune Review

Another Zune review you say? Yeah the world could probably do without it but I happened to pick up one of these bad-boys on Saturday courtesy of the Microsoft MVP program (no, its not part of the MVP award, but I spent my credit at the Microsoft company store).

Pre(r)amble

Disclaimer: I am a Microsoft MVP, I get USD$150 credit at the Microsoft company store, I used this credit to buy a Zune and have it shipped to me in Australia. This is about USD$40 dollars less than you can get it at FRYS.

Basically for the past year and a half I have been using my JasJar as my music player. Its not a bad device, in fact nothing on the market competes, but I really wanted to get a dedicated music/video player for those flights interstate and overseas as it seems that the on-board systems are having problems.

Anyway – this review is about someone who is pretty much a fan of the Microsoft platform evaluating the alternative before going out getting an iPod and having to use iTunes (I’m not a fan).

The Unboxing

I don’t have photos sorry, go over to Long Zheng’s blog to see a picture of the Zune box. Once you slide off the cover there is a primary flap under which the device itself rests and a few smaller flaps which contain the sync cable and head-phones.

Now the question on all your lips is going to be – which colour did you get? Well, I decided to go for baby-poo brown, I figure if Microsoft is brave enough to ship it, I’m brave enough to walk around in public with it.

Software Setup

You just know I didn’t bother reading the manual – I just turned the device on and it had some residual charge, so I got to see the content that shipped on the device. There were some interesting music videos and other assorted stuff – I didn’t get a chance to see it all before I dug in and started installing the software on my machine.

Because I am in Australia I suspect that the software wouldn’t install on my machine – in fact it didn’t, so I changed my regional settings to be in the U.S. – then, it still didn’t work. I had to go to http://www.zune.net to download the latest version of the software and install from that.

My overall installation experience sucked because I was actually on a saturated wireless connection out at the SQL Down Under Code Camp – if I had done this on Sunday when I got back to Sydney it probably would have worked without any hitches.

I managed to trick it into working and I finally go the Zune software installed – basically an old version of Windows Media Player which is hooked into the Zune market place.

The First Sync

Having installed the proprietary Zune software it was time for me to try and sync to the device. I plugged it in and it detected that the device was present without any problems but I couldn’t sync any photos to it. The problem was that the firmware on the device was out of date – oh great – another download over the worlds least reliable wireless connection🙂

I finally got the firmware down, although a suggestion to Microsoft – make it possible to download the firmware directly as an executable that can flash the device rather than always relying on the Zune software to do it – basically the connectivity error handling in the Zune software needs work.

If I was on a reliable Internet connection at the time I am sure it wouldn’t have been a problem. Once the firmware update was applied I was able to sync without any problems.

The Zune Marketplace

From what I can tell there is a points system where a certain amount of money gets you a collection of points that you can then spend over time. I’m not sure if I like this model because you don’t know how stable the “Microsoft points” currency is – will it devalue over time, either through a deliberate act by Microsoft or the content providers?

Another option is to go with the subscription which allows you to download any number of songs a month and play them on your Zune device only (Microsoft points allow you to burn the music).

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to try the market place out because I don’t live in the United States. This was to be expected because Microsoft said the device was U.S.-only – although I’d like them to release it internationally.

For the time being, all of us outside will need to download our music some other way…

The Controls

This is easily the best media player that I’ve owned, mind you I’ve never owned an iPod, although I have used them. The controls are very intuitive and the UI on the device is obvious to use – no one should need a manual.

The Build

It feels like a sturdy high quality device. Interestingly even though it is a brown device, the outer transparent casing has a slight green tinge to it which you can see if you look at it from an angle – that wasn’t what I expected. The headphones are interesting, they are magnetic so they stick together which is useful for cable management when not using the device.

Recommendation

If you are in the US, this device is as good as an iPod, in Australia, the availability of iTunes is a big selling point and iTunes is obviously one of the reasons Apple is doing so well with the iPod.

I think that Microsoft needs to decide if they are really in this space, the device is good, the software is OK, but limiting to just the US is plain stupid. I’m going to stick with the device and hopefully some of my co-workers will get them and we can share music using wireless etc.

5 thoughts on “The "Real" Zune Review

  1. Chris

    I have a Toshiba Gigabeat, the pre-Zune device – and it rocks. Just great UI, very intuitive, no problems sync’ing – and no iTunes.

    I won a 30 GB iPod recently – and not a big fan of the scroll wheel – and other controls.

    eg. When a song is playing, and I’m searching for other songs – and I want to turn volume up – you have to skip through about 4-5 steps in order to do so.

    Gigabeat – just hit the volume control ! Haven’t seen a Zune (Aust. too) – sounds like your new one is pretty sweet.

    New iPod Touch is supposed to be pretty nice – will wait and see.

  2. Pat

    Zune, Schmune…
    I just bought an iPod Touch. Coolest. Device. Ever!
    Seriously Mitch, just for the sake of it, walk into an apple store (*) and have a play with one. Check out the web browser and see how you navigate and resize pages. It is the first device that i’ve ever used that feels like a Star Trek computer.
    God knows i would never buy a Mac and i think iTunes was written by a bunch of drunken monkeys, but the iPod itself is a marvel.
    It should be mandatory that every portable device developer spend a week with one of these things.

    Pat

    (*) That’s of course assuming you wont melt or mutate, Gremlin style, from walking into said apple store😉

  3. Mitch Denny Post author

    Hey Pat,

    What makes you think that I’ve never been into an Apple store. I’ve been considering becoming a Mac fanboy for quite some time, and if I do I’ll definately get an iPhone.

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