DISCLAIMER: This review was not solicited by Microsoft, the equipment was purchased with my own money.
Recently, my girlfriend Nicole surprised me with a rather unexpected birthday present: a brand new Special Edition Halo Zune. I had never experienced a Zune before, so I was really excited to try it out. I've had it for about three weeks now, and I wanted to report my take on this device.
My previous music player was a Creative Zen MicroPhoto, which was a pretty decent device, but had a really crappy battery life. I had also used a couple different iPods before, but never owned one. So I have a little bit of experience with PMPs, but there are a bunch out there I still haven't messed with.
I have to say that Microsoft did a fantastic job with the packaging of this product. The outer packaging is clean and very attractive, and it opens up very nicely.
I posted some unboxing shots here to do the talking:
I think this is the kind of experience Microsoft was going for when they redesigned their software boxes for Vista & Office 2007... if only they weren't harder to open than a bottle of Advil. It's a good thing they got it right this time, and it was really fun to open.
Getting my Zune connected to my Vista machine was pretty straightforward. I really liked how it tried to download an updated version when it installed. I say "tried", because it failed the first time, and I had to download the new installer manually. But after I did that, setup was a breeze. It even updated my firmware right away, which I liked a lot.
User Experience - Device
I absolutely LOVE the device. The UI is very responsive, and (mostly) intuitive. The screen is bright, and the contrast is easy to see in any light. It feels great in my hand, and the matte finish is a welcome change to the cold lifeless feeling of the Zen. And it's practically impossible to get smudged up, unlike the iPod.
I do have some issues with the UI though. For one thing, it takes WAAAY too many clicks to start playing a specific song with the "Enter" key. Yeah, I know you can scroll the song list and then hit the play button, but that wasn't the most intuitive way to do it. Also, you can't delete stuff off the device. Which is super annoying... more on that in a minute.
User Experience - Marketplace
Truth be told, the Zune Marketplace experience is pretty bad. I think it's really lame that you can't play media that is stored only on your Zune inside the Zune Marketplace. And you can't browse the device physically (with the hardware buttons) when it's connected. That, coupled with the lack of a delete button or keystroke on the device, makes it nearly impossible to delete anything off of it with confidence. I have to first browse the device, write down the artist and title of what I want to delete, connect it up, and then delete it from the Marketplace. That really stinks. Especially since it came with a ton of crap from people I had never heard of.
Other than that, it's relatively easy to find artists and buy songs. I just wish you could pick the "Advanced" option of just using WMP11. A lot of the software just feels like an URGE ripoff. And seeing as how it's all powered by MediaNet Digital (formerly MusicNet) anyways... seems kind of stupid that enthusiasts can't have a little more choice if they know what they're doing.
Holy crap, I've never seen a music player sync that fast. I put nearly 2GB on the device in a little over a minute. That would have taken almost an hour on the Zen. Now, if I could only sync wirelessly...
So rumor has it that V2 hardware is on its way soon.
One of the things that makes the Zune waaaay better than the iPod is that it's software-updatable (I didn't realize the iPod had firmware updates, I had heard you had to buy new iPods to get new features) I'm really looking forward to seeing what capabilities the V2 software brings to the table. Some things I'd love to have:
- Wireless Sync - already mentioned and self-explanatory.
- Wireless Purchases - I want to be able to purchase and download music straight from an access point to my device. It would be really cool if Microsoft partnered with T-Mobile to offer free WiFi access to their hotspots if they're browsing the Zune Mobile Marketplace.
- Wireless Media Center Extender - I'd like my Zune to be a full-blown Vista Media Center Extender. That way I could watch HDTV on my Zune without dealing with the DRM that my CableCARD applies to all of my recorded TV shows.
- Wireless Xbox 360 Connectivity - I think I should be able to listen to music from my Zune on my Xbox 360 without having to directly connect it to the console.
- Xbox Live Video Marketplace Support - I want to be able to copy SD movies rented from the Xbox 360 Video Marketplace to my Zune. That way i could load it up with movies before a trip and watch them on the plane.
- Napster Support - I'm already paying for a Napster subscription for the Zen MicroPhoto, it would be really nice if I could use it with the Zune too. I understand the whole "closed system" thing (and the Zune Subscription), so you don't need to take me to task for it... it would just be cool.
- Zune Phone - I love the way the Zune feels in my hand. I love the device experience. It would be great if I could get this same experience in a phone. (Don't even say anything about the iPhone, I've used it and I'm not interested.) Yes, I understand this would require additional hardware... unless the headphone jack already supports the same type of headphones-with-a-mic that my cell phone has.
So anyway, that's my opinion. How's your Zune treating you?