Microsoft Zune Review – the Future of Mp3 and Digital Media Players?

Microsoft40 Microsoft Zune Review   the Future of Mp3 and Digital Media Players?
Mike McFar asked:


Earlier this year, the idea of a Microsoft-branded MP3 player was foreign to most consumers. After all, what could the software giant do to the iPod dynasty that Windows Media hardware partners such as Creative, iRiver, and Samsung had been unable to do? Well, we all knew that after Microsoft’s September 14 announcement, the Zune would be a different kind of portable media player, one that integrates wireless technology for Zune-to-Zune sharing of files, and one that works within an iTunes-like closed Zune Marketplace ecosystem. The hard drive device, which comes in black, white, or the love-it/hate-it brown, has entered the real world and will please most users, especially beginners, thanks to an excellent UI, nice integration with Zune Marketplace software, and good playback performance.

By now, we all know the basics of the Zune: it’s a 30GB MP3 player with a photo- and video-friendly 3-inch (4:3) screen, and it costs $249.99 (unless you buy it at buyazune.com). It runs on a customized version of Portable Media Center software (Windows CE-based) and features the same intuitive twist-navigation like players such as the Toshiba Gigabeat S.

While the player is similar to many other players in terms of its feature set–music, video, and photo playback, plus an FM tuner–what sets it apart is its integrated Wi-Fi chip, which allows it to seek out and be seen by other Zune-sters. This sharing feature allows users to share music and photos (but not video) within the same room. Shared photo files, on the other hand, have no limitations. We’d love to see Wi-Fi expanded so that one could sync or purchase music wirelessly (or even see Zunes across the globe), but having played with the device, I see why Microsoft is starting small. So far, the Zune experience out of the box and beyond has been predictable and solid. Wi-Fi or not, it’s one excellent media player.

Quickly, about the box and its contents: the Zune packaging is minimal but has flare. You actually lift the Zune out of the box by pulling on its brown ribbon (nice touch), and the bundled earphones and rubbery USB cable are nowhere to be seen until you realize the flaps adjacent to the Zune lift open. In addition, you’ll get a suede case, a software CD, some guides, and a sticker in the package. While we’d love to see more–such as an AC adaptor– the introductory Zune experience is well done.

The colors are subdued and the shell has a translucent matte finish, and more importantly, the body does not attract fingerprints (though the screen does). The double-shot effect of the secondary color (green on the brown version, bluish on the black, translucent on the white) definitely gives the player visual pizzazz. The built-in battery will last up to 14 hours for audio. Interestingly, the back says this in fine print: “Hello from Seattle.” The Zune, which is manufactured by Toshiba but completely designed by Microsoft, is an original-looking player with a style of its own.

It’s a durable device that will withstand scratches, bumps, and bruises, though the primary seam of the device looks as if it might burst open after a hard fall. The body is minimal with no buttons on the sides, only a hold switch and an earphone jack on top and a proprietary USB/accessories port on the bottom. The screen and main controller are surrounded by a thin, metallic inlay, while the three control buttons are dead simple (the small dedicated back and play/pause buttons are flush with the body).
Overall, the Zune is a well-designed portable media device with good playback performance, a snappy processor, and an excellent interface. Wi-Fi sharing worked well, but prospective owners should know its format support, especially for videos, is limited. The Zune looks like a good fit for MP3 player novices, though we hope Microsoft addresses issues and will make the Zune usable as a hard drive; extend video support to include DRM (which they probably will do when its own video store opens); and open up a true Wi-Fi network. The foundation looks good, though, and those not interested in version 1 of Zune can look forward to improved versions 2, 3, and beyond.

This review was brought to you by CNET.

If your interested in the Microsoft Zune, I would recommend http://www.buyazune.com as they consistently offer the best prices for every model and accessory of the Zune.



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