Review Of Zune HD – 32GB – Platinum MP3 Player

MP3 Players — on November 28, 2009 at 1:30 am | Comment Now

A great player by Microsoft which is excellent in music and video playbacks but the browser could have been better.

Sum and Substance:

Thumbs Up:

Great OLED display, HD radio tuner, long batter life, movie rentals and subscription features.

Thumbs Down:

Not compatible with MAC, the screen is not clearly visible in bright sunlight, Marketplace’s ‘Microsoft Points’ is a turn-off, Microsoft Marketplace is nowhere close to the iTunes which has great apps and games.

Inside the Trunk:

Included accessories
3 pairs of ear tips,  Software -  Drivers & Utilities, Cable included – 1 Data cable – External.

The Whiz Kid Speaks:

Display
3.3 inch OLED screen, Resolution – 480 x 272, Display Languages – French, English and Spanish

Supported audio formats
AAC, MP3, WMA, WMAPro, CBR, VBR.

Supported video formats
WMV, MPEG-4

Still image format
JPEG

Playback modes
Random play / shuffle

MPEG-4 playback, Variable bit-rate compatible, JPEG photo playback

Other Features
Wi-Fi, Hi-Speed USB, Built-in games, Web browsing, Built-in FM radio, Wireless music download

Memory
32 GB Integrated

Weight
2.6 oz, width – 2.1 inch, depth – 0.4 inch, height – 4 inch

Available body colors Black and Platinum silver
ID3 tags support

Additional features
MPEG-4 playback, Variable bit-rate compatible, JPEG photo playback

Headphones
Binaural Ear-bud

Lithium ion Rechargeable Player battery integrated

Recharge time
2 hour(s)

Estimated battery life 33 hours.

Zune hd review

Razzle Dazzle:

The display of the player is 3.3 inch big and is only 0.3 inch thick. The body is made of aluminum, just like Apple’s products, and it gives the Zune a cold and solid look. Videos on this player look great due to the big screen and the cool 480×272 pixels resolution.

Inside Dope:

Microsoft’s products have always been thought of as a second fiddle to what is available in the market. They reign when it comes to computers, no doubt about that but their prowess in the gadget markets seems limited only to computers.

Sony launched Sony Playstations and Microsoft realized that their computer sales were in danger since Sony Playstation could be used as a computer too plus it gave great gaming experience. So Microsoft launched Xbox360 to lure PS3 fans. Xbox 360 sales haven’t been the same as Sony’s PS3. Sony PS3 was selling like hot cakes when they first came out and sales were so fast that manufacturers actually ran out of stocks.

Then came Apple’s iPod and Microsoft launched Zune. So Microsoft has always been seen as someone made products as an alternative substitute to the original ones.

Zune first came out it was nowhere close to iPod. But now it is back with a better look. So let’s see what it is all about.

The main display of the screen has words music, videos, pictures, radio, social, more. No, this is not a wall paper these are icons for selecting what you want. You are supposed to touch what you want and the relevant feature will be launched. While some might like at the simplicity of the home screen, style freaks may balk at its blandness. The text seems to be written somewhat recklessly and everything is written in small letters, one below the other. There is a secondary main menu called quickplay.

There are only three physical buttons on the device – a large power/hold button on the top of the device, a home button below the screen and a button on the left edge of the device for calling up the onscreen playback and volume controls. The volume control is worst part of the device and we would have appreciated the volume control somewhere on the face of the player. We are sure you won’t use this control much and would rather go for volume control slider on the touch screen interface just like iPod touch.

We have said it once and we will say it again here, Microsoft’s Zune seems like it is a cheap alternative to the iPod touch. Few of the things have been changed so it doesn’t look like an exact copy, maybe Microsoft is trying to save its face, but then when it comes to music players, we would prefer iPod touch.

If you are an iPod fan, Zune might take sometime to get used to it, but once you use it for a while, it will be just fine.

Playing music is the main job of this player and it plays MP3, AAC, WMA, and WMA Lossless formats, as well as audio book files from Audible or OverDrive. When you sync music with Zune HD it will be sorted by artist, album, song, genre and play list. What followed after this made our eye balls popped out of the sockets, when you select and artist to play you will get a list of their albums set against a background photo of the artist. There are tabs which contain biographical information, additional photos and a list of related artists. All of this information is pulled offline from the Zune software.

If you connect the Zune HD to the internet through Wi-Fi, the album listings will show an artists entire music catalog, it will also let you preview of download additional songs or explore the music catalog of similar artists. You can download unlimited songs with the Zune’s pass subscription plan which costs $14.99 per month. If you don’t like this then a similar artist feature connects you to Zune Marketplace where previews of songs are limited to 30 seconds and downloads are sold individually just like iTunes

Just like music players on mobile phones you can create play lists on the fly. You will be glad at how the player manages media. iPod has a “recently added”, “most played” thing which shows the latest added tracks. The Zune HD has Quickplay menu which organizes music with newest tracks right up front, along with the play history, currently playing song, and anything that you may have deliberately “pinned” to the menu. If you want to pin something to the Quickplay sceen you hold your finger on the item you want pinned, and the context menu will pop up to ask if you want to pin the track. You can also add the track to your now playing list. You can put entire albums, genres or playlists in the Now Playing queue and a disk icon which is at the top of Now Playing view allows to you to save the playlist that you have just created.

Zune HD has everything that you as a music player might need. It will be your ultimate MP3 player if you are not a fan of Apple’s products. The player can also play video which is the next most sought out feature after the music. The 3.3 inch screen of the Zune HD gives a 480×272-pixel resolution.

The OLED screen on the Zune HD is better than the standard TFT LCD screen that you get in mobile phones. You will see the difference when you go in to bright sunlight with the player. A mobile screen LCD is overwhelmed by the bright lighting where as a OLED screen would do better picture than a standard LCD. But it is not as good as iPod touch which is best among the three. But the use of colors such as white menu against the dark background in the Zune HD helps in clear viewing. If you stay outdoors all day, Zune is not for you. If you check out this device for GPS in direct sunlight, you will understand what we are talking about. But a OLED screen would give you better video viewing experience as compared to a LCD.

The iPod touch refuses to support anything that is not in mp4 format. This player too will play only MP4/H.264 format or Microsoft’s WMV format. For other file formats you will need to sit in front of a computer and go through the boring video conversion procedure. iPod also has this same restrictive feature but then the iTunes store makes up for it, it delivers ready made mp4 format files on your player for a price.

You can buy Zune AV dock which costs about $89 and you can pair up this player with LCD TV. What you get is a huge display and when you flick on the screen, you see the result on the TV. It was great to see the icons moving and the great HD video on LCD TV. Zune HD is capable of handling 720p high definition content.  HD videos can also be purchased or rented from Microsoft’s Zune Marketplace download store or advanced users can create videos manually by DVD ripper. You can also use the videos that are downloaded to Xbox 360 from Zune Marketplace on the Zune HD. All you have to do is sync them through a computer. But the process is tedious and you will have work a lot before you finally get the video on your Zune HD.

In spite of repeated cries, Apple has refused to put FM on its iPod products. This is where other players in the MP3 player market are cashing in. Zune HD carries FM and Microsoft has HD radio broadcast support along with the FM tuner. HD radio broadcasting is not available in all cities, though. Our eye balls popped out again when the currently playing song on the radio gave information the track as well as tag for the song. The combination of FM radio and HD broadcast makes it one of the best radios we have ever seen on any gadgets.

The audio quality of Zune HD excellent. There is a built in equalizer which you can play around with and change the presets. We have seen quite a lot of music players which are great in sound quality but do not have equalizer presets built in. Zune HD’s equalizer is among the best in mp3 players.

Apple iPod needs software to sync songs in to the device. While some thing this is a pain in the neck (they prefer simple drag and drop), people who like to be organized like such syncing soft wares. Zune HD doesn’t have a drag and drop interface and you will have to install Version 4.0 of the Zune soft ware. It provides pretty much the same features like iTunes does.

We tested the Zune HD with Wi-F turned off and it ran for 33 hours for audio and 8.5 hours for video which is quite impressive.

The Zune soft ware has a tab for Marketplace download store; you can browse through a catalog which contains more than five million songs. There is also a huge library of free audio and video podcasts as well as a revamped video download section that includes TV shows, music videos, and movies that can be purchased or rented. We were impressed by the organization and presentation of the media on the software, but it is nowhere close to iTunes store. Speaking of Apple’s products we would like to tell you that Zune HD won’t work with MAC. If you are MAC user virtualized Windows is the only option for you.

Talking about the browser of the phone it is much better than Microsoft Internet Explorer that we get with Microsoft’s Operating Systems. We hated the way the browser was forced onto us with Windows and we quickly jumped to Mozilla Firefox when we discovered it. Over all this time, we still don’t like Internet Explorer that much and the browser on Zune is a welcome change. There is a built in accelerometer for which makes the display go horizontal when you hold it by the sides. The pages can be zoomed with a pinch just like iPhone’s Safari browser. The browser is one of the best that we have ever come up against and scrolling on this screen was pure joy. The big screen and the high resolution adds to the experience of the browser. The catch is that you don’t get Flash Web content support and many of the features that you find in smartphones like auto-fill, copy-paste, and multiwindow browsing. You can check out networking sites and also e-mail and stuff but if we were asked to choose between Zune HD or Apple’s browser we would go with Apple’ Safari.

Zune HD is made to serve you primarily as a music and video player. Though it has some smartphone features, like Wi-Fi we would have liked it if there would have been more features which would close the gap between a smartphone and the music player. We would have also appreciated support for products beyond the Zune, such as compatibility with other MP3 players or streaming audio products like Squeezebox or Sonos.

Apple has iTunes where in you can download lots of applications, games and other stuff, and this is where you can’t match iPod with other MP3 players. iTunes is just perfect with lots (and really lots) of applications. To make Zune HD at par with iPod, Microsoft will have to make a store like iTunes which is an uphill task.

When you go shopping for songs on the Zune Marketplace you will remember your childhood days of playing board games. The prices of songs are based on ‘Microsoft Points’, 100 points is about $1.25, we don’t know why this is done and we certainly didn’t like it as it leads to confusion while purchasing.

Nitty Gritty:

If you are buying Zune HD as a cheaper alternative to the iPod touch you need to think again. Maybe you can throw in a few more bucks and get iPod anyways since it is worth the extra money. We were glad that Zune HD had lots of features like unlimited song downloads, over-the-air album and song streams, playlist channels, and the seamless exploration of new music through Similar Artist links but all this isn’t cheap, you have to pay $14.99 per month for the Zune pass for this, which is about $0.50 per day or $180 per year which is a little expensive. But this is certainly the best Zune product as compared to the earlier ones. If you are Zune fan have been thinking of buying one, this is the time.


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