Friday, January 19, 2007

Zune: A Review

Now that I've played around with Zune long enough, I think I can write about its virtues & vices quite confidently. While reading this please keep in mind that the review is written from my perspective, things that I *think* are must-haves for a PMP v/s things that I think are *nice-to-haves*. Anyway, without any further ado here it comes:

I don't care too much about how something is boxed, so I won't delve into that at all. The s/w installation was pretty much painless though I did find it rather weird that the first thing the installer did was to check for updates and download them! As a general rule of thumb if I get something new, I want to use it now (and I guess that's pretty much true for almost everyone), so having to wait till a 30MB something patch is downloaded is definitely not on. Zune doesn't have the shiny look like the iPod and looks a lot more retro, so if you really care about how your player looks like and that's the must-have for you, iPod is a better pick, I'm in no way implying that Zune looks ugly (even the brown one for that matter) but iPod with it's shiny metallic sheen wins over Zune in aesthetics and looks (when the players are switched off). Now comes the fun part, once you power on Zune, the large screen grows on you, and Zune comes with some pre-loaded indie content which you can play without having to sync' it to your system library. And that brings us to the most painful experience of mine with Zune but I guess I'd quite a uncommon setup: installation of Zune requires admin privileges (quite obvious) but I run my Windows under a Limited User Account, so to install Zune I had to login as an admin and during the process it asked me to connect the Zune and asked me some questions about setting up a MarketPlace (online store) account etc. Once the installation was complete and I logged in back as the normal user and plugged in Zune, it told me that I've already associated my player with another system (basically another user account on the same system) so I had two choices (if you can call them choices, btw, can you just have one choice?), either connect as a guest or remove the existing media from Zune and create a new partnership, since I had to create the new partnership, I deleted the existing media and in the process lost all the pre-loaded content. Now, to the synchronization bit: another one of my peculiar situation, I've a dual partitioned 40GB HDD on my system; so I only keep a subset of my music on the hard-disk, the rest is on my iRiver. I plugged in my iRiver and added the root folder(my iRiver is a UMS drive, which basically means it acts as an external drive when you plug it in) to my Zune library (which automatically picked *My Music* folder on my local disk); and any attempts to remove the local *My Music* folder from the library proved to be futile, Zune s/w would keep on adding the folder behind my back! The syncing was quite fast which you would expect given both of my external drives were connected via USB 2.0. So once the player was loaded with my library, I gave it a whirl and that's where Zune is at its best, playing media on the device. The screen is large and vibrant, the firmware pretty slick and responsive and quite crisp and loud music. I think the biggest usp for the Zune is its large display and the prominent album-art. Another nice-to-have is the built in FM receiver, I've read a lot of people online talking about who needs a FM anyway? well, maybe I'm from old school but barring the commercials; FM channels are generally nice way of discovering new music and the surprise element about which song's gonna be played next adds even more to the fun. The good bit about Zune FM receiver is it also displays the artist/song information that is being played (provided the channel is broadcasting those information) so you are not left wondering about the song that you just listened to. I can't write much about the video capabilities of the player as I haven't watched any video on it! Most of the videos are on my iRiver PMP which supports a much higher resolution than the iPod or the Zune and suppots xvid/divx codecs. The picture viewer is quite nice and it automatically flips the screen orienation to landscape giving you a bigger real-estate. By the way, MS touted wireless as their usp for Zune, if you're planning to get Zune because of its wireless capabilities don't even think about it, the wireless is useless in its current avatar and most probs you will turn it off permanently to save some battery juice. All in all, I guess Zune s/w has quite a few rough edges (minor quirks albeit sometimes frustrating ones) but the player is really nice! Accessories wise even though iPod has more partners than Zune, Zune almost has all the accessories you would really care about (for me the biggest pet peeve with my iRiver was the lack of a wireless remote!)
So would I recommend Zune to someone over iPod? Well, if I am not desperate to get a media player I would rather wait for Zune 2.0 or the next-gen (touch?) iPod. Zune also lacks quite a few additional frills that are part of iPod (which don't matter to me) like a clock, a contact list, an alarm and direct podcast support (if you're into podcasting you can try the freebie called FeedYourZune) etc etc., in its current state Zune does best at what it is supposed to do: playing media (audio, FM).

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