I got a Zune a few weeks ago and decided to hold off for a little while before writing a short review for it. Now that I have been using it pretty much every day, I feel like I am familiar enough to tell you guys what I think of it.
I ordered my Zune 80 from Amazon, so it took about a week to get here. That’s fine since it gave me plenty of time to get the rest of my music collection ripped to my pc using windows media player. It filled out all of the track information for all my cds and got album art no problem, so I was pretty much ready to go once I got the Zune in the mail.
The Zune comes is a really small box that is actually pretty cool. I normally don’t care about packaging at all, but I have to agree with uberdave on this one, the box is pretty sweet. Inside the box is a short quick start guide that will walk you though the few steps needed to get the Zune up and running. The first step actually requires you to visit the Zune website to download the software. I was surprised that they didn’t actually include the software on a disc with the player. I don’t imagine this being a problem for most people, but if for some reason you don’t have internet access you won’t be able to install the software and get the music on the Zune. I guess that’s one of the down sides to having a small box.
The Zune software itself is pretty well designed. It’s similar to media player in how it functions (such as the library and monitoring folders for new content), but the layout is completely different and can take some getting used to. But once you know your way around, it’s pretty easy to get things done. You get files onto your Zune by “Syncing” it to the media library on your computer. The Zune software watches whatever folders you tell it to; automatically importing new content (video, music, or photos) into your library whenever they are added to any of those folders. For example, it monitors the “My Music” folder on my pc, which is where I rip all of my CDs to. If I want to add a new CD to my Zune, I just rip the tracks to that folder. The Zune software notices they are new and adds it to my library. The next time I plug in my Zune, the tracks will get “Synced” over to the Zune so that it has the exact same content as my library does. Overall, it works pretty well, when it works that is.
I only have one problem with the Zune software, but it happens all the time and is a bit annoying. Whenever I first plug the Zune into my pc, the player software automatically launches (which is an option you can turn off, but I like that it does this). However, when I go to Sync my library to the Zune, it says it’s not connected. This is strange, since it obviously knows it was connected (it did launch the software after all). So I have to unplug the Zune and connect it again before it will notice it. It’s not a huge problem, but it is a bit annoying. But other then that one issue, the software works great.
The player itself feels pretty good. The hardware is really well designed and seems to be made to last. The screen is a really nice size and looks beautiful, and is protected by actual glass, not plastic. So hopefully the screen won’t scratch as easily as some other players that use plastic screens. The port to connect the cable to it is located at the bottom, while the headphone jack as well as a lock switch is located at the top of the player. As for buttons, there is one large touch pad as well as a back button and a play/pause button.
Once you get all your media on the player, actually using it is a breeze. It categorizes your content based on type, such as music, video, photos and podcasts. Within those categories, you can further sort the list by artist, album, genre, or song title. They work as you would expect. For example, selecting an artist then brings up all the albums for that artist. You can select to play all of them, or drill down more to get individual albums and the songs within those albums. The album art is displayed right along with the titles, making it easy to find what you are looking for just by glancing at the covers.
Moving around is pretty easy. The Zune has a touch pad, so you simply slide your finger up and down to move around the list, or left and right to change the sorting method. Selecting a song is as easy as clicking the center down. If you are not a fan of touch sensitive input devices, you can turn it off to make it function as a normal button, but I don’t know why you would want to do that.
The podcast section is probably the one that gets the most use from me. Using the Zune software on my PC, I signed up for a dozen or so podcasts such as Major Nelson’s podcast (audio) and the 1up show (video). Each time I load the Zune software, it automatically checks to see if there are new episodes of the podcasts and automatically begins to download them if it finds some. If my Zune is connected, it goes ahead and syncs them as well. This is great for me. I listen to a ton of podcasts, and not having to go to all the sites and download new episodes myself is a huge time saver. After I listen or watch a show, it marks it as done. Next time I sync, it automatically deletes the old shows for me, which keeps things from getting out of control (which they would given the amount of podcasts I follow).
Aside from the music, movies, and photos categories, the Zune also has ones for social, radio, and settings. From there you can check friends, messages and scan for nearby Zunes. The player has wireless built into it, allowing the Zunes to talk to each other and send music. The radio is pretty much what you would expect, and allows you to scan through and find local radio stations. I don’t really use this much, but it seems to work pretty good. The settings section allows you to control some basic stuff, such as if the touch pad is on, how long before the display turns off, and other stuff like that. You can also start a wireless synch from here if you don’t feel like plugging the Zune into your PC.
Microsoft is essentially trying to do to music what they did with games via Xbox Live. That is, making music a social experience that you can share with your friends. Sending music to each other wireless is a part of that, but I don’t even think it’s the most interesting aspect of what they have done. On Zune.net, every Zune user can create a profile and a friends list (the friends list is actually integrated with your Xbox Live friends list if you have one). Your profile keeps track of your most recently played music, as well as what music you play the most. It does this for all your friends as well, so you can easily check out what they are listening to. This makes finding new music extremely easy and fun to do. I have spent hours looking at my friends profiles, listening to samples of their favorite tracks (if available), and have discovered some pretty cool new artists in the process. Once you find something you like, buying it is just a few clicks away (assuming it’s available on the Zune Marketplace).
Overall, I really like what Microsoft did with the Zune. It’s a really solid player (both hardware and software), and the social aspect of it is really appealing to me. The Zune really is a good device, and I have absolutely no reservations recommending it to friends and family.
You can find my Zune profile here: http://social.zune.net/member/NeutralX2