I really wanted to love my 80GB Zune. I'd heard good things about its Wi-Fi and its FM radio, its software, the Zune Marketplace, its easy navigation, and its non-iPod-ness. But then I got it, and now I hate it. Here's why, in ascending order of annoyance.
5. The software and music categorization
The Zune software (its equivalent of iTunes) is slow and super-unintuitive. When I first started using it, I literally could not figure out how to start adding songs. I had to look it up, and discovered it's a common bug when you use the device and software for the first time, so I had to unplug the Zune, restart the software, and then I could drag-and-drop songs onto the device. It's also nowhere near as good at categorizing music as iTunes. In fact, when I imported my iTunes library into the Zune software, it couldn't figure out the difference between album and artist for most songs, so browsing the collection on the device is a total nightmare.
In the software itself, there are way too many menu options--without the Zune plugged in, there's a two-line menu with five separate options: Collection, Device, Marketplace, Social, and Disc on the top line, and then Music, Playlists, Videos, Pictures, Podcasts on the second line. Plug the device in, and there's one more menu option once you click Device (Status).
Plus, the software and device don't seem to respond to my settings choices. I asked the Zune, under Settings, to "Let me choose" to sync music, video, pictures, and podcasts--but whenever I plug in the Zune, it auto-syncs. Eh? Worse, settings in the software menu (like, "Keep 3 episodes of each podcast") override the already-overridden "let me choose" option on the Zune, so the software ends up taking podcasts off the Zune when I don't want it to. But that's hardly the worst sync sin the Zune performs. More on that later.
Note: I did not subscribe to the Zune Marketplace, because I'm not even remotely interested in a heavily DRM'd subscription service, so I have not taken advantage of the joys of Squirting Songs or anything like that. However, since I've never encountered another Zune user in the wild, I haven't felt like I missed out.
4. The headphones
The Zune's headphones were, at first blush, one of the best things about it. They're nice, in-ear headphones with really good quality sound. They look good and fit comfortably, and the ends of the earbuds are magnetic, so they can hang around your neck without falling off. But here's the thing. The headphone cord is fabric, instead of the plastic-coated cable of iPod headphones or their ilk. And fabric, which is basically string, is one big knot waiting to happen. Combine the knotting tendencies of string with the magnetic ends of the earbuds, and the headphones are constantly in a state of tangle that you cannot even believe. It's a 10-minute endeavor to untangle them every time I pull them out of my bag. My bus ride is only 25 minutes to 30 minutes long. It's just not worth it.
3. The player interface
Yes, the iPod makes navigation easy. At first blush, so does the Zune. I love the big menu items on the home screen for Music, Videos, Pictures, Social, Radio, Podcasts, and Settings. But there are just way too many clicks required to play a song, way too many to add a song to a playlist on the fly, and way too many menu items that aren't songs at the top of the Quick List playlist.
Playing an album is pretty easy--you just side-scroll to Albums, choose it, click the Album title, and choose Play All (other options are "add all to quick list" or "send"). On this screen, you'll actually see a list of all the songs on the album.
But to find and then play a song by a specific artist (which I usually do, because artist names are easier to remember than album names), you first find the name of the artist, then click it. Now, you'll see "Play all" and "add all to quick list," but no "send" option. That's an annoying interface consistency issue. Anyway, under that, there's the album cover and the album title--but no list of songs. So, if I want to play the first song on the artist's album, I then have to scroll down to the album name, click that, then scroll past "play all," "add all to quick list," and "send" to the song name, and click the song name.
But that does not start playing the song. At this point, I go to yet another screen, where I can "play," "add to quick list," or "send." After a few weeks of use, I had added pretty much every song on the device to the Quick List, which kind of defeated the purpose, you know?
Also, and this is nit-picky, but the Zune has a huge screen. In most cases, that's great. But does it really have to display the album art for what you're listening to at the full size of the display? Because I don't really need everyone on the bus to see that I'm having a Carrie Underwood moment, know what I'm sayin'?
2. The wireless is worthless
What is the point of the Zune having Wi-Fi? Seriously? All it can do is sync music wirelessly on my home network. That's a neat trick, but it's not that much of an advantage over plugging it in, considering that my laptop lives in a tangle of connector cords on my breakfast bar anyway. I can't download songs over-the-air, and there's no browser and no sign of there ever being a browser. The best trick it's got is that I can unsubscribe to a podcast over Wi-Fi. But I can't browse for and subscribe to anything new, so I'm really just depriving myself of content on the go. Hooray.
But all four of these issues with my Zune pale in comparison to the number one reason the Zune is, and forever will be, dead to me.
1. The erasing of my server-stored music
At my house, we keep all our MP3s stored on a Media Center PC, which we mount as a networked drive for adding music to portable devices. So, when I first got my Zune, I ripped three CDs using this laptop, then loaded up the MP3 server and painstakingly picked out some 2,000 songs over about a three-hour period. I didn't sync again for a couple of months, because, well, I had all the music, video, and photos I needed--and it actually has pretty impressive battery life, so I hadn't even bothered to plug it in to charge it.
Then, about two weeks ago, I was going on a trip. My Zune's battery had run out, so I plugged it in to charge it to take on the plane with me. Despite my settings in the Zune software not to sync all my music, video, pictures, and podcasts, the Zune started its sync dance.
When it was complete, it gave me this message:
10 items added
2,372 items removed
Yep. The software, in its auto-sync wisdom, removed every single song from the device that was not stored locally on the computer. There was no prompt, there was no "I can't find this" warning like the iTunes Library will sometimes offer. It just decided, out of what I assume was some misguided antipiracy effort, to remove any songs that it couldn't find on my hard drive. What if I were syncing the machine with two different computers with two different music libraries, you ask? Too bad. Zune is in control.
And you know what? I don't like being told what to do. I don't like sitting on a wiped Zune two hours before I'm supposed to leave from the airport. I don't like software that ignores what I think is a pretty specific request for manual syncing, and I don't like device behaviors that assume I am stealing music. What this all boils down to, I'm truly sorry to say, is that I don't like my Zune. Hello, again, little iPod buddy.