Microsoft's 80GB Zune is sure to draw envy from the iPod-toting masses. With a 3.2-inch screen, wireless sync and sharing capabilities, a built-in FM radio, support for subscription music content (Zune Pass), and podcast integration, the 80GB Zune is a serious step forward for Microsoft.
The new 80GB Zune is still not quite as skinny as its 80GB iPod contemporary, but it's a far cry from the brick-like Zune we saw last year. Bear in mind that the fragile screens and scratch-prone chrome found on the iPod usually inspire users to invest in a case, while the glass screen and anodized aluminum backing of the Zune make a case somewhat redundant.
Owners of the 80GB Zune are treated to an above-average set of earphones. The Zune earphones include replaceable sleeves, braided cables, dynamic drivers, and a unique magnetic coupling on the back of each earphone that prevents against cable tangles.
The Zune still isn't the most streamlined thing in the world, but at just 0.5 inch thick, it's much more pocket-worthy than its predecessor. The predominantly aluminum construction is rugged, cool to the touch, and resists fingerprints.
The unconventionally oversized font used on the Zune's main menu can be read from across the room. We found the large print was especially useful when operating the Zune using the remote control included with the optional A/V dock.
The reward for opening the Zune's puzzle-like box is a high-quality suite of accessories, including earphones, differently sized earphone sleeves, and a proprietary USB cable accented with pink plastic covers.
A unique addition to the Zune's design is a mysterious mirrored plastic window on the top edge of the player. The window conceals the Zune's Wi-Fi antenna, whose signal would otherwise be obstructed by the metal body. A headphone jack and button hold switch are located on the left and right side of the antenna window.
Pictured, left to right, are the first-generation Zune (30GB), the Zune 80, and the Zune 4/8. The difference in menu design is the striking, as well as the increased screen size of the Zune 80. What's less obvious is the evolution of the new Zune Pad control, which makes the navigation much more elegant.
Head to head with its iPod competition, the 80GB Zune is still a hair larger than its foe in every direction. Considering the Zune's larger screen and built-in Wi-Fi antenna, the extra girth is forgivable.
That's right--podcasts! Not only does the new Zune lineup support audio and video podcasts, it integrates them exceptionally well. Podcasts live in their own dedicated folder where they can be played, resumed, or even unsubscribed. Browsing and managing podcast subscriptions using the Zune software is as easy as iTunes.