Zune is here! Microsoft's Wi-Fi-enabled portable media player with its intuitive interface and solid playback performance will please most users. But lukewarm format support and the cool-but-limited Wi-Fi capability will have advanced users seeking more. The Zune is a very good start, though.
The Microsoft 30GB Zune in white, black, and brown. It has a 3-inch color screen, which is bigger than the Apple iPod's 2.5-inch screen. Still, the better video players out there have a 4-inch-plus screen.
This is the black Zune with the music playback screen showing. Emphasis on album cover art (just like Apple) and a simple interface are evident. You can customize the background with any of your photos.
Well, we'll see about that. But Microsoft is introducing media device-to-device communication on a grand scale (previous efforts in wireless MP3 players include the SoniqCast and MusicGremlin). The Zune devices are able to connect to each other wirelessly, and users will be able to swap songs (and photos) for sampling.
The backbone of Zune will be the Zune Marketplace, an online music (and presumably video) store and subscription service. Physically, the Zune has a proprietary dock connector underneath for use with the Zune Dock and other accessories.
Unfortunately, though the Zune's large screen and video-triggered automatic landscape mode make it ideal for video viewing, the player is not compatible with protected WMV files purchased from services such as Amazon Unbox. And Microsoft will not (at launch time) offer videos in its own music store.
The edges of the Zune appear to glow (blue for the black version and green for the brown) when light shines through, but that's actually an effect of the texturized clear coat surrounding the entire player. It has a nice feel to it...even if the player is a little on the hefty side.
Zune is a nice video player. Getting certain video files like the popular DivX can be a hassle though as you'll need a seperate program to convert it into a format that the Zune MArketplace software supports. Also, the Zune is not yet compatible with DRM video files. We expect the Zune Marketplace to offer videos in the near future. Too bad there is no Media Center support.
The packaging is sophisticated--you know a lot of thought went into its presentation. The box holds the Zune, earbuds with foam pads (ugly but effective), a soft case, a rubbery proprietary USB cable (don't lose it), software, a couple of quick guides, and of course, a Zune sticker.
You'll find the community option in the main menu. Here you can search for nearby Zunes or check out what other Zunesters have sent you. All shared music is collected in the inbox so that you can better keep track of them. The inbox serves as the Zune's DRM management center for shared files.
It's the first option in the settings menu. Be aware that turning on the Wi-Fi will create an audible, second-long burst of static if you're listening to music. Microsoft should be able to address this, we hope.
Wi-Fi sharing is a novelty--it works, but don't expect to share often unless all your friends also have Zunes. One note: not all music from the Zune Marketplace (purchased or subscription) is sharable.
The Zune looks like a good fit for MP3 player novices, though we hope Microsoft addresses its issues and will make the Zune usable as a hard drive, extend video support to include DRM (which they probably will do when its own video store opens), and open up a true Wi-Fi network.