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Zune HD review: Music wants you back

CNET's Donald Bell announces his official review of the Microsoft Zune HD and wonders when people stopped caring about the portable music experience.

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OK, so my official CNET review of the Zune HD is up and running over at CNET Reviews. It's worth checking out, but if you don't feel like taking 10 minutes out of your day to soak it all in, then I'll make it real clear to you with just two sentences:

Buy the Zune HD if you love music.
Buy an iPod for everything else.

That's it. And I don't mean for that to sound dramatic, condescending, or pro-Apple or pro-Microsoft. If we met on the street and you asked me "iPod or Zune?", then that's the answer you'd hear from me. The Zune HD does a phenomenal job showcasing and organizing music in a way that invites exploration and interaction. And if you have the extra $14.99 per month to throw at a Zune Pass music subscription, then welcome to the music orgy.

The problem is, I'm not sure how many people really love music. Sure, before iPods had e-mail, 3D games, and over-the-air movie rentals, we were a nation content with whiling away our downtime listening to music and crafting the ultimate playlist for our morning commute. But things have changed, and as more people pick up their iPhones and iPods to check their e-mail, tweet their friends, and play Scrabble, I fear that music's reign as our No. 1 portable distraction may have come to a close. Personally, it bums me out, but I understand that not everyone has a sustained fascination with music.

We should be so lucky to live in a time where an entire record store's worth of music can fit in your pocket and compete for your attention with Madden NFL 10. It's a miracle of technology, frankly, and Apple deserves to walk away with wheelbarrows full of cash for making it happen. Choice is good. A device with more options is generally better than one with fewer options, so it makes sense.

But if you're the kind of person who would trade all the iPhone apps in the world just to have a portable media player that puts the music experience first and invites you to explore and gorge on all the music downloads your heart desires, then the Zune HD is the right way to go. Maybe I'm a romantic for thinking this person exists, but if they do, they should give Microsoft a big high-five for making a product for them. An iPhone running Rhapsody or Spotify just isn't going to match the thoughtfully integrated subscription music experience of the Zune HD. Plus, I'll say it again--the OLED screen on the Zune HD is gorgeous.

Beg to disagree? Convinced that a lack of gapless playback and FLAC support makes the Zune HD worthless to music fans? Well, I weep for you, but go ahead and give me hell in the comments section.