Zune HD: You call that a browser?

Microsoft's new entertainment gadget features a hidden address bar, an overly demanding keyboard, and a sub-par mobile version of Bing.

Matt Rosoff
Matt Rosoff is an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, where he covers Microsoft's consumer products and corporate news. He's written about the technology industry since 1995, and reviewed the first Rio MP3 player for CNET.com in 1998. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network. Disclosure. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattrosoff.
Matt Rosoff
2 min read

After a few hours on Tuesday of playing with the Zune HD that Microsoft sent me, I found a lot of things I like about it--the slim size, the Quickplay user interface feature that gives you immediate access to recently added and favorite songs, the big on-screen volume controls, and the Zune Pass, for example. But the Web browser seems like an afterthought.

CNET's Donald Bell had better luck with the on-screen keyboard than I did. Donald Bell/CNET

I know that mobile Web browsing isn't the same as PC browsing, but I've used Safari on the iPhone for more than a year, and it's great--I actually read articles, for work and fun, on my bus commute to work. It's so good, I've been taking it for granted. Not anymore.

Microsoft says the Zune HD's browser is based on the mobile version of Internet Explorer, but it doesn't look like any version of IE I've ever seen. The address bar is hidden--you have to pull up on the gray bar at the bottom of the screen to get to it. The other alternative is to click on a small magnifying glass to conduct a search on the mobile version of Bing, which I found difficult to use. (No slam against the full browser-based version of Microsoft's search engine, which I like.) For instance, when I conduct a search on my employer's name, "Directions on Microsoft," Bing Mobile assumes I want news stories that cite the company, when in fact I just want our home page. There's a link on the Bing Mobile site that says "web," which I assume is supposed bring me general search results from around the Web, but when I clicked it repeatedly, nothing happened. There's also no auto-suggest or auto-complete for search queries--each time you want to search for "Chinese restaurants," you have to type the whole query in.

Regardless of how you're trying to navigate, the on-screen keyboard seems to require more finger accuracy than the fault-tolerant keyboard on the iPhone (probably because of the smaller screen). The back button is hard to hit--I kept selecting the favorites menu by mistake. Sites are also considerably slower to load, and the resolution doesn't seem to be nearly as good as the iPhone or iPod Touch, with a noticeable flicker on pages with white backgrounds.

Maybe it's just me--Donald Bell thought the browser was great--but I can't imagine using this browser for any length of time.