The Good The Microsoft Zune has very good playback performance of audio, video, and photos; intuitive and colorful interface; good FM radio with RDS; works well with Zune Marketplace software; integrated wireless allows sharing of songs (limited) and photos; many accessories available at launch.
The Bad The Microsoft Zune is not backward compatible with WMA-DRM9; weak native video support (cannot play protected content) and no video offerings from Zune Marketplace; cannot be used as a hard drive (and no UMS support); proprietary USB; cannot use Wi-Fi to sync, stream, or purchase content; minimal bundled accessories; no podcast directory; maximum capacity is 30GB.
The Bottom Line The Microsoft Zune, 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.
Editors' note: Microsoft provides a free firmware update for this older Zune model that adds many new features to the device. To learn about these new features, read our review of the third-generation Zune.
Earlier this year, the idea of a Microsoft-branded MP3 player was foreign to most consumers. After all, what could the software giant do to the iPod dynasty that Windows Media hardware partners such as Creative, iRiver, and Samsung had been unable to do? Well, we all knew that after Microsoft's September 14 announcement, the Zune would be a different kind of portable media player, one that integrates wireless technology for Zune-to-Zune sharing of files, and one that works within an iTunes-like closed Zune Marketplace ecosystem. The hard drive device, which comes in black, white, or the love-it/hate-it brown, has entered the real world and will please most users, especially beginners, thanks to an excellent UI, nice integration with Zune Marketplace software, and good playback performance. However, the Zune's incompatibility with some formats, including protected WMA-DRM9 and WMV files, will force some seasoned users elsewhere. Despite these fundamental weaknesses, the Zune is a winner and its future, one that should include expansion of its wireless features, is a bright one.
By now, we all know the basics of the Zune: it's a 30GB MP3 player with a photo- and video-friendly 3-inch (4:3) screen, and it costs $249.99. It runs on a customized version of Portable Media Center software (Windows CE-based) and features the same intuitive twist-navigation like players such as the Toshiba Gigabeat S. But there are many differences both in mind and body that differentiate the Zune from any other MP3 player, which I'll share in a moment.
Amazon really, really wants you to buy Fire TV
Commentary: It seems that one ad for Amazon's TV box isn't enough. The company just released 12.
What happened to optical cables?
The optical connection is disappearing from more and more products. What happened?
'Okja' isn't in most cinemas but it will still sound amazing
You can still enjoy Netflix's original action adventure film with glorious immersive surround sound if you have the right setup at home.
Why you probably don't need to upgrade your HDMI cables
With the announcement of HDMI 2.1 and new 48G cables, do you need to upgrade? We go over when and why.
Does the future of AR belong to Microsoft?
After a slew of augment-reality focused announcements, Microsoft appears to making a move at cornering the AR market.
It's all about the audiophile as Sony shows off light-bulb speaker, high-tech turntable
The Japanese electronics maker introduced a slew of audio products, overshadowing the minor updates to its television and camera lineups.
Apple eyes gaming as part of its next big TV push
Video games have become one of the top activities on a smartphone or tablet, and Apple's hoping they will help the new Apple TV stand apart as well.
Facebook's Oculus forms its own VR film studio
Oculus Story Studio will develop movies for virtual-reality devices, like the Oculus Rift. It's kicking off with an animated short premiering Monday at the Sundance Film Festival.
The year of the cord-cutter starts at CES 2015
Dish's Sling TV stole the show with its $20 alternative TV package, but PlayStation Vue is coming soon, Netflix is certifying TVs and just about everybody is streaming. Here are the big home video trends of CES 2015.
Amazon to buy live-stream gaming site Twitch for $970M
In its largest cash deal ever, the online retail giant will acquire the popular site known for broadcasting live video game play.
First trailer for Atari E.T. dig movie released
The soon to be shuttered Xbox Entertainment Studios showed the first peek at the film about this spring's successful dig for thousands of Atari E.T. cartridges buried in New Mexico in 1983.
With Android TV, Google takes third shot at television
The search giant rejoins the race to become an entertainment hub, with help from Sony, Sharp, Asus, and Razer.