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Zune HD or iPod Classic--Ask the Editors

CNET editor Jasmine France answers a question about how easy it would be for an iPod user to switch to the Zune.

It's certainly true that MP3 player numbers are dwindling. One need only to look at the paltry variety of portable media devices on the Best MP3 players list to see this fact. However, that doesn't mean all of us have given up our standalone audio players in favor of music phones, and there are still plenty of people wavering on the age-old iPod versus Zune debate. But which do you get? Sadly, I can't make up your mind for you, but the below might help in some cases.

Q: I have never owned an iPod nor any other similar device, but I am considering either the iPod Classic or the Zune HD player. My primary use would be for music. I'm not much into games or FM. A techie I am not, so I have been trying to find information on how the Zune would interact with my iTunes library. Would there be problems with downloading from iTunes and syncing to Zune? Are there any other concerns that I would have that would prohibit the Zune as a better buy since I am currently using iTunes? I would greatly appreciate any feedback. A couple hundred bucks is a hefty investment for me at this time. -- Ed, via e-mail

A: The short answer is: if you are already using iTunes for music management and are happy with it, the iPod is just going to be the simpler option. Both the Zune HD and the iPod Classic are great players if music is your chief concern. The Zune creates a more comprehensive visual experience around the music (artist photos, a scrolling screen saver, and so on), and the onscreen interface is more modern and fine-tuned to quick navigation. But really the main difference between the two is that the Zune uses touch-screen navigation whereas the iPod offers a more tactile experience with the scroll wheel. I'm personally not a huge fan of either, but it is something to consider when deciding between the two.

As to your specific question with syncing iTunes music to the Zune, it all depends on the types of files in iTunes. If they are older, copy-protected AAC tracks purchased from the store before it got rid of DRM, then getting those into the Zune Software would be a fairly significant hurdle. If you mostly have music that you ripped yourself from CD or purchased in iTunes as unprotected AAC tracks, then it's a really simple process. The Zune Software will take you through a set of prompts that will import all your music.

In fact, you don't even have to buy the Zune to test all this out. I recommend downloading the Zune Software and taking it for a spin. Not only can you decide ahead of time if the transferring process is smooth enough for you, but you can also get a feel for the software itself and see whether you like it.