Zoom Zoom Zune

A few weeks ago, after viewing videos of interface walkthroughs, and researching lists of features, I decided to take the plunge. I bought a Microsoft Zune. Or, rather, I preordered one from EB Games, since they weren’t to be released until the 14th, this past Tuesday.

Knowing EB Games, I wasn’t expecting to get my hands on my Zune until Friday at the earliest (if ever, haha), but stunningly they came through in the clutch and got it to me overnight! Clearly, EB Games is ready for the NBA. I opened my mailbox on Wednesday morning, there was a package slip, I giddily strode over to the post office window, and exchanged a piece of paper for a small box containing a Zune.

The box, ready to be opened. Oh man.

We get our first, tantalizing glimpse of the treasures within.

Packaged air has to remain the greatest invention of all time. Seriously, are people actually making money by selling air? It’s even more amazing than bottled water. On the right however, please note the second greatest invention of all time.

The minimalist box in all its glory.

Inside the box, you find…another box. Brilliant.

There she is. I’ll admit, I got a bit emotional here, but I couldn’t let my tears drop onto the Zune.

Let’s get started! It’s kind of funny that I managed to focus on the reflection of my hand, rather than on the beautiful piece of technology right in front of my face.

Hello from Seattle! Also note the doubleshot.

Slightly better shot of the doubleshot. Otherwise, this is a completely useless photo.

Fast forward 24 hours, after all the setup. Here she is sitting on the desk, biding her sweet time.

It’s alive!!!!!!!!!! Note that I’d already changed the wallpaper to a photo I took at the Pine Barrens on an Ecology field trip.

Playing some music, since that’s what a music player is supposed to do, apparently.

Listenin’ to the radio, in this case the immortal WSRN. At this point, I believe Michelle Crouch was spinning some sweet Xiu Xiu tunez.

So that’s my baby. I can’t wait for her first day at school, her first kiss, her first boyfriend, prom, leaving home to goto college, and becoming an independent Zune. Fortunately, I get to keep her for awhile before all that happens, except, obviously, the school bit. She’s been at school since the beginning. She’s just that smart, man.

But seriously, what are my impressions of the Zune? I’ve now spent a little more than a day playing around with the Zune player and the Zune software, and I jotted down my thoughts on a piece of paper, basically transcribed here. Here are the Pros and Cons of the Zune, as I’ve experienced so far:

Pros:

  • Just picking the thing up, you can definitely tell that it’s hefty and thick. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing, because I always feel like I’m about to break my nano in half, just by putting it in my pocket. This is not a fragile machine. Obviously that doesn’t mean that I’ll throw it out my window because I’m too lazy to carry it down the stairs, but I’m certainly less worried about breaking this than I would be about an iPod.
  • The thing doesn’t pick up fingerprints. The back of the player is a nice matte material, the same as on Thinkpads, which is basically fingerprint proof. Let’s compare that to the iPod, which seems to get cloudy from fingerprints without even being touched.
  • The little slipcase included with the iPod was this incredibly cheap rubbery thing, that I’ve never seen anyone actually use, other than myself. The material feels cheap, and it looks cheap. The Zune , meanwhile, comes with a stunning suede slipcase. My slipcase was brown, matching the player I bought, and I’d imagine that owners of black or white Zunes have respective black and white slipcases. Let me emphasize that they are suede, and are very sexy-looking-and-feeling. Not quite on the level of a premium leather case like a Vaja, but it’s a significant improvement from the cheap iPod case. I’ll be keeping this case fo sho.
  • The ‘doubleshot’ feature, which adds a complementary-colored trim, is really beautiful. My brown Zune is complemented by a forest green trim, the black Zune has a blue trim, while the white Zune has a translucent doubleshot. Every time I see the light catch that doubleshot, I feel like I’m watching a Scarlett Johansson film and falling in love all over again.
  • You won’t look like a stupid yuppie/hipster/stupid-person for carrying this around. Every time I see someone walking around campus with those white earbuds and cords emerging from their pockets and wandering up to their ears, I’ve developed an instinctual urge to destroy their face, even if it turns out to be a good friend. Just for that one split second, I want to kill. I hate those stupid white earbuds. The Zune comes with these sleek black-and-silver buds that look a good deal slicker than the iPod buds. Of course, I won’t be using them, as the sound quality in them is about on par with the atrocious iPod buds, but it’s just the principle of the thing. The white iPod earbuds have evolved from being a hip fashion statement into a sign of blissful ignorance, bandwagoning, and sheep-like bridge-jumping. And it’s not just the buds, but the iPod itself that’s evolving. I’ll admit: one of the main reasons I was attracted to the Zune was because it was different. And that’s all. Having the iPod as your only reasonable option for an mp3 player felt absolutely restrictive to me. Now you have options. Take advantage of them.
  • The big screen. It’s really super nice looking you guys.
  • The ability to set your own wallpaper is a really nice feature, and certainly a refreshing break from the monotonous Mac interface of the iPod.
  • The ability to view photos and videos in landscape-mode is just beautiful, and really takes full advantage of that massive screen. In general, this is a very visually-focused player, with a lot of emphasis on the album art, wallpapers, photos, etc. In this age of digital music, that visual aspect is often lost, and that’s really sad to me, as the visual component is an important aspect of the artist’s presentation of their work. Plus, I mean, it’s pretty.
  • Personally, I really like the ‘twist’ interface of the Zune. I don’t have to repeatedly go back to the previous menu if I want to switch artists or albums, instead I can just move to the left or right to goto the next artist or album.
  • FM Radio. Why does the standalone iPod not have this? I’ve never understood.
  • Also, why won’t iTunes let you transport files from your iPod onto your computer? New iPod users ask how to do this on a constant basis, to the point of annoyance. Why would you let the iPod act as a removable storage device, if you need backdoor means of accessing those stored files? Blows my mind. Doing this is easy on the Zune software.
  • On the Zune, you can easily ‘flag’ a song, for whatever reason at all. This may sound like a silly and minor feature, but I’ve already used it quite a bit. Say you’re listening to an album for the first time, or a playlist that a friend sent over. If there’s a particular song you enjoyed, and you want to remember what it is, just flag it. When you plug the Zune back into your computer, your inbox will tell you what your flagged tunes are, and then you can listen to them further, purchase them from the store, do whatever you want. I know it sounds silly, but I mean, why not include it? It doesn’t hurt the Zune experience at all, but for those who do use it, it’s quite helpful.
  • Microsoft is really pushing the wireless capability of the Zune, and how you can send and receive songs from other Zune users over a wireless connection. A lot of commentators have pointed out that this will only be a useful feature if lots of people buy Zunes, but then if the wireless is useless at first, who would buy a Zune? It’s a bit of a catch-22. I think it’s important to remember that the Zune was built with upgrades in mind. There are many features of the Zune that have not yet been unlocked, though the hardware to pull them off are already present within these first-generation Zunes. What if you could use the wireless capabilities to connect to the internet to buy tunes, or to be a Virtual DJ streaming songs to your friends with Zunes, or to get updates on the weather or the stock market? You won’t need to wait for the second-generation Zunes, these are features easily incorporated in the first generation, and in fact Microsoft has already hinted at plans for these. Well, except for the weather and stock quotes, I made that up, but really, how hard would that be to incorporate? That’s just software, easily upgradeable while you’re syncing up your Zune with your computer. It won’t require a substantial hardware upgrade. A lot of key Zune features will just be added through firmware and software updates, meaning that really, there’s a lot potential for very cool features.

Cons:

  • Though the screen is larger, the resolution is the same as the iPod’s. The result is an image that isn’t quite as sharp as the iPod’s, but is still more than acceptable. If you hold the screen six inches away from your face, you’ll certainly notice some blocky curves and pixelation, more so than on an iPod. But hold the Zune a foot away, and it’s like watching HD.
  • For some reason or another, the resolution on album art is quite low. Pixelation is far more evident on album art than on photos or videos, which fortunately can be quite pristine. There’s visible problems with the album art though. For example, I tagged Deerhoof – The Runners Four with a massive high-resolution album art tag, in fact it could be my laptop’s wallpaper without any empty side space, that’s how high the resolution is. On the player however, the resolution is substantially lower. I’m not sure if that’s an issue with the Zune , or an issue with mp3 album art tags, but in either case, the album art will not be as pristine as the press photos have likely led you to believe. I have a hunch that it’s the tags themselves, which sort of bites, but what can you do.
  • The Zune can’t be used as a mass storage device like many other mp3 players. Personally, I think I’ve only used that feature once in my entire life, so it wasn’t a huge deal for me. For others, it may well be. I dunno, I just use pen drives, or my external hard drive. To each their own.
  • There aren’t any calendars, games, or alarm clocks on the Zune. It’s just music, pictures, video, and radio. What I want to know is: who used those calendars and such? Anyone who did was entirely too dependent on their iPod, and should be slapped. I hate to stereotype, but these are probably the same people who probably went jogging with their iPods, dropped it on the pavement, and then wondered why the hard drive failed. They probably also own RAZRs, PEBLs, or whatever the hell the newest fashion cellphone is. They also like either Dave Matthews Band or U2, or even BOTH!
    Sorry for that rant. Society should not be as infatuated with the iPod as they currently are. But yeah. I didn’t use the calendar or contacts on the iPod, and I don’t know anyone who did, so who cares if it isn’t on the Zune.
  • There are far more accessories for the iPod than the Zune. Accessories?! You mean like a little purse and cute earrings for your adorable little iPod? Shut up. Let’s think of what accessories are somewhat important, if not necessary: AC Adapter, Car Adapter/FM Transmitter, Dock and maybe a nicer case. Those are not necessary by any means, but they may be nice to have for certain individuals with certain needs. These are all accessories easily obtained for the Zune . What else do you need? A case made from a kid’s sock with Elmo stitched on it? A set of speakers which also happens to have a disco ball and flashing strobe lights on top? A remote control since you’re too lazy to carry this pocket-sized gadget in your, well, pocket, which also happens to control your HD TV, Tivo, DVD player, car alarm, and sprinklers? Get real. I think that the Zune has as many accessories as you really need, while the number of iPod accessories is just getting ridiculous. Where’s your head at?
  • One major problem I have with both the iPod and the Zune is the On-the-Go/Quicklist playlist feature. On my old Creative Nomad Jukebox Zen, the On-the-Go playlist was incredibly fluid. If I wanted to change the order of tracks, delete a certain track, or anything else, that was easily accomplished. The quick playlists now present on the iPod and Zune are really stiff to me. You just add albums or songs, then clear when you’re done. The art of the mix is completely gone on these players, which makes me a bit sad.
  • Now, the big issue. The Zune software. Before you start flipping out, let me first qualify my forthcoming statements. The Zune software is great. It’s basically just like iTunes, except black instead of chrome, and you can move stuff from your Zune onto your computer (what a brilliant concept!), so it’s not a bad piece of software. I’ve just encountered a lot of small quirks, which I’m sure would be easily fixed in a new update, but they’re worth pointing out regardless.
    • Unlike iTunes, you can’t edit the tags of songs that are currently on your player. What you have to do is delete the song off the player, edit the tags in your library, and move them back onto the Zune. That’s pretty annoying for me. It’s not a huge hassle, but it’d still be nice to just edit tags directly.
    • The software doesn’t seem to handle bands with the ‘/’ character very well. Both Akron/Family and Pas/Cal show up two or even three times on the artist list, I guess it interprets the slash to represent a new folder. That’s kind of silly. I’ve found quite a few other small bugs with the tagging and other software functions, but those are relatively easily ironed out.
  • I guess there’s the whole DRM thing too. Meh. It makes sense, legally. If you want to change the law, that’s a whole different issue. The fact that songs can be shared at all is a great feature, so enjoy it legally.

The album art here has pretty clearly been sharpened up.

So which is better: the iPod, or the Zune? Neither is perfect at all. Like I said earlier, I’d love to have more flexible playlists, and neither can record sound without an accessory. Neither iTunes nor the Zune software are perfect either, and I’m anxious to see what kinds of third-party software comes out for the Zune; perhaps a company like Red Chair will jump into the mix.

Given that neither is perfect, I have to say that at this juncture, I prefer the Zune. Ultimately, it has more features that I actually care about, and all of its early bugs and problems can easily be fixed with software and firmware upgrades. Perhaps I’m putting too much faith in Microsoft to come out with timely and effective upgrades, just look at IE7. But at least the potential is there, and that’s important to me.

So has Microsoft successfully created an iPod-killer? As all the bugs and quirks point out, it’s exceedingly difficult a piece of technology as solid as the iPod. For a first-generation player however, Microsoft has made up a lot of ground. At least, in terms of quality, in my eyes. How will it sell? I don’t have a clue. Outside of the blogosphere, I haven’t really heard of anyone in the general public who was terribly excited about the Zune. Everyone is perfectly content with their iPod, and why not, it’s a fairly good player. It’s just that nobody knows what their options are. Microsoft will really have to ramp up its advertising in order to outperform those flashy iPod ads, and get the Zune name out into the market.

I apologize for not posting for the past few weeks, but things have been pretty busy. I’ll toss out some of the really old links I’d stored away, here’s some relatively new ones:

  • Uncle Mark has just released his 2007 Gift Guide. Instead of listing ‘The Top 10 Digital Cameras’ or anything like that, Mark lists the One Digital Camera which came out on top after massive amounts of research, and he’ll give his suggestions for other gifts, such as toys, computers, and…mp3 players. Yes, Uncle Mark still recommends the iPod over the Zune, but well, to each his own. I’m not sure if he’s used one yet, so whatever. In any case, the guide is very well put together, and has some fun tips at the close as well.
  • An absentee voter in Florida used an incredibly rare stamp to submit their vote, the 1918 Inverted Jenny. Unfortunately, the sender did not leave their name, meaning that the vote will not be counted, and because of election rules, will also be sealed away for 22 months, so the story can’t be verified. The Wikipedia article on the Inverted Jenny and other rare stamps are really cool, seems like a fascinating hobby to get involved with. Frickin’ stamps?!
  • If you’d like a nice meal to sit down with, why not try out the most expensive pizza in the world, sprinkled with edible flakes of gold? This is most definitely what the world needs right now.
  • Great tip on how to capture the airplane armrest from your pesky comatose neighbor.
  • Do a Google search for ‘worst band in the world’.
  • Holy cow, I really wish I could visit these sorts of corn mazes. This reminds me of a discussion we were having in my Sociology of Law class. For some reason or another, we were talking about drugs, specifically the differences between crack cocaine and powder cocaine, and the socioeconomic classes which use each type. One member of the class stated that, “When this homeless black person smokes some crack, he gets this instant, intense high, and it makes him want to go kill somebody or rob a convenience store. But when this affluent white guy snorts cocaine, he just goes outside and alters his hedge maze.” I could not stop laughing.
  • Kettle Brand potato chips are trying to determine what their newest flavor should be. So, they’re letting you decide! But wait, this isn’t just some lame survey you take on their website, where you decide just based on the names. They’re letting you sample the chips themselves, with the Passport To Flavor Party Pack. I already picked one of these up, and I’m planning to get everyone’s opinion at a study break later in the semester. The presentation is amazing, each flavor has their own fancy placard, along with a recipe for a complementary drink. You even have to taste them in a specific order. So to sum up: this is pretty much best.
  • What are the Top 10 most common computer passwords in England? Obviously things will be slightly different here in America, but it’s still pretty sobering. I completely approve of the football team-related passwords.
  • Gang of hippies re-enact protein synthesis. We watched this video in Bio 1, and it was the highlight of the semester. This video makes me so happy. Look at all the hippies!!!!!!!!!!!!!1!!11!!1111
  • Dennis Rodman pulled a hysterical publicity stunt at his latest book signing in NYC. Deadspin’s got the story covered. Meanwhile, here’s a photo of Dennis Rodman dressed up like one of the dudes in KISS, surrounded by miners. The sad part is that apparently, this was not for Halloween. Edit: Rodman’s agent has asked Deadspin to retract the story, and it’s one of the most amazing emails ever. The comments are classic as well.
  • You know Rock Paper Scissors? Did you see RPS-25, with a full 25 hand gestures to choose from. Well, that dude went even more overboard with the brand new RPS-101. The ramifications of this have still not been comprehended.
  • Rapping Paper is wrapping paper with rap lyrics printed on them. This is why I love the world sometimes. Give me a hug.
  • Two amateur Scrabble players in Kentucky miraculously played the highest-scoring Scrabble of all-time, got the highest-scoring word ever recorded, with a carpenter named Michael Cresta emerging with the highest individual score ever. This board is blowing my mind in every single way.
  • I mentioned Vaja cases earlier when talking about accessories, but it should be worth noting that they just started making messenger bags. I just noticed that they’ve already started making a Zune case as well.
  • Best. Burglary. Ever.
  • Here’s some cool videos of guitar fingertapping, more extended techniques, and finally some fun with tuning pegs.
  • VERY cool clock/calendar for your computer. I’ve set it as my screensaver as well.
  • These dudes have major coin-balancing skillz. Most definitely ready for the NBA.
  • That’s all I’ve got for now. Peace out.
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One response to “Zoom Zoom Zune

  1. I’m enjoying mine right now, and I am glad to hear that somebody has given it a fair chance and allowed its differences and charm into his life. Funny that I am fighting for the underdog which, in this case, is Microsoft. Great review and keep it up…

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