Microsoft Zune HD

This past week, Microsoft launched the Zune HD, which won’t become available until the fall. In the meantime, a few sites (Engadget, Gizmodo) have had a chance to see the device in action. I’m not sure if these are prototype devices or actual production units, but the software seems well-polished. On the other hand, fall is quite a whiles away, so you’d imagine Microsoft wants that time to fix up some things.

Zune HD

Gizmodo posted this ‘hands on’ of the Zune HD. Unfortunately, the video camera seems to be focused on the carpet instead of the device, but you get the idea.

All the animations and transitions are oh so smooth. There’s no lag when accessing the different functions. The photo album flips to landscape mode without hesitation and extremely smoothly, which is more than can be said for the iPhone. There’s buzz that NVIDIA’s Tegra may be behind all this action, which could presumably allow some Xbox-level games to the played on the device. The most surprising aspect of the iPhone/iPod Touch has probably been its uptake by casual gamers, and I’m sure Microsoft has that on its radar. NVIDIA’s Tegra may also be why the device won’t be ready until the fall, as production of the Tegra isn’t supposed to start until this summer.

On another note, WMPoweruser.com had rumoured Zune HD specifications and a 3D render from a month and a half ago. Back then, most other sites rejected them as ‘fanboy specs‘, but now that the real deal has been launched, the available specifications as well as the render were spot on. That makes me think whoever leaked the specs knew what was going on. With that in mind, the only major feature from the rumoured specification, not yet made public by Microsoft, would be the 3D Xbox games, although even the rumour isn’t sure what form that would take.

Whatever the case, with the E71 having replaced the iPhone in my day-to-day use, I would definitely consider an upgrade from my Zune 8GB for portable music purposes.

Oh, I sure hope they give these to the interns in the fall! 😉

Zune 8GB for $99 at Future Shop

Future Shop has a great deal on the 8GB flash Zunes. For $99, you get a very capable music player, an excellent UI, some nifty features like Wifi-sync and a Microsoft that’s been rewarding users with additional features in firmware updates. In fact, despite having an iPhone, I find myself using the Zune more than my phone’s iPod feature when I listen to music. I have absolutely no qualms with recommending the player at this price.

You can also consider price matching with Best Buy for an additional $5 off.

Amazon.ca Zune Sale

It’s finally coming to the end of a terribly hectic week and I wanted to quickly bring the Zune back into focus again. I know my promised review isn’t ready for consumption yet, but my main concern about recommending the device was price. Now, that barrier is gone. Amazon Canada is having a sale on all Zunes. Furthermore, with the coupon MAPNEWNCSAVE, you can save an additional $10. That works out to the following pricing:

Zune 80GB – $197.99

Zune 8GB – $141.99

Zune 4GB – $113.99

Pricing is before taxes, but coupled with free shipping, it’s a very good deal if you’re in the market for an MP3 player. At these prices, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the player.

Tons of Interest in Zune 2.0

Some deadly school projects have prevented me from dedicating as much time as I would have liked to writing a review of the Zune 8GB; however, I have been using the device a lot and showing it to people. It really hasn’t been hard to find people curious about the player. It’s a bit of a paradox; the reason it seems to be such a point of interest is because it’s not popular in Canada.

But perhaps most surprising is that the majority of people I’ve shown it to have come away genuinely impressed. Furthermore, one friend remarked in particular that he was astonished how much better it was than he’d expected. Based on his experience, he couldn’t believe how much negative press the Zune had gotten. Granted, he attributed most of that negative sentiment to the somewhat dismal first generation Zune.

The overall response to the 8GB Zune has been extremely positive. Traditionally Apple’s area of expertise, the gorgeous user interface has been one of the most remarked features of the Zune. One iPhone user wished Microsoft would design a Windows Mobile OS based on the Zune interface. The positive comparisons to the ubiquitous iPod UI were common. Some simple features like being able to access other works of the currently playing artist was lauded – something not easily accessible with the iPod’s interface. Additionally being able to scroll left and right through artists or albums when within that hierarchy was also something that caught many peoples’ attention.

Also important was that the use of the physical controls was extremely easy to grasp. Some had already read about the ‘Squircle’, and navigated the menu system without missing a beat. A few others tried circular scrolling without much luck. However a simple tip got them on the right track and within seconds, the controls were mastered. For only a second generation player, the controls are surprisingly intuitive and easily rival the iPod’s click wheel. Now all we need is a touchscreen Zune. 🙂

Some of the other features also struck home, especially wireless syncing (I’ll certainly have to investigate that functionality a bit more) and the radio. A bit surprising to me was that the ‘social’ aspect of the device, namely integration with the Zune online social community and wireless sharing of songs also impressed some. I guess I’m still stuck on the chicken or egg question – without users, ‘The Social’ isn’t much.

But perhaps that social is about to grow a lot larger. Over the week or so I’ve been showing it off, I’ve already planted the Zune atop a few peoples’ MP3 player list. With the positive responses I’ve received, I feel as though Microsoft’s missing out on a lot of sales simply because there isn’t much mass marketing for the device. I’m certainly impressed with the Zune, albeit I’m not without some reservations, but you’ll have to wait for the full review for those details.

A Zune From Matchstick

I’m back home for the Canada Day extra long weekend, and I discovered an 8GB Zune awaiting me. I had been in contact with Matchstick, a ‘viral’ marketing company based in Toronto, about trying out the Zune, and given my interest in gadgets, I was happy to have the opportunity. The premise of Matchstick’s business, representing companies by giving away products to ‘Influencers’, as it terms them, has certainly earned Matchstick its share of ups and downs. On the one hand, everyone likes free stuff, but on the other, I started this blog purely as a personal project and certainly not to get freebies. Credibility and candidness are still of utmost importance.

But enough about the shady dealings of the blogosphere. Let’s talk Zune.

To help promote the Canadian launch of the Microsoft Zune, I was hooked up with a black 8GB flash version, a pair of the “premium” headphones and a USB-AC adapater. I knew I would be receiving the 8GB Zune, but not the extra goodies, so that was a nice surprise. After the obligatory un-boxing photo shoot, I got down to charging the device. As far as I can recall, this is the first electronic device that I’ve received completely devoid of a single ounce of battery at un-boxing time. While it charged up enough to even turn on, I was able to give it a thorough physical examination.

From the textured rear casing (which from what I can tell seems to be aluminum) to the glass covering over the LCD, this thing feels solid. There are no creaks and fit-and-finish is tight. It is also much lighter than my Samsung P2 and certainly only a fraction of the weight of a 30GB iPod Video. In terms of size, however, it’s not significantly smaller than the P2 (about a 1cm shorter and narrower, and marginally thinner), which has a much larger display. On the other hand, given the build materials, I don’t feel as though I need to baby this thing to keep it in pristine condition like the P2 or iPod.


Zune, P2, iPod

That’s all for now. I want some time to get to know the player before I write much more than a physical analysis. I’m already jotting down some detailed notes for a full review, but know this: I’m not Microsoft’s puppet. Sure, I would have loved to work in Redmond, but I value my credibility and ethics just a bit more. I figure if a company is sending out samples to the press, it at least thinks it’s a decent product. On the other hand, if the thing is crap, then the producer is clearly misguided and I want to let them know.