I bought a Zune

I was the guy for years who HATED Microsoft for everything they did. When someone would mention they were looking at a Microsoft product, I would chime in with an alternative. In fact, when my company merged with another company it ruined my week thinking that my email system would soon be Exchange/Outlook. I spent a year pointing out the advantages that Domino/Notes had. In fact, I remember going into the campus PC store in 1993 just to let the clerk know how superior Ami Pro 3.1 was to the new Word for Windows 6. (Petty, I know, but I had my convictions.) I even bought a separate PC at home just to run Linux. However, over the past the few years I have chilled somewhat on that stance and have actually liked some MS products. I guess my transformation began when I worked at Noria. There, I was solely responsible for the complete MS back-office environment. In one large project I implemented MS DNS, Windows Server 2003, Exchange 2003, and of course Active Directory. This involved a lot of planning, but the Microsoft tools made the migration seamless to the users. I was impressed. I’m still not a huge MS fan, but I realize they make some good products. Windows XP has been a rock, Outlook 2007 is an incredible corporate email system, I use Windows Live Photo Gallery to organize photos, and Windows Media Center is probably my favorite software applications of all time.

However… I never imagined I would buy a Zune. According to the Apple commercials, Apple is the only cool company around. To buy MS would make me look like “PC Guy.” I like my iPod. Aside from some battery issues, it’s been a good device and is very easy to use. My problem with ipod has been with itunes. I don’t like itunes. It looks like a software relic and has been patched and glued together more times than a downtown Tulsa road. So, I bucked the trend and purchased a 2nd gen Zune for my wife for Valentine’s day. It’s an 8 GB flash model, and of course, pink. She loves this device and the Zune software. I have to admit I am very pleased with this purchase. I tried the original Zunes and was not impressed. It’s amazing how much progress they made from Gen 1 to Gen 2. (If you read the tech magazines, it’s not even the same device. Gen 1 was a rebranded Toshiba.) What is it that I like so much?

  • The screen is very bright and clear. Even on the small flash-based device.
  • Video playback is cool. If the video is widescreen, it will rotate the screen and the controls. So, if you need to increase the volume, then you don’t need to think about which way is really “up.”
  • Sound quality is much better than my ipod with the same headphones. I don’t have the newest ipod, so sound quality may have improved with a newer codec.
  • It plays all my WMA and WMV files without converting!! This is a huge pain in itunes.
  • The Zune has an FM radio with a RDS. The radio is as clear as my car radio.
  • Wireless sync. We were able to sync media content over our wireless network. (we may turn this off, I bet it kills the battery)
  • The Zune software is a pleasure. Setup took a long time on her old PC, but it is very simple to use. Just drag the videos/songs/photos/etc… to the Zune icon and it syncs. There is no “undocking” or “ejecting” the device. You simply unplug it. All content is very organized. The photo content is especially attractive.
  • The onscreen menu of the device is easy to use and intuitive. For example, it is simple to set a photo as your background because the control is where you think it would be and not buried under 24 layers of sub menus.
  • The features are all controlled via flash updates. The device had Zune 2.0 software, but on the first sync it upgraded to 2.3 automatically. A Zune software upgrade is due soon which will include games. Check out this video of a game on a Zune: http://www.istartedsomething.com/20080221/video-xna-game-running-zune/
  • If I ever upgrade my Media Center to Vista, then all my Media Center content will auto sync. This is really cool since I use Media Center as my only DVR. I’ll be able to watch recorded TV on the Zune.

What don’t I like about the Zune?? Not much – it works like you think it should.

  • One thing that stood out was that the control wheel is different. With my ipod, you scroll in a circle. With Zune, you scroll up and down.
  • Also, the included earbuds do not have great bass response and are too big for my wife’s ears.
  • I don’t understand the integration between WMP11 and Zune.  Do my tag edits in WMP11 effect the Zune library?  WMP12 and Zune need to merge for simplicity 
  • Since the laptop that runs the Zune software is old, we don’t get all the flashy animation.

Does this now make me a Microsoft homer? Not even close. I have yet to drop the cash to upgrade my Media Center to Vista. (Not that I think Vista is bad, but I don’t see a reason to upgrade.) However, I am no longer convinced that a single manufacturer makes the best media player now.

BTW, I also considered Sansa and Creative Zens. I liked these, but I liked the little Zune better and honestly I am concerned about the future of Creative.