Microsoft Zune 80 Review

zune 80 main Microsoft Zune 80 Review

The first Zune was something rushed to the market and it showed. The first generation Zune lacked anything outstanding; it really did not offer anything above what the competition was doing. The second time around I am seeing something a bit more impressive. The hardware has been updated and features have been added. The Zune is much more social this time around with the ability to share your listening preferences online. It has also tightly and seamlessly integrated podcasting and the wi-fi has finally been put to good use with wireless sync.

There is a lot of cool stuff going on with the Zune but there is a lot also that will be missed with the hardcore DAP crowd. Read on, let me show you what the Zune is all about.

  • Quick Look
  • Size: 61.1 x 108.2 x 12.9 mm
  • Weight: 128 grams
  • Screen: 3.2” 320×240, 64k Color LCD
  • Audio Support: WMA, WMA Lossless, MP3, AAC
  • Video Support: WMV, MPEG4, H.264
  • Rated Battery: 30hrs Audio / 4hrs Video (20 hrs/ 3.5hrs actual)
  • Photo Support: JPEG (converted at sync to 640×480)
  • Transfer Protocol: MTPZ
  • Other Features: Wireless Sync, Podcasting, TV-Out, Wireless Zune to Zune Transfer
  • Complete Specs

Accessories

The Zune 80 comes packed with just the basics: a proprietary USB transfer cable, premium earbuds, and the Zune 80 unit. The notable included accessory is the premium earbuds which, sold by themselves, go for $40. Are they worth that by themselves? Maybe, but I would recommend saving another $60-100 for a really nice set of IEMs- your ears will thank you and you will hear things in your music you never knew were there. But back to the included Zune premium phones; they are a more-than-welcome included accessory, sounding many times better than typical stock earbuds.

The aftermarket line up of accessories is pretty extensive; there are not only official Zune accessories, but many third party manufacturers are making anything from cases to speaker docks. If you are into accessorizing, there are plenty to choose from.

One notable accessory pack that I particularly like is the A/V Accessory Pack. This includes a dock with component and composite out, wireless remove (that works on the XBox 360 also), AC Charger, and A/V TV out cables. The Zune has a great TV interface and since it syncs wirelessly you can keep your dock next to the TV for charging and listening to. The kit sells for $100, a bit of an investment, but I think worth it especially if you are going to use the video out with any frequency.

Design

The Zune 80 is very well built and will hold up well to scratches due to the materials used. The back plate is made of a matte finished metal, the face and buttons are composed of a solid matte plastic, and the screen is glass. Quite a bit of attention was paid in order to keep scratches and fingerprints off the device. None of the surfaces will scratch under normal use to slight abuse; however ,the screen can get quite smudged with fingerprints, but obviously that is the nature of glass.

Overall the design is top notch except for the antenna cover. On the top of the player the antenna needs a little bit of non-metal breathing space for the Wi-Fi. Unfortunately the design team decided to slap a piece of costume jewelry there. It’s a cheap piece of “gold plated” plastic that you might get out of a gumball machine. It is like slapping Pepboy hubcap spinners on a BMW. OK… you get the point. A much better choice would have been a flat black piece of plastic to match the rest of the player.

Screen

The 3.2” 320×240, 64k color screen appears to be the same screen as the first gen Zune 30; the same size, color tone, pixel density. So if you are familiar with the first Zune 30, you already know what the Zune 80’s screen looks like. For those who are not familiar, the screen looks really nice with colors represented well and good pixel response. The downside to the screen is that it does not look as crisp as some, since it is a QVGA screen stretched to 3.2” and black lines in between pixels are much more apparent if you look closely. It’s a good screen, just not anything to get excited about.

User Interface

The user interface has remained unchanged since the initial release of the Zune. This is a good thing since the Zune interface is a very straight forward easy to use. I would have liked more buttons on the Zune, perhaps dedicated volume buttons on the side and/or a short cut button. However, this interface should not be changed in any way as to not disrupt the consistency though the generations of Zunes.

There is one minor improvement that they could get away with changing. There is a need of a short cut back to the “Now Playing” screen. There is a short cut for the main menu which is a long press on the back button. The natural place for quick access to the now playing screen would be a long press on the pause/play button, but this is occupied by the on/off operation. While I think the ideal location for the power switch would be integrated with the hold switch, this is not an option since the hardware does not exist in the hold switch. The next best place for the on/off would be a long press on the center button. Then the short cut to the now playing screen can be a long press on the pause/play button.

Another point I think got over simplified is the way the Zune is turned on. If the player is off of hold you can press any button to turn it on. I understand why it was done, for simplification, but what is not realized is that many people do not religiously use the hold switch. So allowing the Zune to be turned on with any button will drain the battery in many real world scenarios, such as tossing the Zune in your bag, back pack, or purse. Only allowing the Zune to be turned with a long press of the center button (or pause/play, the lesser choice) would alleviate this problem.

Graphical User Interface

The GUI got a nice refresh from the first generation making menu options easier to read and really just more eye candy. The eye candy has done little to slow down the speed and fluidity of the interface; if anything, the smoothness of the GUI has improved. There are still the occasional menu slowdowns and hangs, but I notice this more when the touch interface is on.

One feature needed here is the ability to turn the menu animation on and off. Being able to turn them off would improve the button response time to zero, thus improving the overall usability. The best example of this is in the Toshiba Gigabeat T400. The T400 uses a near identical user interface both being built on Windows CE. Turning the T400 menu animations off makes the player much more responsive.


The Zune Pad

I hate touch interfaces. There. I said it. They are inaccurate and are not as usable as tactile interfaces. One day technology may make them more useable, but today they cannot replace feedback of the tactile interface. Despite my dislike toward touch interfaces in general, the Zune does do some very unique things with the Zune Pad and is as good as a touch interface will get.

The touch pad is what I would describe as “organic” in that it responds like a real an object would in real life. The touch pad responds like a free spinning wheel would. So if you give it a flick it will continue to “spin” or traverse the list and gradually slow like a wheel would. Like a wheel it will also keep scrolling and will scroll faster the harder and more you flick it. When you want it to stop you simply set your finger on it. When the pad is simply dragged, it behaves much like a laptop’s touch pad would.

I am very impressed with the thought put into the touch pad. It will definitely win points for being a cool factor, and I welcome it for those who like it. I still, however, believe that it cannot match the accuracy of the tactile interface. The great news is the five-way directional
tactile buttons are still intact on the Zune Pad, and the touch can be switched off for more accurate use after you impressed your friends for the first few months.


Zune Software

I have heard quite a few mixed opinions on the Zune Software which may be due to the complete paradigm shift away from traditional media players and a simplification of the user interface. While there are still areas where the software can be improved overall, it’s a brilliantly designed piece of software. Much attention was concentrated on the user interface making most commonly used features most accessible. There is a bit of a learning curve since it is such a radical departure from traditionally cluttered media interfaces. Hardcore users will probably feel a bit underwhelmed and miss some more powerful features. While there are missing features, once you get a handle of the software and interface, you will feel like you are missing less and less.

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There is an argument that adding such hardcore features would disrupt the simplicity and ease of use of the interface, but I still believe there is a way to add these while keeping the interface clean. One such feature missing is a decent tag editor. You can edit most of the file’s ID3 tag metadata, but it is very limited. Built into the Zune software is a fingerprinting technology much like Audioscrobbler that will identify all of the tracks meta data down to which album or compilation it was ripped from. This powerful tool could be implemented into a more powerful tag editor built within the Zune software.

I think what disappoints me the most about the Zune software is that it cannot be used with any other players. I would love to be able to use this software with my Creative, Samsung, or Cowon MP3 player.

Welcome to the Social

The tag line of “welcome to the social” with the initial release of the Zune was quite a misnomer, since the only social thing you could do was see other Zunes and transfer a song wirelessly with lame restrictions. The second take is much more social, allowing you to share your play counts with friends on the internet with your own profile and Zune Card. This is definitely the right step, but much more can be done to catch up with other music social sites like Last.FM. Last.FM is much more feature rich but has serious organizational and tagging problems. If Zune can continue to improve the online social aspect while learning lessons from Last.FM, it will be able to bring back the “welcome to the social” tagline.

There are also opportunities to open up the Zune to the XBox 360 social and there are signs of that already. Within the Zune software Xbox Live, friend requests are displayed in your message box. These XBox Live friends can be approved and responded to with the Zune software.

The Ecosystem

Even though I am about to write, “yeah I’m cool with the ecosystem”, I am still not 100% convinced it is the right approach. I will still be racking my brain to find a way to open the Zune ecosystem gracefully, so next week I may be screaming down with the ecosystem once again, when I find a solution. The bottom line is there are pros and cons to the ecosystem approach; the following is the pro side of the argument.

I have always been a proponent of open systems and have never been a fan of the ecosystem approach of the Zune. However I have become tore for the fact that opening up a tightly integrated player between software, hardware, podcasts, social music, and the XBox starts to become a problem of managing the features and managing the Zune brand. For instance, if you were to open this player up to be used with Windows Media Player, Naptser, or Yahoo! music services, the Zune looses podcasting, the social aspect, and possibly wireless transfer. This may not seem like a big deal now, but once the Zune becomes better integrated with the additional features, it would be crippled to other services.

Here are two examples of players that are similar to the Zune with regards to a tightly integrated feature set, yet they gain little-to-nothing for being open. The first is the SanDisk Sansa Connect. It’s a pretty cool device that lets you directly download music from Yahoo! Music, share playlists, allows your friends to know what you are listening to, among other social features. This is all tied into a Yahoo! ID much like the Zune is tied to its own network. The difference is that the Sansa Connect is open to be used on other services such as Napster and Rhapsody. But if you use the Connect with other services the interface will become cluttered with defunct features. On a service other than it was designed for it becomes a larger and more expensive player comparable to other players with similar capacities.

The second example is the ibiza Rhapsody. I got a real kick out of having a music store in the palm of my hands and being able to download gigs of music untethered and away from my desktop. Now, not everyone is going to get the same kick out of the ibiza Rhapsody and that is fine. Not everyone wants to subscribe to music. The point is that you don’t buy the ibiza Rhapsody if you are not into subscription music. The ibiza is open to other media players and services, but it just becomes a more expensive version of a comparable sized player, cluttered with disabled menu items.

The ecosystem approach is becoming more and more prevalent as MP3 players gain features that allow us to interact and integrate. However, this is not to say that the open players will disappear since there are a considerable amount of users who refuse to buy into subscription music and closed networks, so open devices and open systems will always remain a large part of the market.

Am I selling out to the ecosystem by giving it the nod of acceptance? No, I personally prefer the open devices, but I cannot condemn someone for wanting to carry an ibiza, Connect, or Zune. The consumer’s choice now becomes a matter of which player and / or which ecosystem they want to use. It is all healthy competition that will only help innovate the portable music space. Hardcore users, mostly readers of this site, should not worry; there will always be open devices catering to you. It’s just that the breadth of consumer choice has becoming wider.

Battery

The Zune’s battery is rated at 4 hours for video and 30 for audio. Like many are finding out, it doesn’t play close to the 30 hours of audio and also falls short on the video. I am getting a little over 20 hours of audio and 3 to 3.5 hours for video. I am ok with this, but what is really irritating to me is these specifications are advertised to the public. The Zune will get 30 hours under “lab testing” results meaning 128kbps MP3’s at moderate listening volumes. This is not how people user their players; the Zune Marketplace does not even sell DRM free tracks at low 128kbps bitrates. Please just give us realistic results, understate the battery life if you have to, and let us be surprised when the Zune surpasses it. The Zune’s battery life should be stated on the box as 3.5 hours video and 20 hours audio.

Wireless

Wireless features have been added since the first iteration of the Zune. In addition to sharing tunes with restri
ctions and allowing other Zunes around to see what you are listening to, you also get wireless sync.

Sharing

Wireless sharing is somewhat useful for telling a friend about your favorite song. But it is still a little on the lame side because you can only listen to the song three times before it gets locked. What counts for a play is if you go past the 60 second mark on the track and stop the playback; this even counts if you forward though the first 60 seconds. While we would all like uninhibited sharing, this is just not going to happen with record labels breathing down our necks. The usefulness of this operates more like a bookmark or note pad feature allowing you to remember to download a song later.

Syncing

Wireless sync is pretty straight forward. You can manually start the sync process from the Zune or it will automatically sync after a period of inactivity while docked on a power supply. The sync process can also be started from the desktop software.

Podcasts

Podcasts are seamlessly intergraded with the Zune hardware and software, and for podcast lovers it doesn’t get much better than this. There is a podcast menu item on the main screen of the Zune where all of your podcasts get organized. The main screen shows the podcasts, and selecting one will display the episodes.

The automatic transfer and subscribing is all handled by the Zune software. Podcasts are browseable in the podcast directory menu in the software. It feels much as an online music store would, but less cluttered, and free. Subscribing and unsubscribing is as easy as a single click within the directory. If your favorite podcast is not found in the directory, it can easily be added by manually entering the URL.

Radio

The radio is simple to use and has the ability to save as many presets as there are tunable stations. Reception is very good, but depends on the headphones you are using since it becomes the antenna while plugged into the jack. Also, a quick note is that when the Zune is docked and hooked up to your TV with the AV Pack, you must have headphones plugged in to get reception.

The really nice feature of the radio is that it receives RDS or radio data service. This means that the radio station’s call letters and the current song title is displayed on the Zune’s screen. There may be some people who would like to see FM recording, but I am firmly against adding archaic clutter to the interface. There is very little reason to record music from a lo-fi source. Some may argue that it’s convenient for later finding the name of the song, but that is what the RDS is for. The radio works as good as a radio should.

Photos

Photos browsing is a feature familiar to most players on the market with the usual photo matrix ordered by folders. The Zune has the ability to sort by date as well. Slideshows can be played with music by folder or all at once, in sequence or randomly. Slideshow intervals can be set on 3,5,7,10,15, or 30 seconds. There is also a simple zoom feature that will zoom in to photos 4x, allowing you to scroll to different parts with the Zune pad. Photos are auto resized when transferred to 640×480, which lends well for TV viewing. It is all basic but will work well as a slide show slash music player hooked up to your TV at your next party.

Video

Video looks great on the Zune’s screen as well as when it outputs to the TV. The dock features component output for 480p to the TV, but the frustrating thing is the Zune will not do 16:9 output. This is a shame since it supports DVD resolutions natively.

The second generation of hardware has made some improvements on codec support by adding the standard H.264 and MPEG4, but it still could use native DivX/XviD support. I understand that there are licensing fees associated with support for additional codecs and I can accept that but, this leads me to the biggest annoyance with how the Zune handles video conversion.

If a video file type is not supported natively on the Zune you should, at the very least, be able to convert it. This is an issue with the Zune software: it will not even recognize “exotic” file types like DivX/XviD or anything outside of common video codecs. Creative will do it with their software; there is no reason why the Zune cant. If you want to get these file types on the Zune, you will have to jump through hoops to get it converted with third party software.

News just rolled that the XBox 360 just got DivX/XviD support so there is an obvious demand. Let’s get Zune onboard with this too with native support.

Audio

Playlists

You can make counltess playlists with the Zune software and transfer them over when you sync the player. There is also an on-the-go quick list where a single playlist can be directly on the device. I would like to see the ability to make more than one playlist on the Zune and have the ability to reorder the tracks and name the playlist. People love playlists and the Zune being a music centric device, this feature is a must.

Rating system

The new rating system got hacked down to a simple 3 point system departing from the 5 star rating system that has been standard since the beginning of media players. The 3 point rating system works like this: you love the song, it gets a heart; you don’t like the song it gets a broken heart- otherwise it gets nothing by default or if you don’t have an opinion. The reasoning behind this was that market studies found from focus groups that users would be more likely to use the rating system if it behaved in a more understandable way. I agree for the most part and believe that they were on the right track; but the Zune team missed the bigger picture and broke a standard by acting solely on that study data.

The problem with the 5 star / 5 point rating system is not that it’s too complicated, but rather it’s ambiguous. It may seem obvious to people who are accustom to the 5 star system, but the middle selection of a 3 star rating is not obviously “no rating”, “no opinion”, or “it’s ok” to most users. The Zune’s heart/broken heart system solved this ambiguity, but failed to understand that music is much more emotionally complex than “I like it” and “I don’t like it”.

With a varying degree, we are all familiar with a 5 point system from taking surveys which commonly looking like this: “I disagree”, “I somewhat disagree”, “no opinion”, “I somewhat agree”, “I agree”. Taking a page from market survey design, it has been proven that even the most inept user can handle defining their opinion in 5 degrees.

All is not lost on the Zune rating system; it can still be salvaged by just taking it one step further. The heart/broken heart solved the ambiguity problem but now needs to solve the” varying degree” problem. This can be solved by adding a heart plus and heart minus to the rating system so the varying degrees become “broken heart minus”, “broken heart”, “no heart”, “heart”, “heart plus”. This will add the degree needed while at the same time putting it into a graphical context users can understand.

The bottom line is that the Zune’s new rating system was the correct step in improving how we rank out music but still needs to take one more step and fix the standard rating system it just broke and allow users to better convey their musical opinions.

Sound Quality

The Zune’s sound quality it is very good it and is well balanced though the spectrum. It is more than acceptable to be used with a premium $200+ pair of headphones. I have paired the Zune with Future Sonic Atrio M5’s and Sennheiser HD650; both work well.

EQ

The Zune does not EQ and will not get one even with a firmware update. It lacks the necessary hardware in order to make that happen. The exclusion of an EQ has to do with getting the best battery life. EQs can be a battery intensive feature, so instead of including the EQ, the Zune team optimized the battery and tweaked the EQ
to flat.

For many people this is a make or break feature, to me I could care less and here is why. If you have read any of my reviews in the past you know what I am very anti-EQ because I believe that an EQ should only be used to compensate for poor sounding players, headphones, and environments. Messing with frequencies does not allow you to listen to music the way the artist intended. Yes, in understand this is a purist approach, but once you spend the same amount of money on your headphones as your player, you might understand where I’m coming from. Try it, you will hear things in music your have never heard before.

Still I realize that there are many people who do want an EQ so I would definitely like to see an EQ in future Zunes. In fact after writing the review NoComp makes a very good counter argument to my dislike for the EQ below in the comment section:

As an artist myself I couldn’t disagree more with this statement of yours. I really appreciate all your reviews, also this one here (well done as always!), but I wonder if you really know that much about music-production, mixing technology and “mastering” as you obviously pretend to. However, most “artists” know NOTHING about mastering and/or anything about “real” sound quality. Of course there may be some artists (like me btw) who do everything on their own throughout the musical production-chain (creating the music & mastering) but this is a BIG minority in the music industry. And skilled audio engineers will always mix a neutral “flat” sound because they MUST include post-processing (like EQ’s) by the consumer etc. Therefore: Responsive/decent EQ’s (most DAP-EQ’s aren’t) are NOT there to compensate bad sounding players/headphones/environments, but to customize the sound for every single pair of ears – simple as that. “Flat” music is just like food without or just very little spice – and as we all know everybody has a different tounge/taste – that’s what salt/pepper/spice is for – to customize flavor. And skilled audio engineers always consider this when mastering music – at least they should! icon wink Microsoft Zune 80 Review

Conclusion

The bottom line is the Zune is a fantastic device but may not appease the hardcore crowd. The DAP enthusiast will miss some of the features that other brands offer and may feel a bit trapped by a single piece of software and single choice for music services.

I would without a doubt fall into that hardcore DAP enthusiast category but I do really appreciated the Zune for its simplicity and clutterless features set. The initial release of the Zune I was not impressed, it was a nice player, but not to unlike everything else on the market. With the introduction of the new firmware and the Zune 80, I am definitely enjoying it. The form factor is compact and the design is solid and scratch resistant. The interface is a very easy pick up and use interface much like the old one, just dressed up a little more. The wireless has finally been put to use with wireless sync. The social aspect they started touting in the first generation is just now starting to show its head with the ability to show off your listening preferences at Zune.net.

The Zune still could support more codecs, there is no reason not to include free license codecs like OGG and FLAC. DivX/XviD native support would also be a great edition or at the very least let ups easily convert these file types with the Zune software. There are a few bug fixes and tweaks that the Zune needs so it is by no means perfect. But I still see the Zune as a work in progress much like the XBox 360 where updates will add more functionality and this could be drastic like Zune 30 owners saw with the firmware update.

Compare the Zune 80

Check out abi>>compare to compare the latest MP3 players. Listed below are links to Zune comparisons. Also be sure to stop by the Zune forums for help, hints, and tips for your player.

Pros

  • Solid build quality
  • Glass screen
  • Very scratch resistant
  • Large screen
  • Easy interface

Cons

  • Closed platform
  • No support for open codecs (FLAC & OGG)
  • No 16:9 TV Out
  • Oversimplified rating system.
  • Miss stated battery times
  • No EQ

Purchase

You can find the Zune 80 and most any retail store but you can save on shipping and tax at Amazon.




56 Comments

Alex M on December 1, 2007 8:46 PM

No flac or ogg…and the battery life is a BIG letdown. And what’s up with 64k colors seriously. Overall I guess it’s better than some others in the price range. But I’m not going for it. If something with near half that storage and not HUGE(like my zvw was) were out I’d consider. Good review though.

WalkGood on December 1, 2007 9:40 PM

Another great review, thanks for the enjoyable reading :)

LunarFlame17 on December 1, 2007 10:18 PM

I wanted to say something about the battery life comment. Yeah it would be great if companies like Microsoft would give us more realistic battery life estimates, but I don’t see it happening. See, the inflated battery life estimate for the Zune 80 is already less than that of the iPod Classic. If Microsoft promoted realistic battery life figures, average consumer Doofus McIdiot would look at it and say, “whoa! the Zune’s battery life SUCKS compared to the iPod. I’m getting the iPod!” despite the fact that the real discrepancy between the two is actually much less. Hopefully if consumers become less stupid someday, corporations will lie to them less. Maybe.

EnzoTen on December 1, 2007 11:16 PM

Well said LinarFlame17

Lawrence on December 1, 2007 11:21 PM

I have been waiting for this review. I Don’t have time to fully read it as its going to midnight, but I sure will tomorrow =)

swarmer on December 2, 2007 12:46 AM

I don’t really see the Zune as an attempt to compete with Creative, Sandisk, and Cowon on features, price, or support for obscure codecs. It doesn’t really seem designed for people who want to use one program for ripping, another for encoding, and another for tagging, etc. I see it as a way to compete with Apple by offering a complete end-to-end ecosystem that’s easy to use, and add a few social features too. And it looks like it has the best device user interface I’ve seen except for the iPod Touch/iPhone. So I don’t have a Zune but I’d say that it looks largely successful in terms of what they set out to do. The screen resolution and battery life are a little disappointing though.

NoComp on December 2, 2007 3:03 AM

Quote EnzoTen:”I believe that an EQ should only be used to compensate for poor sounding players, headphones, and environments. Messing with frequencies does not allow you to listen to music the way the artist intended.”As an artist myself I couldn’t disagree more with this statement of yours. I really appreciate all your reviews, also this one here (well done as always!), but I wonder if you really know that much about music-production, mixing technology and “mastering” as you obviously pretend to.However, most “artists” know NOTHING about mastering and/or anything about “real” sound quality. Of course there may be some artists (like me btw) who do everything on their own throughout the musical production-chain (creating the music & mastering) but this is a BIG minority in the music industry.And skilled audio engineers will always mix a neutral “flat” sound because they MUST include post-processing (like EQ’s) by the consumer etc.Therefore: Responsive/decent EQ’s (most DAP-EQ’s aren’t) are NOT there to compensate bad sounding players/headphones/environments, but to customize the sound for every single pair of ears – simple as that.”Flat” music is just like food without or just very little spice – and as we all know everybody has a different tounge/taste – that’s what salt/pepper/spice is for – to customize flavor. And skilled audio engineers always consider this when mastering music – at least they should! ;) However Enzo, you’re right when recommending to buy decent headphones, but I would reword your statement as follows: “Buy decent headphones BEFORE tweaking EQ’s and sound-enhancements – you’ll surely need less tweaking to get a pleasing sound.”

EnzoTen (Grahm) on December 2, 2007 8:37 AM

@NoCompVery cool to hear your feedback, especially coming from an artist. I can definitely see your point and i think i like it better than mine =)

sinenV on December 2, 2007 10:33 AM

if creative made an 80GB or 100GB ZEN vision M, it would be a new competitor for apple AND this zune. if only it were slimmer. but as for the zune, other than the batt life and touch pad that aint as good on the one on the ZVM, i would give it a 4/5

Slaughter on December 2, 2007 10:33 AM

About the EQ thing, I am also against it. Somewhat from a purist standpoint and also from a technical standpoint. EQ adds distortion, simple as that. We are talking about software EQ’s, not expensive hardware EQ’s used in recording studios (although studios are using more and more software which only adds the problems). The problem with EQ’ing is that they are not always implemented properly, i.e. Sansa e200.Now due to modern recording engineers inability to leave the dynamic range compression alone, EQing is somewhat necessary to enjoy modern pop/rock CD’s, which sound like total garbage on any decent headphone. I see giving the consumer the choice to use it, but MS already screwed themselves on the stated battery life. I agree with Enzo that they probably wanted to maximize battery life. And since this is a mainstream user product, the lack of an EQ is not going to affect their overall bottom line.

EnzoTen (Grahm) on December 2, 2007 11:22 AM

I am still sticking to my purist point of view and not using an EQ, but can see thats it is something that other people want and enjoy.

rcarm on December 2, 2007 11:31 AM

obviously that this review is biased. check out cnet’s review.the ipod has flaws too you know. i mean like if i dropped an ipod i know i’m screwed.

pgh1969pa on December 2, 2007 11:38 AM

I completely and fully agree with the points that were made by NoComp and have a few points to add.I’ve done some work as an pool audio engineer for broadcast and venues. The artist in most cases doesn’t define the final sound. They come in, lay down their contribution and the audio engineer will process their track. That being said, how does the consumer know what the artist intended?Working in a pool, I could tell who worked the console before me by the settings. We all worked the same television recording but we had slightly different ideas on the mix settings. There were some guys who were more experienced than myself and I respected but I did not fully accept their settings so I made very slight adjustments. There were also some guys who I really didn’t touch the console on because they had the sound the way I thought it should be.I find the artist intent argument a little strange because you are not exposed to the artist’s intent in the first place. Furthermore, there is absolutely nothing wrong with making adjustments to EQ settings to compensate for the sound gamut of various players and speakers. Difference players and monitors have different baseline responses. Therefore, a flat EQ on one player or monitor may sound quite different from another. Which player or monitor represents the “artist intent”? None of these devices are what I would call studio reference quality.I EQ different players and monitors to all sound the same to my ear. That means that the settings could be quite different to reproduce the same sound on different players and monitors.Next, who’s to say I as an audio engineer got the sound right. You own the music and you are responsible for it’s appreciation. Why do you have to listen to it the way I mixed it!Lastly, any argument about intent is lost on me because you are listening to music in a lossy format. You may never hear the subtle sounds the way I heard it when the track was recorded due to compression loses.Music appreciation in some ways is like a painting or sculpture. Two people may observe the same object and walk away with totally different impressions on what they just saw. Music is an art like any other. I think people need to appreciate it unencumbered by perceived rules. If someone doesn’t like my recorded EQ settings, please feel free to change them to meet the situation. I’m not God and just because I recorded the sound doesn’t make me right.

Neil on December 2, 2007 11:59 AM

I like the new rating system. The old system was nice for gathering statistics, but as for rating your own collection, it really wasn’t that simple or useful. Now with the heart/broken heart, I can easily see which songs that are worth playing on an album and which ones I can skip. The hearts are useful for something, something which the stars really never were.

Joe on December 2, 2007 2:31 PM

MS let me down again, a year later, by not adding support for East Asian Fonts….it is only 4 or 5 files. Why can they not add this support to the Zune.I returned a Zune last fall and another about a week or so ago. I finally ended up getting the Sony A818. It sounds better, supports East Asian Fonts.In addition, I can rip my music to a PS3 and then transfer the files to my player. No need to even use my PC. MS should provide the same capabilities with the Zune and Xbox 360.

sinner6 on December 2, 2007 6:48 PM

I use Xvid encoded mp4 videos on my Zune 80 no problem. In fact, Xvid is the only codec I can get to sync at 720×480 with no re-conversion by the Zune software.

kratonator on December 3, 2007 6:01 AM

Great review Enzo, as always. You said that “The DAP enthusiast will miss the countless features that other brands offer…”. What do you mean by that? Which features are missing on the Zune? Except of the EQ, all features seem to be there. Am I getting this wrong?

ipod…who?? on December 3, 2007 8:04 AM

i really really like the zune (form factor first then function). i like it even more because its a proper rival to the I**D and surpasses it. i like the zune not just in terms of the software and UI but the whole concept (to rape the I**D!). having said that i still wouldnt get one because at the end of the day its an I**D rival with features and software developed to outdo the I**D. it takes away the freedom you get with an open system mp3/dap player.

Machiventa on December 3, 2007 12:32 PM

Decent review but I have one major gripe, especially coming coming from a reviewer: Way too many grammatical errors.

EnzoTen (Grahm) on December 3, 2007 1:00 PM

Pretty darn good coming from a dyslexic though huh?

dfkt on December 4, 2007 5:37 PM

“The Zune does not EQ and will not get one even with a firmware update. It lacks the necessary hardware in order to make that happen.” — Did they remove the hardware based EQ functions of the Wolfson CODEC used in the Zune? Kind of a lame excuse by Microsoft if you look at the specs of the chip (5 band pseudo-parametric hardware based EQ)… ;)

slerch666 on December 5, 2007 11:27 AM

Anyone looking for Unicode support from ID3 tags would do best to avoid buying a Zune. Unicode displays properly in the Zune software, but the Zune lacks the font support for Unicode.MS is supposedly working on an optional fix for this, so until this happens, anyone who has ID3 tags with Unicode would do best to avoid the Zune at this time.Other than that, for me it’s a great player.

creative zen guy on December 8, 2007 4:49 AM

Can the zune 80 store and view text files?

Joe on December 12, 2007 1:49 AM

Slerch,The sad part of this is that MS doesn’t have to provide a “fix” for this. The last Zune only required the copying of four font files to the root directory and then then the East Asian fonts displayed perfectly.This isn’t a matter of needing a fix, but instead, of MS needing to fix the way they think.

bernard on December 13, 2007 9:46 AM

Well said NoComp!I, too, am sick of this “does not allow you to listen to music the way the artist intended” nonsense. It’s so obviously cut & pasted over the years because people keep saying the EXACT same phrase trying to think they’re clever.

Lana on December 13, 2007 3:26 PM

If you’re going to write an article and then publish it on the internet, at least check for mistakes…….Do you do this in your own time or as a full time job?Zune’s looking better, though that flick interface is just like the iPod touch’s…..hmm….

NoComp on December 13, 2007 6:34 PM

@bernard:I too think that this phrase”an EQ does not allow to listen to music the way the artist intended”became a really lame pseudo-audiophile argument which you can read on several audio-related-forums these days.However, wouldn’t be a big fault for some people to think for themselfes before they adopt other people opinions. No matter how logical the opinion may sound – thinking for yourself is ALWAYS a good thing.

skippyg on December 15, 2007 11:48 PM

i see no similarity in the Gui’s of the Zune and iPod Touch whatsoever.Dftk: thanks for providing that info, maybe MS’s team is just too lazy to implement one? lolgah, thats bad, they could of at least implemented a eq in the computer software or even a shuffle mode would be fine! (i THINK there isnt one, i cant seem to find it if there is one)

evilgenious92 on December 19, 2007 11:11 AM

Great review!I’ve already bought a zune 80 for christmas – can’t wait to open it!

CylonJason on December 20, 2007 1:26 AM

evilgenious92 you bought yourself a Zune for Christmas? That’s awesome! I did the same thing.Merry Christmas!

cmsanto on December 21, 2007 10:38 AM

Zune for Christmas? Me too!

tflow on December 23, 2007 9:59 AM

EQ again; I was seriously considering the 80 until reading the lack of EQ….. I don’t listen to music on my current player but only Old-Time-Radio files. Many, if not most of these files are in need of some EQ help. The files range from very high and tinny to bassy and muffled. When listening to them on other devices I find it vital to have access to EQ control or at least a good ‘ol tone control to increase the understandabilty of the characters voices.

Darke Unbiased on December 23, 2007 10:47 PM

Um, who cares abut the EQ? Most devices don’t even come with one and it was luck that the first Zune did. It’s really not that important. I mean is it? How many of you honestly would buy devices just to spend hours moving little pieces up and down a scale until its JUST RIGHT because I can sooo tell the difference in sound… *rolls eyes* An EQ is far from a make or break for an MP3 player and if that’s something you consider then try buying the cheapest crap you can find at a 99 cent store because i’m sure they will add an EQ just to get sales from people like you.Moving on…NOW HERE IS WHAT’S AMAZING… “THE ZUNE’S BATTERY LIFE IS SOO BADDDD…” Ok people, I don’t care if the Zunes Battery life is 15 hours, who listens to 20 hours of music straight? Who uses any portable device without plugging it in nightly anyway? You people take battery life for granted and don’t realize that you probably haven’t even used your music device for more than 7-10 hours a day before recharging it. So unless you’re taking it to the North Pole where no outlets are available I think 20 hours is more than enough for anyone as far as music goes. Battergy life over 10 hours = GOOD FOR ME.Last but not least… You all need to COMPARE the Zune with the Ipod and stop listening to Biased reviews. Here is a real comparison that was easy to find on google under, omg “zune vs. ipod”http://www.zunescene.com/comparison/you can also check this one outhttp://www.zunerama.com/zune_ipod_side_by_side.php.The Zune offers more for your money. For the same price as an Ipod you get exceptional wireless capabilities, premium earphones (oh sorry, no one thanks you for a free $40 pair everyone loves cheap white ones with apple logo’s cause its what everyones using…) and, hello…how many MP3 player’s offer an online store? Until your Nirvana/Zen whatever offers REAL features, REAL competitive design, REAL intuitive interfaces, and REAL outside capabilities other than movies and music (like the ipod and zune respectively) get your bargain MP3 players out of here.That’s it for my review, take it and leave it..and uhh, about the spelling mistakes- you can learn something from me too Skee.

Sam on December 23, 2007 10:51 PM

How does someone who hates EQ list EQ as a con? As neutral as this review tries to be, obvious favor towards Ipod is still evident.

Duke on December 23, 2007 10:52 PM

Um, who cares abut the EQ? Most devices don’t even come with one and it was luck that the first Zune did. It’s really not that important. I mean is it? How many of you honestly would buy devices just to spend hours moving little pieces up and down a scale until its JUST RIGHT because I can sooo tell the difference in sound… *rolls eyes* An EQ is far from a make or break for an MP3 player and if that’s something you consider then try buying the cheapest crap you can find at a 99 cent store because i’m sure they will add an EQ just to get sales from people like you.Moving on…NOW HERE IS WHAT’S AMAZING… “THE ZUNE’S BATTERY LIFE IS SOO BADDDD…” Ok people, I don’t care if the Zunes Battery life is 15 hours, who listens to 20 hours of music straight? Who uses any portable device without plugging it in nightly anyway? You people take battery life for granted and don’t realize that you probably haven’t even used your music device for more than 7-10 hours a day before recharging it. So unless you’re taking it to the North Pole where no outlets are available I think 20 hours is more than enough for anyone as far as music goes. Battergy life over 10 hours = GOOD FOR ME.Last but not least… You all need to COMPARE the Zune with the Ipod and stop listening to Biased reviews. Here is a real comparison that was easy to find on google under, omg “zune vs. ipod”

Duke CONTINUES on December 23, 2007 10:54 PM

The Zune offers more for your money. For the same price as an Ipod you get exceptional wireless capabilities, premium earphones (oh sorry, no one thanks you for a free $40 pair everyone loves cheap white ones with apple logo’s cause its what everyones using…) and, hello…how many MP3 player’s offer an online store? Until your Nirvana/Zen whatever offers REAL features, REAL competitive design, REAL intuitive interfaces, and REAL outside capabilities other than movies and music (like the ipod and zune respectively) get your bargain MP3 players out of here.That’s it for my review, take it and leave it..and uhh, about the spelling mistakes- you can learn something from me too Skee.

NoComp on December 24, 2007 2:44 AM

@DUKE concerning battery-life:Ever thought about that you’ll need less recharging-cycles if your DAP runs longer than 15 hours with one charge? (some COWON-DAP’s up to 50hours!!!) Which means your battery will be more efficient over a loooong period of time since a lot of charging-cycles are the only thing that can kill a modern lithium-ion-battery!And you must not forget that some people find it kind of annoying to recharge their gadgets every night/day – and so do I!And some more Mr. DUKE, …… if you don’t need an EQ on your DAP, you surely eat all your food without any spice too, don’t you? Otherwise just shut up – ZUNE fanboy!And it doesn’t matter if you’re an APPLE- or WHATEVER-Fanboy! Fanboys just suck!And while I’m talking about fanboys:I really hate to call you out on this ENZO, but IMHO, for the first time (I’m a long time ABI-reader), I have the feeling that you became a fanboy too – a ZUNE/MICROSOFT-fanboy! :( MICROSOFT-fanboy-Link:https://mvp.support.microsoft.com/profile=FEEECB66-DF99-4343-A9DD-202924EBED3A

Duke on December 24, 2007 12:30 PM

This has nothing to do with becoming a fanboy. You, like so many others have nothing worth saying because you have no idea what you are saying. I’m sticking up for the Zune as DECENT IPOD COMPETITION- something people like you are so afraid of. You all look at the negative sounds of everything just because its either not apple or because it is microsoft. This is a fine piece of machinery and if you can’t afford it that’s one thing, but to put down something you haven’t used? Uh… So don’t call me a fanboy unless you know what you’re talking about and don’t put down the Zune unless you’ve used one. Thank you. Merry Christmas.

NoComp on December 25, 2007 2:33 AM

And thank you for reminding me how useless it is to argue with “people like you” – most Abi-readers surely know what I mean. ;) Happy Easter!

Jeffo on December 25, 2007 8:26 PM

I would also like to know if it can store and display text files.

missmm on December 26, 2007 4:34 PM

I’ll kill to be the first at the store when the zune finally supports unicode, if whatever stupid PM works out the math of how many more units will be sold by adding this “huge” feature.

mocax on December 28, 2007 9:08 AM

Is Microsoft ditching PlaysForSure?Can Zune act as a mass storage?Is the zune software really needed to copy music files?

fivesmiths on January 3, 2008 4:32 PM

@mocax:It seems MS is ditching PFS with this Zune but maybe the masses will change their mind (LOL).The Zune CANNOT act as mass storage and the only software to sync files is the updated Zune software.I personally liked the hardware very very much but just couldn’t wrap my brain around the software. Too many issues with auto syncing, deletion from the pc collection auto deleted from the zune, no ability to use the Zune as an external storage device, metadata glitches and album art incorrect everywhere (even using fixes found in the forums.I returned my Zune and am looking for something else. I gotta have ease of use for the members of my family that only know media monkey or WMP. The Zune software was just to cumbersome for us.

ayo on January 7, 2008 10:08 PM

i want to buy laptop and ipod

mike on January 12, 2008 7:53 PM

“There is one minor improvement that they could get away with changing. There is a need of a short cut back to the “Now Playing” screen. There is a short cut for the main menu which is a long press on the back button.”Once your at the main menu, just push the back button again, you’ll now be back at the now playing screen. This is one thing that I liked about the UI. MS had this is the UI from day one. I have seen a lot of people complain about the touch controls on the new Zune, as I thought the controls could also be used as a click control instead of the touch control? I could be wrong on this, but I thought both were enabled just in case you didn’t want to use the touch controls. I don’t have a new Zune so I couldn’t tell you, just a Zune 30 with updated firmware.

olivia on February 26, 2008 8:13 PM

uh what about video? where do you buy them-for the zune i mean. the marketplace doesn’t have movies, what else has a big screen similar to the zune 80?

zrcalo on March 6, 2008 11:21 PM

I have owned a zune from the start and I’ve got to say:THERE ARE TRICKS THEY DONT TELL YOU.such as: turn off your wireless (yes, the zune come with it automatically off)and THEN you’ll get 30 hours battery life. hell. even more if you change the screen settings to have the background light on to the minimum setting.another thing:the original zune now has all the software features (aka, podcasts and a new interface) because they can update the software directly on the program.things I dont like:I absolutely HATE the new way music is organised. I absolutely loved my “unknown artist” folder, but now I have to look up my “unknown artist” mp3′s painstakingly while searching through the “songs” category.I also hate the new software that I have to right click and sync, then if it fits in a different folder, I have to go searching for it and then sync it.here’s another problem:I updated my zune, and it’s software and the pictures and video wouldnt sync. I had to wait WEEKS before they fixed the bug and had to re-download the program yadda yadda.so naturally I’m scared to update my zune again.plus, my girlfriend bought a mini-zune (very cool) and it would only work with vista even though she downloaded the XP program. WTH?..other than these issues, I love my zune to death, I’ve never had it die on me.. and I only plug it in about once a week….I listen to it practically everywhere….the key is to SHUT THE WIRELESS OFF!!!!thankyou.

zrcalo on March 6, 2008 11:26 PM

I’d like to correct a mistake in my above post …. in the sentence:”(yes, the zune come with it automatically off) “it is supposed to say “yes the zune comes with it automatically ON”"because they can update the software directly on the program.”I meant to say” because they can update the software that is directly on the zune instead of your computer”this was due to the fact that I had birds chewing on the side of my face. danke.

Jarred on March 14, 2008 11:13 PM

OMG…this MP3 player is a glorified clock radio.It sounds so mediocre, it’s ridiculous. I know MP3s dumbed-down the ears of most people, but at least players from Creative Labs were able to offer some fidelity and bass with their players.The Zune 80 would be a good player if it cost 50 bucks. The fact that they charge nearly 300 dollars with NO EQ and NO BASS RESPONSE is a joke.Basically, they think very little of YOUR ability to discern ANYTHING.

Rabidmoncy on April 28, 2008 7:38 PM

About the BATTERY LIFE which someone asked why you need more than 7-10 hours of battery life.Answer:taking a trip on a plane, car, etc., and not having anything to plug this into.Camping trip.

Samson on July 24, 2008 12:21 AM

Will the Zune work with my windows 2000 computer? This is a must for me as most of my video content is on my windows 2000 computer.

Chris on August 21, 2008 5:06 PM

First off thank you for the great review. It motivated me to buy the Zune. I am very happy with the device. I wish to remain free from the Apple/iPod collective. Hopefully updates will occur with new enhancements. Video is great, the headphones are better than average and the software works fairly well. I wish you could see the player as a hard drive and just copy and paste though. Podcasts are great and I have had no problems adding podcasts which are outside of the Zune Marketplace. Thanks again for the hard work.

Chris on August 21, 2008 5:08 PM

First off thank you for the great review. It motivated me to buy the Zune. I am very happy with the device. I wish to remain free from the Apple/iPod collective. Hopefully updates will occur with new enhancements. Video is great, the headphones are better than average and the software works fairly well. I wish you could see the player as a hard drive and just copy and paste though. Podcasts are great and I have had no problems adding podcasts which are outside of the Zune Marketplace. Thanks again for the hard work.

Julie on September 8, 2008 2:00 PM

I bought a Zune yesterday, I hate it, just to download the software it took me like 2 hours, because I had to update Windows with it (2 packs to download); the instructions are not clear too. After that, the Zune was freezing, I tried to restart it but didn’t work. I used it for about 5 minutes than it freezed. I exchanged it for an IPod today. Sorry for all the Zune lovers (lol)!

ZoriBoi on February 14, 2009 11:57 PM

DO NOT BUY THIS PIECE OF SHIT. It will break down in another year or so just like ALL other MICROSOFT products. Plus the software sucks.

Fran Chiseco on October 14, 2009 9:10 AM

So Chris, you wish to remain free from the Apple/iPod collective, but instead you opt for the (far worse) Microsoft collective?By now you should have realized that Microsoft does not innovate, they mostly just (try to) copy Apple’s products… and usually do a pretty poor job of it.Then, when Microsoft users are unhappy, they publicly respond by saying things like “you have too high expectations”. Hmmm — I wonder where those expectations came from in the first place? Ha.

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