Zune 120 & 16 Hardware Review

zune 120 16 main Zune 120 & 16 Hardware Review

One of the things I really appreciate about the Zune is every time the Zune gets a firmware update, its like a brand new device. Even the old school Zune 30′s function just as any of the new hardware after the 3.0 firmware update. Like I mentioned way back in the very first Zune 1.0 review, the Zune development shares a lot of characteristics of the Xbox 360 where the software drastically improves the functionality extending the life of the device. If you think about it this make sense since Microsoft has always taken the position of being a software company, not a hardware company.

While I will get into the 3.0 software when it is released in a few days, this review is aimed to show off the new hardware in a lot of great pictures as well as point out the subtle differences in finishes and accessories with the new hardware.

Zune 80 vs Zune 120

While you are making a decision on whether to get an 80 or a 120 keep in mind that the 80 will eventually be phased out when supplies last. At this time the Zune 80 retails for $230 and the Zune 120 retails for $250. Looking quickly at this you may think that you are getting an extra 40GB of space for a mere $20, but it’s not that easy of a decision when you look inside the box.


The major difference between the two hard drive Zunes, aside from the capacity and finishes, is the headphones. In the new Zune 120 the premium headphones got cut. The Zune Premium headphones sell for $40 so you will have to take that into consideration. The headphones are worth $40 and they are my favorite included headphones, but on the other hand the Zune does sound good so it will benefit from a further headphone upgrade. I always use my Shure SE530s, which sell for half a grand, and I am happy with the way it performs.

If you are looking for the best bargain then the Zune 80 would be the way to go. To be quite honest 80GB is a lot of space and I’m having trouble filling it even with my massive music collection plus video podcasts. If you have a little bit of flexibility on the purchase price go for the 120 since you cannot upgrade the hard drive but you can always upgrade your headphones. Also, as I will discuss next, the black finish on the Zune 120 makes is a much better looking device.

Colors and Finishes

The new Zune 120 currently comes only in all black where as the 80 is currently available in red/silver and flat black/gold. Colors and styles are always subjective but I personally think that the new all black look many times better than the previous gold and silver backing. As I said in the Zune 80 review, the gold looks like tacky costume jewelry, especially the gold piece of plastic covering the Wi-Fi antenna.

The black finish on the front has been changed from a flat black to a glossy black along with changing the silver ring around the touch pad to black. The new glossy finish does show finger prints pretty easily, but what doesn’t these days? One may be worried about this glossy face being more susceptible to scratching. It does have a greater change of scratching by being in a bag with other hard objects, but doing something like laying it face down (the major culprit of scratching) does not scratch the device. This is because the raised touch pad keeps the Zune’s face off the surface. I tried to scratch it by sliding across the coffee table and my desk quite a few times so simulate many instances of setting your Zune down and virtually now scratches appeared.

The back black finish is a semi-gloss finish coating the same metal back plate found on the other Zunes. This finish is a very rugged and didn’t show scratches by sliding it many times across a flat surface. I’m not saying that it will never scratch, but know that it’s a rugged finish.

Zune 16

All of the same holds true for the Zune 16. As you can see from the pictures the finish is the same and looks just like a miniature version of the 120.


nywytboy68 on September 12, 2008 6:39 PM

Very nice comparison – the photos really do it justice. Seems the new finish does give it a high quality look and probably feel also. Great first look at it – thanks!!!

Toby Davies on September 12, 2008 7:02 PM

My comment isn’t about the Zune, but rather the bit of the review that says “I always use my Shure SE530s”.I seem to remeber that the anythhingbutipod review of the Shures wasn’t that great. You didn’t really dislike them, but I got the impression you weren’t all that impressed either.I thought that the q-Jays were your recomended earphone (though I personally didn’t like them), so why not use them?

Enall on September 12, 2008 7:18 PM

The Zune 16 requires the screen to be tilted horizontally to watch movies, right? So is it possible for it to tilt horizontally so that the buttons are on the left, like the Insignia Pilot?

Don in LA on September 12, 2008 7:37 PM

I have 7,000 songs on my 80, and some 50 1/2 hour shows, plus a dozen video podcasts and some pics. I STILL have 20gb to play with. I’d like the extra space, but simply put have no need for it right now.Don

MFG on September 12, 2008 8:48 PM

I have never liked Zunes. I dunno, maybe it’s the same reason why I don’t like XBoxes and I don’t use Internet explorer and don’t search on MSN.comBesides, since I live outside of the US, half of the new features are useless to me.And the device is UGLY!How could some people call this the anti-ipod? Zune is not ABI.

kreator1 on September 12, 2008 8:53 PM

MFG, please troll somewhere else

Max Rockatansky on September 12, 2008 8:58 PM

I really like the matte black face on my 80, the glossy face on the 120 not so much. The new matte black back looks really good though. I hope an all matte option will be available in the future.

lulu on September 12, 2008 9:29 PM

@Toby Davies:Check the author. This article is done by a different person from the one who reviewed the SE530. ^^

Sokkadan on September 13, 2008 2:27 AM

Will the 16 GB be available in other colors anytime soon, preferably the sweet new blue color???

madve2 on September 13, 2008 4:48 AM

Err… this might be a silly question, but will the new Zunes still be available in USA & Canada only? I’m looking for an NW-HD5 replacement for a year now (if not 1,5), but most players doesn’t even come close (I hoped Creative will do something, a Vision:M II would have been great, but I think it’s safe to say it will never happen)… well, except for the Zune.

Paul on September 13, 2008 5:11 AM

I live in the UK and I bought 2 Zune 80′s from ebay. Mine is still going strong but the other died after 3 months (simply wouldn’t turn on) and I had no comeback.My recommendation therefore would be to wait until they are released in the UK.

Toby Davies on September 13, 2008 6:01 AM

“@Toby Davies:Check the author. This article is done by a different person from the one who reviewed the SE530. ^^”Doh!

nywytboy68 on September 13, 2008 9:09 AM

For all interested: B&H Photo ships the Zunes (120 is in stock NOW) worldwide!!!

Paul on September 13, 2008 10:48 AM

Will the zune work with OS X or Linux? I’m fed up with my ipod touch and another round of bugs from apple in 2.1.The 120Gb zune looks like a nice device, but I’m not going to install windows just to use it.

holyhamnswiss on September 13, 2008 2:22 PM

will you be able to get the zune 120 from zune originals?

Mike on September 13, 2008 10:31 PM

I personally don’t like the new colour and gloss design choice. You mentioned the Zune 80 had gold on it…my Zune 80 doesn’t have gold anywhere…looks silver to me. I’m excited about the software update on the 16th. Only thing that bugs me with my Zune is the fact that MS hasn’t allowed Canadians to use the Zune marketplace.

Fenvy on September 14, 2008 1:31 AM

Although I do like the fact it holds so much more capacity for my music, it’s just way too much and the look isn’t doing it for me too. Since the the first zune came out (’06) I’ve almost completely filled my 30 in the three year span it took for the 120 to come out, leaving me with 3-4 gigs left. I’m considering upgrading my device device to the 80. It seems more appealing for me. Yet I’m tempted to wait another year to see what MS comes out with in this department. Anyway, great stuff, thanks for the hardware review and awesome pics. =]

Archidelic on September 14, 2008 4:26 AM

Anyone know where i can get a Zune 120 for a decent price in europe?

EnAll on September 14, 2008 8:59 AM

Does anyone know if the Zune 16 can be flipped so the buttons are on the left?

joebo on September 14, 2008 10:04 AM

how is the 120 for battery life?

Robbie on September 14, 2008 11:50 PM

Does anyone know if Zune Market place will hit Canadian shores anytime soon?

Robbie on September 15, 2008 1:33 AM

I just figured a work around it ;)

brad on September 15, 2008 3:21 AM

i had a zune 80 for all of 2 hours and returned it because the sound quality was so horrible (i have shure e4c and sennheizer HD280s and it could barely turn the 280s on and the shures sounded flat miserable at high sonic saturation). Did they at least bring it up to the level of the ipods? (a fairly low bar on the sound quality scale but at least acceptable)

Keith on September 15, 2008 8:40 AM

I still prefer my flash-based Pilot with 8+32= 40 GB capacity with a plastic screen protector and silicone case and the Bill Gates cord removed…yeah..I SE310′s and a Xenos 3HA which are hard for anyone to distinguish from the Zune…but I will admit that the crossfeed on my HP iPaq rx-1955 running 40iPlay is pretty much close to nirvana.

Mikermanrman on September 16, 2008 12:46 AM

I’m interested in the sound …What I find so interesting in the recent Apple products reviews and hype is that the sound of the players routinely is described (very briefly) as being “average.” Um, isn’t sound kinda important for music players? And why do the reviewers give Apple a pass on that? I’m really not interested in plunking down $250-$400 for “average” sound.The fact that Apple continues to ignore this, in the face of players that excel in design and UIs, is shameful, candidly speaking.

Akasan on September 16, 2008 9:52 AM

Still no eq. I’ll pass

Sirocco on September 17, 2008 1:20 AM

It’s ridiculous that these devices don’t use scratch resistant plastics. The previous generation of Zune had it right. I’ve decided not to buy any products that are glossy and show fingerprints, nor to buy a product that needs a case.The only thing that should ever come in a glossy black is the Mother of all gadgets, the concert grand piano. Voila!

deceptikub on September 20, 2008 9:04 PM

I still like the build of the Zune 80 a bit better. The glossy plastic fad in consumer electronics needs to end.

Paul L on September 21, 2008 5:39 PM

Is the screen still 64k colours?

Ani on September 29, 2008 10:42 PM

@SirrocoI know it differs on opinion, but I always put a case anyway. It’s why I don’t care about thickness. Cases are very decorative, and I love them. Which is why I thank you for a NON apple site!!! I hated iPods after I realized how the upgrades wee substantial. I am going to buy a Zune 120 tomorrow. I am basing this on your review, so I hope it’s worth it!

Maltmix on September 30, 2008 2:26 PM

I returned my Zune 80 and exchanged it for the 120 at Best Buy due to the PRP still being in effect- I upgraded to an 80GB Zune this summer after my 8GB ipod nano3G was temporarily stolen (later recovered,) anyway I couldn’t be happier with my Zune. I was getting fed up with itunes and though I love apple products I believe that the Zune offers a better overall package. My biggest gripe has to do with the axing of the internal Zune quicklist with the 3.0 sftware upgrade, the playlist is now called “now playing” which is quirky to me and deletes what you add as soon as you switch up whatever ur listening to. I absolutely hate that. If I’m trying to save a playlist on the fly u can’t really save it that way. You can go into ur computer and add a playlist from the software but I’d much prefer doing it on my device. It’s a small gripe but when you have something more functional with a previous OS it’s annoying when you don’t get the same function after an upgrade.Does anyone know what the new “now playing” feature adds as far as a reason to replace the quicklist?Hope that someone could help with this. I love the all black design even if it gets fingerprinted. I’d take either the ipod or Zune,I’m really digging my Zune for sure.^-^

soontozune on December 5, 2008 4:46 PM

Is the Zune able to create a playlist by genre? I though I read somewhere it could not

HappyHooliganUK on December 14, 2008 7:23 PM

I’ve just got my wife a Sansa Clip for Christmas based on your top 5 mp3 reviews and was looking at a Zune for myself. When are they going to be out in England, I can’t bare Ipods so I’m hangin out for a Zune. Any ideas?

david on December 23, 2008 1:09 PM

I am thinking of getting the Zune 120. Does anybody know if I can sync with Windows Media Player 11? Does it have drag and drop ability (folders and songs)? Is there a feature that lets me take the music out of the zune and copy it somewhere else (so it acts like a portable hard drive)?

jkj1962 on December 25, 2008 1:32 PM

@david:I just bought a Zune 120.It does not sync with WMP, it does not allow “drag and drop”, and can not be used like a portable hard drive. All access to the Zune is through the Zune software you load on the PC. WMP does not see it, Windows Explorer does not see it. There apparently are “hacks” that allow some other software to access it, but I can’t recommend it.For some people this is a problem, for some it isn’t. For me it isn’t, since my entire collection fits on it with plenty of room to spare.I’m not aware of any large-capacity player that will do all of what you want. If there is one, I’m sure I’ll be correctly presently.

loop on December 30, 2008 11:21 AM


jamin on December 30, 2008 11:50 PM

got the 120 for christmas, and i like what i’ve seen so far.one problem is that i can’t get some of my videos on it. ive converted them so that the zune media player recognizes and plays them, and they’re in my collection. when i plug my zune in and try to sync (automatically or manually) my videos onto it, it flashes the syncing icon. when i unplug the zune, it says that the sync is complete, but the videos aren’t on the player.the microsoft sample videos that come with all PCs import and play on the zune, so i know the sync process works. but i can’t get my pirated ones to even show up on the device.anybody know whats wrong or had similar problems? any suggestions would be much appreciated.

EP1C on January 9, 2009 7:05 PM

JaminI had the same problem. Even if you’re files are in .wmv or .mp4 format they have to be within the technical specs of the zune found here http://www.zune.net/en-us/mp3players/zune120/specs.htm. I have turned to using Windows Media Encoder with the Encode 360 front end for all of my transcodes. Works out pretty well. Also if you have a Nvidia graphics card that supports it you can look at the CUDA page on Nvidia’s website and get Badaboom. It’s 40 bucks but it does all the processing on your gfx card instead of cpu making it noticeably faster and leaving your computer responsive for other tasks during transcoding. Hope this helped.

EP1C on January 9, 2009 7:07 PM

Oh and btw the new generation of zunes only use WMV 9 for .wmv files which I believe was introduced with WMP11.

Ayurveda Forum on April 16, 2009 5:47 AM

Same problem.Please give some help!!

gabe on July 16, 2009 8:25 PM

my 4gb zune back button broke, i had it hooked up to a speaker and went over to change the song when a static shock zapped it when i touched it, and now the back button wont work, will the firmware update coming in the fall, fix this?

Jeff Kenville on August 18, 2009 12:50 AM

I just recently bought a 16gb zune and it is a nice looking player but it doesnt seem to have as many optoins toy with when compared to my samsung yp-t9 (such as adio recorder, txt file reader, costomizable audio equilizer) but now that my samsungs screen is broken, it still works but many of its features are useless other than radio and my music.

J.B.Shellan on November 11, 2009 1:42 AM

Save yourself a headache and don’t buy from Microsoft whenever there is an alternative. Google “Zune Problems” for a sample of the issues. Here are just a few of the problems I’ve had with the Zune 120: 1) Impossible to get more than one video onto the device. Some users report they are able to sync videos, but it can take hours (!) for even a short clip. In my case, the progress icon gets stuck at 50%, 90%, etc but can never finish. Many others report the same bug. How can Microsoft sell a product like this? 2) They offer 14 free days of membership to the Zune music marketplace website – don’t take it! Just buy from Amazon or some other reputable site. Microsoft automatically renews the membership with the credit card you provide, unless you explicitly opt out. Fine, a lot of companies do this, but in the case of Microsoft, it is probably easier to quit the Mafia than to quit their music website. I spent well over an hour trying to terminate the membership, but could not get it taken care of (I have a PhD in physics from Caltech, by the way). The Internet consensus, from what I’ve read, is that Microsoft does this intentionally to enhance revenue: 3) After purchasing a couple dozen songs from Zune, the site stopped accepting my credit card (“invalid card”). There was nothing wrong with the card, but I changed to another credit card anyway – same problem. After wasting 90 minutes, I decided to just purchase the rest of my songs from Amazon (Same credit card and, now, no problem). Why bother dealing with Microsoft Zune music center at all? 4) The “customer support” is non-existent. Try finding a valid email address for questions! I finally found a “customer support” phone number. After a 40 minute wait, the line went dead. If you are still considering a Zune, Google “Zune Problems” or similar KW. Also, try finding a customer support phone number and call – see how that goes for you BEFORE you purchase their product.

martin on February 13, 2010 7:33 PM

I bought my zune 120 at walmart, after a couple of months of nightmare, the device just died

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