Zune HD Review

zune hd main Zune HD Review

With previous generation Zunes being discontinued, the Zune HD will be rolling solo into the next generation of the Zune platform. This hardware along with the software and services is a walled garden approach that tightly integrates content delivery across your Zune HD, PC, Xbox, and Windows Phone. It is an approach that creates a very seamless and easy to use experience but on the flip side can be limiting on choices of software and formats.

This Zune HD review will show off the features of the HD hardware and how it meshes with the Zune ecosystem.

  • Quick Look
  • Capacities: 16GB, 32GB
  • MSRP: $220, $290 (check latest price)
  • Size: 52.7 mm x 102.1 mm x 8.9 mm
  • Weight: 2.6 ounces (74 grams)
  • Battery Life: 33hr Audio, 8.5hr Video
  • Screen: 3.3″ 480×272 pixel OLED, Multi-Touch Capacitive
  • Wireless: 802.11b/g
  • Audio Support: WMA, MP3, AAC
  • Video Support: WMV, H.264 (MP4/M4V)
  • Photo Support: JPG
  • Radio: HD Radio, FM Radio, RDS
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Inside the Box / Accessories

Like most players these days, inside the box you will find only the basics: the Zune, sync cable, and earbuds with three different colored sets of foam covers.

With the last generation of Zunes there was a decent push for third party accessories beyond just cases to some nice speaker docks and alarm clocks, but for this release we will see that the breadth of accessories extend further. Expect to see things like compatible car audio head units, more impressive speaker docks, and even gaming attachments. I was told that accessory manufactures were excited to see the grooves on the sides of the device. While it was not designed for snap-on accessories, these side insets make a great candidate for these extras. For more on accessories check out the Zune HD accessories forum.



Design & Build Quality

The majority of the Zune HD’s housing is made of plastic, with the exception of the back which is made from a brushed aluminum. The screen is Gorilla Glass produced by Corning and seems to be what many of the manufactures are using. It has appeared on other players such as the Cowon S9.

When holding the Zune HD it is very obvious that a great deal of time and resources were spent on the design and build. Its assembly is very impressive; there is no give or creaking at all. The lines where one material meets another are precise and buttons have the perfect amount of travel and tactile click. Simply put, the Zune HD is a premium piece of hardware.

One of the reasons it feels so sturdy is that the center “skeleton” is made of a cast metal to which the other parts are securely fastened. One part steadfast to this skeleton is the headphone jack – something that is a common problem to 3.5mm jacks on any device. In this case, though, you won’t have to worry about future troubles. (You can look more at the insides at all these parts in the disassembly guide.) From someone who has taken apart nearly every MP3 player that’s been on the market, I can tell you that the Zune HD is just as impressive inside as out. Everything was so meticulously placed you would think the engineers had art degrees.

Moving on to the outside of the Zune, the back plate is made of a fingerprint-proof and scratch-hiding brushed aluminum. Near the bottom back is a matte plastic where the antenna for Wi-Fi is housed. On the face, the edges and main black bottom panel are made of plastic. The edges are a smooth hard plastic which seem to hide or fend off scratches well and hasn’t shown wear after two months of heavy use. The bottom panel, where the media button resides, is made of a softer, rubbery plastic. It’s nice to the touch and it does not show scratches.

Corning’s Gorilla Glass screen is a very durable glass composite and will fend off any scratches short of a pocket full of rocks. I commonly placed my keys in the same pocket as my Zune HD and not a single scratch has appeared. Many of the players use this type of glass and hold up just as well. I recently did stress tests on the Zune 120’s screen along with a few other players. They held up to keys, razor blades, and a kitchen knives. The Zune HD will perform just as well in the same test. If you didn’t get a chance, check out those stress tests here.


Screen

Just as you may have heard, the 480×272 OLED screen looks fantastic. Colors are bright and accurate and blacks are absolutely black. Pixel response is very fast and lends well to watching videos. Like any OLED screen, it can get washed out when viewed in outdoors. You must crank the brightness all the way up in order to view it on a sunny day. Even then, direct sunlight might make it difficult.

Is it the best screen out there? No, but it is among the best – meaning that it is comparable to other top performing OLEDs. In fact, it looks just as good as many of the AMOLED screens, such as the one found on the Cowon S9. If fact, you might see this exact screen or technology on other devices since it is manufactured by Samsung who produces a great deal of the screens for all brands.

User Interface

Controls

Power Button: The Zune HD has three buttons and a touch screen for input controls. The top button is the power and lock button. If you are using the player, press this button and the screen will shut off. Your music will continue to play, but this puts the Zune into a lock mode. In order to get out of the lock mode, you can press ether the media button (the one right below the screen) or the power button again and then slide the lock screen up on the touch screen.

There are two different off states: off and power down. If you pause the music or remove your headphones, the Zune HD will shut down into a sleep mode and will only require you to press one of the buttons to be instantly ready to play; just flip up the lock screen. In order to power the Zune completely off, you need to hold down the power button for a few seconds. This will give you an off screen that you need to slide down then to power it completely off. The difference here is that when the Zune HD is in sleep mode, it is sipping the battery in the back ground. You cannot, however, run the battery completely down when in sleep mode since it will eventually power off after a day or two (I don’t know what this exact time is).

Side Button: The side button spawns a quick button menu for the volume, skip/scan, and play/pause. I have heard that some people wanted this to be a volume rocker button or a three way button verses the single one as it is now. I thought long and hard about this control element: did they indeed take the best approach? After few months of using the Zune HD and thinking about this, I do believe this single button was the best choice. It simplifies, but not overly so (ie Apple) the full functionality, allowing you to use the player while it’s in your pocket. To better understand this let me tell you, then show you, how it works.

You can press this side button even when you are in the lock screen or the screen is off, and it will bring up a set of controls arranged in a “plus sign” configuration: volume +/- on the top and bottom, skip/scan on the right and left, and pause/play in the middle. If you are using this button while you are looking at it, it is pretty straight forward. However, there are gestures built into the screen that are useful when you are not looking at the player. Sliding your finger vertically up and do
wn will adjust the volume like a slider control. This works on any part of the screen as long as the gesture is vertical, so you can side over the other controls without activating them. Similarly, the horizontal swipe will change the track. So if your Zune HD is in your pocket, it is easy to reach in, press the side button and slide your finger up and down on the screen to adjust the volume and then then another quick press on the side button again hides the controls so that they don’t accidentally get pressed again.

This side button was very well thought out and it seems the hard ware and UI design team had the “pocket use” scenario in mind when devising this simple approach.

The only thing I want to see added to this to make it 100% pocket friendly is to add a pocket-friendly pause/play. You can do this most of the time in the same fashion by guessing where the middle of the screen is but it’s not perfect. What would be nice here is to add a pause/play/resume short cut on a long press of the side button.

Media Button: The button below the screen is called the media button. This will turn the screen or player on from sleep, taking you to the lock screen. This button will always bring you to back to the main menu or toggle between the quick launch and menu list on the front screen.

Here is a video showing the use of these buttons.

Touch Screen: The responsiveness of the capacitive touch screen approaches perfect. It is easily better than the iPod Touch and just barely better than the Sony X-Series. What would make this better would be to add haptics or vibration feedback on button presses. However, this is something that needs to be done perfectly in order to get a good haptic experience. Most, if not all, haptic devices are not convincing enough, and to add a far-from-perfect haptic experience would have done the player an injustice. Maybe we will see it the next gen Zune players.

UI

The UI feels like a next generation Zune UI should, built specifically for a touch interface. The same basic menu structure is shared with the older Zune UIs where the main home screen menu is a vertical menu and the submenus are selected horizontally. This a familiar “panel” feel to many of Microsoft’s other products such as Windows Media Center, Xbox, and now Windows Mobile.

The user interface is clean and easy to use. The learning curve may be slight and most will take to it in a few sessions. I tested this out on someone unfamiliar with most gadgets and a touch screen device noob. She was able to heuristically take to the UI within a matter of 15 min.

zune hd homescreen thumb 150x112 Zune HD ReviewHome Screen: The home screen is separated into two lists. The main list is what you would typically find on an MP3 player- your basic activities such as music, video, podcasts, apps, etc. Then there is a second list of icons to the right showing newly added and history of recent media or apps. It also shows currently-playing or paused media at the top and pinned media below that. The pinned list will allow you to bookmark any media, application, or even website for quick access.

Browsing Media: Browsing media first appears to be like any other list type browser, but there extended features in some of the lists that make browsing a richer and easier experience. For example, some lists such as genre, artists, or playlists have a play button icon before the lists. This will immediately play the entire subset, or alternatively, you can press the text and dive into that submenu to play individual items. Similarly there is a play icon next to “music” on the home screen, a quick access to immediately play and shuffle all music. Another nice touch to browsing media is the use of alphabet boxes to mark the start of artists or songs beginning with that letter, but even nicer is when you tap one of these letters. It takes you to a full screen alphabet that allows you to quickly jump to media beginning with that letter. This is extremely useful for browsing songs when the list can be a few thousand songs long.

Text Input / Keyboard

I have a hard time with touch screen keyboards, no matter how much I use them and no matter which device, I always find them to be inaccurate. For me, no touch screen keyboard can replace a nice tactile thumb QWERTY like the one found on the Blackberry Bold. So take that into consideration with this part of the review.

One of the things I like about the Zune HD’s keyboard is that it locks your finger to a row of keys so that it makes it more difficult to hit the wrong key in a different row. However, this doesn’t keep you from pressing a key beside; with such a cramped keyboard it can prove to be difficult to input text. Landscape mode is tolerable, but for me, the portrait mode keyboard is rather frustrating. It has the potential to be a great virtual keyboard, but it would have to be on a much bigger screen.

See browser video below for demo of the on screen keyboard.

Software

The Zune HD, like all the other previous generation Zunes, requires the use of the Zune Media Player so if you are accustomed to a media player to sync your files or just want to drag and drop files to your player, you will be disappointed. If you don’t mind the limitation, the Zune Media Player is actually a really nice application. I personally am more disappointed about the limitation in the other direction, in that I cannot use the ZMP with other MP3 players. The software’s UI is very different from a traditional media player so it may take some time to get used to it, but once you do you may find it easier to use than most.

Marketplace / Zune Pass

Built into the software is the Marketplace. This is where you can purchase content for the device such as TV shows, music, movies, games, and apps. One of the things that makes the Zune HD a great music experience is the Zune Pass. This $15/month subscription service will allow you to download and listen to a huge catalog of music. As long as you keep paying that $15 per month, your collection will continue to play.

Discovering new music with Zune can be downright fun- this is one of the best aspects of the Zune. But do keep in mind that in order to get the full enjoyment out of these discovery features, you need to pay the $15 per month for the Zune Pass. These following features are specific to, or heavily rely on, having a Zune Pass:

zune hd smart DJ playing thumb 150x120 Zune HD Reviewzune hd smart DJ quickplay thumb 150x120 Zune HD Reviewzune hd channels thumb 150x120 Zune HD Review h=”150″ height=”120″ class=”right” alt=”zune-hd-channels.jpg”/>zune hd picks thumb 150x120 Zune HD Reviewzune hd music thumb 150x120 Zune HD Reviewzune hd video thumb 150x120 Zune HD Reviewzune hd podcasts thumb 150x120 Zune HD ReviewSmart DJ: One of the new features to arrive in version 4.0 is the Smart DJ playlists. This feature creates a playlist of similar songs based around an artist. If you are familiar with Rhapsody, this is the same thing as Rhapsody Channels. Comparing the two, I do find that Rhapsody Channels did a better job at playing music that I wanted to listen to. As more play data is collected, it may eventually catch up.

Channels: Basically channels are auto updating playlists that are preprogrammed and dynamic. These channels can be based around a theme such as the many different fitness channels for workouts or might be picked by the staff. Others are sponsored channels, and there are top played songs for each genre. Finally some channels are customized based on what you rate and listen to. So you can pick a Hip-Hop channel and it will dynamically give you songs you might like in that genre.

Browsing: The simple way to discover new music is by simply browsing the Marketplace. On the home screen are “Picks for you” based off of your play and rating data, top songs, new releases, features. Features can be music that is centered around the latest pop culture reference, promotion, or even Xbox themed.

One of the discovery methods I like and that works great at places like Last.FM, is browsing though genres and subgenres. Zune needs a massive overhaul in this respect. Diving into a genre in the Marketplace you will find that it is very much unorganized. There are not enough subgenres and much of the music is miscategorized. Introducing user-generated subgenres and tagging to the Marketplace would help tremendously, but it needs to be done in a more guided way so as to not create too many misspelled or duplicate tags like Last.FM.

Social: Social is Zune’s biggest MO and tag line. The Zune software and website make it very easy for you to interact with other Zune users. You can view what your friends are listening to or who their favorite artists are. These are not dependent on having a Zune Pass. If you or your friend doesn’t have a Zune Pass you can still send song recommendations, but if you don’t have the pass you can’t listen to what was sent. It still works fine; you’ll just have to manually find the songs sent or buy them ala cart. This doesn’t just work in the software, you can send songs from the device as well.

On Device Marketplace: You are able to browse all the music content from the Marketplace from the device over any Wi-Fi connection. This is great if you are traveling without your laptop and can find access to a wireless network. A video demo of this feature is below in the media playback section.

Marketplace Catalog: If you are considering a Zune HD and your decision is based heavily on the Zune Pass, I would highly recommend downloading the software and giving the Zune Pass a test drive (There is a 15 day trial). I like the Zune Pass a lot, but I often get disappointed on the lack of catalog breadth. Either an older album is not available or the label will only decide to release tracks 1,2,4,6,7,8,9 to Zune Pass and make you pay for the popular tracks 3 and 5. Do note who to blame for this: the greedy record labels that still don’t understand digital distribution. If you could download truly anything (as in P2P Napster of the 90’s or Audiogalaxy of that time) then the Zune would be the end all music devices. Sadly, this will never happen and the Zune must play by the rules of the record labels. Don’t get me wrong, the $15 per month for the Zune Pass will be worth it to most people, but I caution those who want an extensive catalog and really like to dig in the “dusty record crates” for music.

Media Playback

Music

With the very clean UI navigating and playing back your music is a breeze with the ability to download content directly to the device and automatic artist bio information.

Playlists: The Zune software some advanced auto playlist features are great for creating dynamic playlists based on your collection. For instance, one of the autos I like to create is a “Favorites” playlist, so that anything I tagged with a heart will be on it. You can even filter this further by making Favorite playlists in particular genres. If you wanted to listen to all of the music you hearted in the Electronic genre, you can make a playlist for that.

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From the device you can also make an unlimited number of playlists and name then individually. The one thing missing here is the ability to reorder the list. Once that is added, the playlist function on the Zune would be near perfect.

Artist Bios: When you synch your Zune HD it will automatically pull down artist graphics, pictures, bios, and a list of related artists to view on the device. Additionally these artists’ graphics become part of the screen saver.

Sound Quality: The Zune HD is the best sounding hardware to date. The sound is even throughout the spectrum adding more clarity to the mid-range and mid-bass compared to the Zune 120. Compared to the Sansa Clip+ it is a little bit more on the warmer side. It does not suffer from the hard drive background noise like the Zune 30 / 80 / 120 did with background noise near non-existent. With the Shure SE530’s that typically hiss with all players since they are so sensitive, the Zune HD’s background noise is among the lowest with the SE530s ranked there with the Clip+. Overall it’s a very clean MP3 player sound wise.

Then there is the EQ. Last generation Zunes did not have one but back on the Zune HD they have added EQ presets. This is still not good enough. It needs a full customizable 5 or 7 band EQ. The reason the last generation didn’t get an EQ was due to battery drain issues, but with great battery life in the Zune HD there is little to excuse to exclude a full on EQ. Don’t get me wrong, the Zune HD sounds great as it is but in order to sound outstanding and tune your headphone’s audio characteristics to the Zune an EQ is needed. For
a device that touts the music experience its disappointing they only came half way towards a legitimate EQ- perhaps in a future firmware update.

Video

Video looks fantastic on the OLED screen. Its fast, colors look great, and it outputs nicely to 720p via the separate dock. If you want to get all of your content from Zune Marketplace, it is incredibly easy to do with the software and it is an overall great experience. You can get nearly any TV show or movie from the marketplace in a matter of minutes and play it on your Zune or TV; however, you will pay for that convenience. At about $4 per HD show, purchasing through the marketplace can get rather expensive, not to mention that you have to use real money first to purchase Microsoft funny money (Microsoft Points) to buy the content. This is the single biggest thing that aggravates me the most about the Xbox and the Zune. Microsoft points are confusing and incredibly anti-consumer. Virtual currencies suck; let me pay with real money!

This rant is a good transition to the bring-your-own-content scenario. Overall video playback performance is excellent, however, there are players released over a year ago that beat the overall video experience hands down. What it really comes down to that ruins the Zune HD’s video experience, is that it is very difficult to bring your own content. Native codec support is very limited to a specific size of WMV and M4V. If you do want to provide your own video content, you will have to use a third party transcoder to do so since AVI files will not convert, let along show up in the Zune Media Player Software. If you are one to bring your own content and don’t want the content that is offered though Zune Marketplace, here is one of the darker sides of the Zune ecosystem.

Will the Zune ever support more file types? I don’t have an answer to that, but the hardware will allow it. The Xbox and now Windows 7 natively supports codecs such as Xvix/Divx right out of the box, the Zune should too. In the mean time check out the Zune Video Conversion forum for tips and tricks on adding media to your Zune HD.

Pictures

Photos look great on the OLED screen. It is a solid picture viewer with thumbnails, folder browsing, and a slide show feature. Flipping though photos is done with a horizontal swipe and will rotate with the accelerometer when the player is turned. The quickness of the rotation with the accelerometer is the fastest I have seen on any device to date. Pinch zoom is also enabled on the touch screen; the Nvidia Tegra processor really does and amazing job with this. Response is immediate.

Radio

The radio feature on the Zune HD is one of the most advanced FM radios on an MP3 player. It supports HD Radio and RDS (Radio Data Service) that shows the current song playing provided the radio station that you are listening to supports it. What is also cool is you can purchase the song you are listening to by pressing the “add to cart” button. If you have a Zune Pass it will likely be a free (included in your monthly subscription) or about a dollar if you pay with points.

As far as the radio’s performance, reception is just okay. I had issues with picking up stations in my house when it would be crystal clear outside. In other places like the gym I could only pick up the very local stations. Its FM radio, what do you expect? It was able to do a bit better when connected to the AV dock that has a separate antenna wire for reception. When I could pick up an HD station it sounded like anything I would play from a digital file. It was like radio without static. Honestly, take this with a grain of salt; the only time I listen to corporate preprogrammed Clear Channel, advertisement-ridden FM radio is when I test it on MP3 players. So you may want a second opinion.

Podcasts

The software makes it very easy to discover, automatically download, and synch all of your favorite audio and video podcasts. Podcasts like the video section on the player have auto resume per file. There are not bookmarks available on the Zune, but this will automatically save the spot where you left off. The big feature missing yet is the ability download podcasts directly to the device from Wi-Fi like marketplace does for music. You can still sync podcast over Wi-Fi, but it has to be on your network with the computer you sync with the Zune.

Audio Books

Audible and Overdrive provide audiobooks for the Zune HD. They are separate programs that you must download in addition to the Zune Software in order to sync your purchased audiobook content. I have only used Audible and it is a pretty straight forward experience: sign up for an account, download, then synch with Audible Manager Software. I had no issues. The playback on these books is similar to podcast where it automatically will resume where you left off, no bookmarks needed. Though there is support for chapter skipping, you use it just as you would skip to the next track in a music album.

Other Features

Internet Browser

Browsing the internet is a pretty good experience, but the browser does need a lot of work. There are plenty of rending problems and the browser will seemingly arbitrarily select the mobile version of the site. Granted, a simple mobile version of a site is better to view on a small 480×272 screen, but not having that option is disappointing. I do find that many complex websites with certain scripts will crash the browser and is much more common than it should be. Flash and Silverlight are also absent from the browser, so don’t count on checking out YouTube or other video sites.

As far as features, there aren’t many – just a basic Favorites lists where you can bookmark your favorite sites. Additionally, you can pin one of you favorite sites to the home screen. The default search is Bing when you tap on the search icon, but if Google or Yahoo is your thing, then you can always book mark those search pages in your favorites.



Apps

At the launch of the device the apps are sparse, with only a few simple games and basic weather and calculator apps. Right now the apps and the app store just feels like a proof of concept, but a more extensive library is promised in the near future. Future games and applications will include the use of the accelerometer and Nvidia Tegra chip for 3D gaming. For updates on the latest, check out the Zune HD games and apps forum.

Conclusion

The Zune HD is not too friendly with a bring-your-own-content scenario with limited audio and video codec support. It really hurts to see the most powerful mobile processor, the NVidia Tegra, being underutilized in a device without native video support. The walled garden ecosystem approach will not bode well with some being that you must use the supplied software and are encouraged to purchase content from the Zune Marketplace. To get the most out of the Zune HD and to take advantage of some of its best features you will have to purchase the $15 per month Zune Pass. With the Zune Pass you may find that it is not as all-encompassing as a music catalog should be with newer and older content.

The Zune HD might have a bit of a commercial music feel to it and limits your choices but you cannot ignore the sexy hardware, incredibly responsive touch screen, killer UI, great sound quality, and connected features other players just don’t have. For those looking for
a very easy and seamless experience between devices, software, and services the Zune HD may be for you.

Pros

  • Clean and easy user interface
  • Great looking OLED screen
  • Very responsive capacitance touch screen
  • Great sound quality
  • Solid design and build quality

Cons

  • Limited codec support
  • Many of the features rely on the subscribing to the Zune Pass
  • Microsoft funny money points required to purchase content
  • No custom EQ, presets only
  • No drag and drop support

Purchase

You can usually get free shipping and avoid sales tax if you get the Zune HD and its accessories from Amazon. They also have the best return policy from my experience.

49 Comments

Scarpad on October 26, 2009 2:01 PM

If you go into the Zune realizing that like an Ipod it’s a closed echosystem , than the difieciency you state with getting video on the device really isn’t a deficiency at all. It’s no harder putting videos on this than it is to put video on an Ipod Touch, in fact in most cases videos you encode for the touch will work on the HD

oppizzippo on October 26, 2009 2:33 PM

Great review! Thanks for your hard work. I find the FM radio to work much better outside also. It does work great at the gym to pickup the audio on the TVs. Thanks!

LunarFlame17 on October 26, 2009 5:22 PM

Very nice review. Personally I love the walled garden approach to things. I like just knowing that the device and software are going to work great together, because they were designed for each other. I’ve been using a Zune and been a Zune Pass subscriber for over 2 years now, and I’ve loved (almost) every minute of it. Yes there are some gaps in the Marketplace, but I find that probably 95% of the stuff I want to listen to is available with a Zune Pass. And the price is certainly right. Not to mention that you get the keep 10 tracks a month with a Zune Pass, something that I don’t believe was mentioned in this review. Really, if you buy at least 10 tracks a month anyway, that effectively reduces the price of the Zune Pass to only $5 a month. Which is awesome.

Rick Spoketire on October 26, 2009 5:54 PM

Meh

DaHarder on October 26, 2009 6:48 PM

Well done review… I’m also a bit surprised that there was little mention of the Zune marketplace/Pass, which happens to be one of the true standout parts of the Zune-Experience, and one that places it far ahead of (most of) the ‘competition. Since buying my Zune HD/32gb, I don’t even bother with most of my other media players – It’s Just That Good!

dragnandy on October 26, 2009 8:00 PM

one question, if you have music (.mp3) that is not purchased from the zune marketplace, for example amazon, will you still be able to get the artist graphic wallpaper stuff? i think its the screensaver when you are listening to music.

jack package on October 26, 2009 8:15 PM

nice review! btw, did you happen to test the actual battery life numbers?

oppizzippo on October 26, 2009 8:44 PM

@dragnandy Yes I have found my mp3 from other sources to work fine with the zune extras. You may need to correct data if you don’t get the extras. Zune software can do this for you as an option.

wilk on October 26, 2009 10:19 PM

Non-native video support plus very limited audio support kill this device. Microsoft essentially chose to follow Apple’s approach and produce a product which is really just a nicer ipod in concept. That plus the weird choice of hardware buttons make me think that despite the slower UI, the Cowon S9 still trumps this

Moki on October 26, 2009 10:50 PM

Fantastic hardware and the Zune Pass is a steal. $15 a month for all you can eat. I think it’s a tough deal to beat. No more worrying about keeping a library together, ripped and tagged–and I’m supporting the music industry too, which I think is important.

Sim on October 27, 2009 12:25 AM

Qualcomm has a processor more powerful than Tegra.

Jim on October 27, 2009 8:29 AM

‘Meh’ is right. Once you get past the nice hardware and the cool user interface, and believe me, the novelty wears off quickly, you’re left with a handcuffed, limited device.Sure it plays back your mp3′s and wma files, but if you’re not into subscription music (yeah, thanks, but I like to buy my own music and video, in dollars and non lossy formats) then there are much better options out there. The Zune HD is also pricey; for just a bare bones media playback device, it should be priced around $150 for the 32gb.

Roj on October 27, 2009 12:20 PM

No Flac.No oggNo XviDForces me to use software to manage it.Limited audio tailoring.Now, remind me again why anyone seriously into music or movies (not to mention open systems) would waste money on this expensive paperweight? 99% of ALL the people I’ve met who have players do the “bring your own” thing. This is just another company trying to lock consumers into a proprietary “spend money on our crap” scenario.Not with YOUR money; I’ll stick to Cowon and Sandisk.Interestingly, Cowon held a poll on their forums asking consumers if they would mind if Cowon stopped supporting DRM. The overwhelming response was “ditch it”.That pretty much obviates Zune HD.

slightlyoddguy on October 27, 2009 12:32 PM

Interestingly, the thing that stood out the most to me was the “hello from seattle” pic. I remember that from my Zune 8, which was my first DAP. The Zune ecosystem is appealing somehow because of that — something there besides the music (the software, marketplace, “hello from seattle”) got psychologically tied up with the experience of listening to music in that period of my life. I’m attached to the Zune brand in the way a son’s attached to an abusive father.Eh, but it’s not compelling enough to buy the HD though. The design is gorgeous (I prefer it to my S9), and I’m sure the screen is as well, but lack of codec support and no user-customizable eq are deal breakers.

Joe on October 27, 2009 4:08 PM

My dad just got a 32GB itouch. I can’t see any lag anywhere at all in that device. I wouldn’t expect any since it has an ARM A8 Cortex inside, and its GPU AND CPU is more powerful than Tegra anyhow.And we all know for sure that the browser sucks compared to mobile Safari. Heck, Microsoft is so stupid, that the browser on the Zune is DIFFERENT than WinMob 6.5 and 7! They won’t even have compatible apps or stores even though they share the same WinCE base! Microsoft still can’t make anything just work like Apple.Apple’s h.264 support is easy, 640×480 is the limit, but any resolution below it works, and use the simple profile level, and AAC audio LC, max 160kbps and 48khz sampling rate.Xvid support isn’t a deal breaker for me anyhow since it sucks and needs to go away. Its lack of a deblocking filter makes it look like crap no matter what bitrate.

Relyt on October 27, 2009 6:41 PM

For me, the HD radio is a huge plus for this device since I listen to radio all the time. I think this makes up for the fact that I wouldn’t get a Zune Pass.

Larry Harrison on October 27, 2009 6:44 PM

The “walled garden” approach is something I’m vehemently against. Even if it’s done for a “works together beautifully” approach, a “universal” backbone should still exist as well The word proprietary is a dirty word for me, it’s the #1 reason I want nothing to do with Apple products. Whether it was my old eMachine computer that required a special $65 power supply that had to be special-ordered–whereas every other computer back then worked fine with any “universal” $20 power supply, or proprietary USB cables, proprietary headphone jacks with my PDA-smartphones, the iPod & iPhone having sealed-up non-user-replaceable batteries and requiring iTunes to do anything, I am totally against that “exclusivity” type of arrangement.I just got a Blackberry Bold 9000 PDA-smartphone (which lets me drag-drop files to it, uses a standard 5-pin mini USB cable and a standard 3.5mm headphone jack, and has user-replaceable batteries) and have found that for uploading videos to the device (the source files are either my own personal clips or converted from DVDs) the best format for videos is in the mp4 (MPEG4) format, using Handbrake. The iPod settings convert it to M4v format, but that conversion takes considerably longer to do. Apparently, if I read this right, my mp4 files won’t play on this device, even though MPEG4 files are pretty common. Why should this be? It’s just silly.So, in other words, if I ever got a device like this for having more gigabytes for video files, I’d have to convert all over again in a different format, deal with a sealed-up battery I can’t replace myself. Why, why, why?

David on October 27, 2009 7:32 PM

Finally! someone noticed that the side button controls take GESTURES.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz on October 28, 2009 12:08 AM

I really want to able to get my podcast from wireless network on the road.Any player in this range that do that?

Joe on October 28, 2009 12:32 AM

Larry, the only difference btw m4v and mp4 is the three letter extension; there isn’t any difference otherwise.FYI, mp4/m4v/m4a is just the ISO container of Apple’s .mov container. There’s a lot of history about how much Apple did to make it survive when Microsoft tried its best to kill off Quicktime.Personally, I have both a Cowon D2 for sound quality and an ipod for video quality. iTunes may be a drag, but get this: I have yet for the ipod to have a corrupted database when adding files. It’s happened around 3 times with the D2.Besides, the ipod with itunes offers gapless flags and also volume normalization. Cowon, are you listening? Stop trying to just copy the itouch interface (POORLY) and bring over its other features!!!

Joe on October 28, 2009 12:40 AM

I guess I can also add, to your post Larry, maybe you were encoding MPEG4-SP/ASP and not MPEG4-AVC? Don’t know. I’ve found that MPEG4-AVC aka h.264 via the x264 encoder in avidemux acutally encodes faster than the old Xvid stuff aka MPEG4-SP/ASP.Not sure why ppl have issues with sealed up batteries – all Cowons, Zunes, and others do the same thing, and when my battery goes on them, its an excuse to buy a new unit :) .I hate not having a standard usb connector, but just like Microsoft is a standard due to its marketshare, that connector is universal, supplies digital audio and controls for car head units, and various forms of video out. Everyone sells stuff for it, so it isn’t a real issue.Besides, if you want to talk pocket friendly, that itouch comes with headphones with controls for volume and a mic to use voice command with it. No reaching into the pocket period.

Martin Sägmüller on October 28, 2009 10:05 AM

@Joe: How did Cowon copy the iPod Touch interface on the D2? The D2 was released way before the first iPod Touch or iPhone. The D2 was one of the first touchscreen MP3 players, after some Philips and Olympus…Oh, and the newer Cowon S9 has native gapless playback, without the need for a desktop app like iTunes to get it working. Not to mention you can have volume normalization on any player, with MP3Gain.

ElSuperBeasto on October 28, 2009 5:58 PM

@Joe: What’s an Itouch?

Sushi on October 28, 2009 9:42 PM

Seems like a great platform, just needs some software works. All the hardware is there, add in some more (good) apps, a better web browser, more file support and better EQ and you have one hell of an MP3 player. I would definitely buy this over an iPod Touch as the iTouch is at it’s limits hardware wise (and always will be without making a totally new one) and MS has PLENTY of room to grow. I own a Zune 4GB right now and I will be getting one by the end of the week. I think it’s perfect for me: I love music and don’t care about movies or pics or apps really. What I want is a sexy MP3 player with a couple of extra features and this delivers!

Joe on October 29, 2009 2:16 AM

Martin, I’m always a bit off in my posts, sry. The S9 from Cowon copied the “cover flow” part of the itouch.Not sure about your thing about mp3gain, from what I understand about it, it stores the replay gain values in the mp3 for the player to then read and adjust accordingly, like the SanDisk clip.I actually wanted an S9, but if Cowon doesn’t pull its head out of the ground and realize that the world has moved on to h.264, I’m not buying their stuff. Their higher end stuff has great h.264 support; why not their portable stuff?

Joe on October 29, 2009 2:21 AM

Sushi, you do know that the new itouch 32/64GB has the ARM Cortex 8 CPU, which aside from the upcoming 9 CPU, is the best ARM cpu yet? You do know that it has a PowerVR GPU that is far better than the second rate GPU that nVidia acquired for Tegra, right? And that the CPU they married Tegra to is an older CPU from ARM?iphone cpu/gpu http://www.anandtech.com/gadgets/showdoc.aspx?i=3579&p=2The calc on the itouch opens instantly. It takes around 3-5 seconds on this Zune.And the browser on the Zune is around 10x slower than Safari. You just can’t beat WebKit for speed, on ANY platform.

ashiiya on October 29, 2009 11:35 AM

I don’t mind the limited codec support (don’t have a wide range of stuff anyways), I don’t mind having to use the Zune software (used it before, it was ok)and I don’t even mind the crappy browser. But how they got away with not including a customizable EQ is beyond me. Yeah, the player sounds really great, but that’s still no excuse to skimp out on something that’s pretty much essential in such a player.@Joe: I know that the iPod Touch does some pretty awesome things, but my own personal reason for not having it cause it sucks as a music player and makes up for it with all these other things. And too many people have it. Think what you want and say what you wanna say but in the end, the Zune is better as a media player, not some app-crazy gaming thing. That’s not what media players are meant to do. And people lose sight of that. App and games should be just a nice extra, not an overwhelming feature.

joe on October 29, 2009 7:29 PM

Well, I’m not going to knock the Zune HD off because I haven’t used it, but I can see plenty from the videos, and I’m not sure how you can say the itouch sucks as a music player, or say the Zune HD is better at all, when it took Microsoft 3 tries just to release a competant product, and how the Zune HD ripped most of the interface off it to begin with, and just about every other feature about it was lifted from Apple as well.Besides, will there ever be a Microsoft Zune phone? Will a WinMob phone work with the Zune Marketplace? Here’s a hint: NO.

tveita on October 30, 2009 6:08 AM

Any objective tests to back up the sound qualitøy claim – RMM, for example. Is it really the best sounding player in the world?! Good review but you may have been reading too much MS-speak, ecosystems and experience, what’s that all about!Walled garden= completely locked and handcuffed, however you put it!

Thomas on November 2, 2009 7:22 PM

” . . .how the Zune HD ripped most of the interface off it to begin with, and just about every other feature about it was lifted from Apple as well.”Interesting; the OS X UI on the iPod Touch uses an icon based system, with hardly any horizontal movement, while the HD uses a primarily list-based UI, with vertical and horizontal movement in varying amounts.How can you say the HD ripped off the interface for the Touch?It also didn’t take Microsoft 3 tries to make a competent product; it only took one.The Zune 120 was a Top 5 device on this very website in 2008.In fact, most of what you’re saying seems to be based by nothing but your opinion, instead of hard-bound facts.

joe on November 3, 2009 6:16 PM

Easy Thomas. They copied:1. The itunes store with the Zune store. Completely back stapped all the plays for sure partners, “assured” them they wouldn’t be harmed. In reality, all the market share went from them to the Zune.2. The accelerometer3. The entire touch interface. So they bothered to make it not so glaringly similar by the up and down motion, big deal.4. Copied the app store.5. Copied the genius playlistMaybe you should read the review here on this web site where they try to save face for the Zune by telling the reader not to read the article of how the first gen interface completely sucked.and how Ballmer flat out lied about getting 25% of the market, or how their entire lineup save for the Zune HD is the only one left standing.

Gerald on November 4, 2009 12:26 AM

Well, since Microsoft is a software company, there is high hopes that maybe, in the future firmware updates, they will include a custom equalizer.

finallyZune? on November 4, 2009 2:20 PM

The review should point out that the device lacks an inline remote. This fact alone rules out this player for me.

Jim on November 7, 2009 3:37 PM

Is it possible to edit the main-menu interface screen? I have absolutely ZERO interest in “Marketplace” and “Social” – these would be obnoxious to see everyday and I want them gone. I’m looking for a good player for my music, period; not interested in subscriptions or what others are listening to.

Thomas on November 11, 2009 3:10 PM

1. Uh. I don’t know about that. It’s going to be a given there’s going to be a store for a commercial PMP like the Zune.2. Nope. Tons of devices have an accelerometer. Saying that Microsoft ‘copied’ the accelerometer is like saying they ‘copied’ the touch screen concept from Apple.3. The UI’s couldn’t be more different. Black on White (Apple) vs. White on Black (Zune), Icon-based (Apple) vs. List-Based (Zune). The only thing they have in common is the fact that they are touch-based. Saying that Microsoft copied Apple because of that is ridiculous, since Archos had their touch-screen PMP before Apple did.4. Applications have been around for a long time, buddy. Apple didn’t create the concept of an App Store.5. Apple didn’t create the concept of Genius either. They copied that from other, better media players.

HuvaNetwork on November 15, 2009 12:40 AM

Martin said “The Zune HD is the best sounding hardware to date.”I m confused now, Where does the D2 and S9 gone ??

Lala on November 16, 2009 11:50 PM

@JoeShame on you for forming such a strong opinion on a device that you have not even tried to use.Like Thomas said, it certainly has not taken 3 tries for Microsoft to make a competent device. I have used the Zune since it first came out. In fact, I had my Zune 30 until I got my HD. It was a solid device from the beginning despite it’s flaws and it has only gotten better with each yearly update. With every update, I recieved new features, for free mind you, but it eventually got to the point where the previous incarnation of the Zune hit its limit.As for Microsoft copying Apple, please don’t be a fanboy. Every company copies others and Apple does it just as much as Microsoft. They do have some new ideas from time to time but the iphone/itouch are certainly not concepts that Apple came up with first, they have simply been advertised the most which is what Apple’s strategy has always been. If you want to be really technical winmo pocket pcs and phones had touch screens for years before the advent of the iphone/touch so it isn’t that much of a stretch that MS would now extend it to the Zune. Not only that, but fans of the Zune have been asking for one for years. BTW, MS has been very good about giving us the features we ask for in other areas with regards to the Zune and the ability to play apps on the Zune has been around for nearly two years.As far as the features go, there really is no comparing the Genius feature to similar features in the Zune software such as Mixview. Apple may have announced Genius first but I can tell you right now that if you were to put it side by side with Mixview on the Zune software, it is glaringly obvious who put more time and effort into their music suggestion service and it isn’t Apple.Also, funny you said what you said about winmo never working with the Zune store because the next version is going to be able to do just that. Not only that, but MS has been working on making a one stop spot for Xbox, Zune, and Winmo applications. The sad thing is that is old news and it should be coming to fruition before the end of this year (especially after the big Xbox update coming up tomorrow).I personally love my Zune. It is a very well made player and the things that people are complaining about are not deal breakers for me since I am not enough of an audiophile that I feel like fiddling around with an equalizer. The video playback and video output on the Zune are superior to the iphone/touch, the now playing screen is gorgeous, the desktop software is excellent and ludicrously easy to use, I love that the touch screen is also pressure sensitive, the addition of “Pins” is an excellent idea that I have not seen used on any other player yet. I don’t think it’s perfect but no piece of technology ever is.

sacker on December 17, 2009 4:30 PM

Great review, but honestly the zune HD has MANY flaws, microsoft smoked way too much crack while making it. Unless they release some new revolutionary firmware it will never compete with the itouch. (besides the fact that 16GB HD is 200$ and 8GB itouch is 200$)

Justin on December 27, 2009 12:00 PM

Great review, the only thing I’d like to know is if it is microSDHC compatible?

nintendo dsi r4 on December 31, 2009 12:26 AM

I agree. The zune is by far better than the Ipod. Pricing, features and hardware.. Only thing missing is the camera…

zune review on February 10, 2010 2:20 PM

the long waited zune phone is almost here! it will be called Windows Phone!get ready, Microsoft will publish it on CES

Molly on March 5, 2010 8:24 AM

One of the best reviews of the Microsoft Zune HD! Thanks, this will help me decide on Zune or another PMP.

vher on April 11, 2010 1:58 AM

thanks for the great review. i’ve a few questions though…when you said that the zune HD is “the best sounding hardware to date”, were you comparing the HD’s sq to the previous zune players only? or is it really THE best sounding out there? even better than the S9 and the X? i have the X and i’ll gladly part with it in favor of the HD (the lack of on-the-go playlist creation on the X has pissed me off ever since i got it. used to be a zen vision M user).lastly, would you recommend the Hippo VB for use on the HD? i have an se530 but i find the bass in the shures lacking.thanks!

Peter on May 8, 2010 11:06 PM

Has the Zune HD been released in the UK? I can’t seem to find any real info about it, and it doesn’t seem to be available on Amazon UK…

Nicholas on September 9, 2010 7:07 AM

People who want to buy this product dont think of it as a competitor to the ipod touch because its not if anything is more like a ipod nano competitor so if you look at it that way it is superior to the nano. Yea its touchscreen but it isnt meant to be played with like the itouch its meant to enjoy music and watch movies and the internet and apps are kinda just a plus. Ipod Nano 16gb $179 Zune HD $199

Nicholas on September 9, 2010 7:09 AM

Zune HD 16gb $199

Kim on November 20, 2010 10:55 AM

Hi guys, I really need your help.

Is the sync cable the same one as on the older Zune devices or if not are they also usable on the HD ???

Lost the HD cable and in Germany it’s hard to get the original HD cable, but the older Zune cable is available.

Hope you can help me out here ^^

Kim

AVTRFreak on January 28, 2011 8:28 PM

I really really want one of these…but before I do…are the apps free? can you downlod them off the marketplace with wifi only? Or do you have to have a subsription t o get all that other stuff?

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