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November 9, 2006

Zune preview: Party shots

As promised, here are some shots from tonight's Zune preview party at the element nightclub in Hollywood.

First, the coveted ticket in...

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Some of the Zunes that we toyed with inside, before the live music started.

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My daughter was a good sport and agreed to pose with some Zunes. Her reaction was pretty positive to Zune - it was much smaller and lighter than she had imagined, based on what she had heard about it.

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She was able to intuitively spin through the various menus and options. And she really liked the big, bright screen. Hmmm... I think one more iPod-lover just might be on her way to being converted...

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We were entertained by live music from Bitter:Sweet. I must say I was pleasantly surprised; I haven't been that drawn to the pre-loaded music, but Bitter:Sweet (pictured) could become a new favorite for me.

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And so to bed.

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November 9, 2006

Zune: the Zunerama test-drive

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Buckle up, folks, as we take Zune out for our first spin.

Zunerama had the chance to kick the tires on Microsoft's new digital media player, at a pre-release event in Los Angeles tonight. For three hours at L.A.'s element nightclub, we probed the Zune, and prodded Microsoft's Zune team for answers to our questions. Here's some shots of the element and the nice folks inside:

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We'll have more detailed reviews, and more pics, posted shortly, but wanted to share some initial impressions.

Curb appeal. Let me confirm what you've heard: the. Zune. looks. hot.

The body is smooth and warm. It was much more compact and streamlined than I imagined. And the screen is so vivid it's hard to pull your eyes away.

Also, maybe it's an optical illusion, but it's hard to believe that the Zune screen is only 1/2" larger on the diagonal than the video iPod. Maybe it's because the video iPod body is dominated by its huge clickwheel. What seemed so elegant before on the iPod, now seems oversized now that I've experienced a Zune.

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Handling. It feels comfortable, too. It's well-balanced, and feels natural in your hands.

One of my main concerns was how the control pad would respond. It's a different feel than the iPod's scroll wheel, but after about, oh, 60 seconds adjustment time, I found it intuitive and responsive. I expect there'll be ardent defenders of the Zune control pad just as there are now with iPod's clickwheel.

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Performance. We weren't able to do a full performance test, as the Zune I demo'ed was loaded with only about 2GB of songs, movies, and pictures. Scrolling and navigation was swift, smooth and responsive.

Navigation features. A little-discussed feature is Zune's intuitive navigation. You scroll through menu selections at the top of the screen, by pressing left or right on the control pad. Options for each menu item are listed below, and are selected by pressing up or down on the pad. It's elegant, and intuitive.

If you haven't had a close-up look at all connectors of the player, here are snaps of all four sides:



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Shortcomings. We wish this first version had incorporated podcasting support. Frankly, we believe Microsoft when it says that this is a top candidate for firmware upgrade, post-release. As it ought to be.

And, we learned that some songs, even downloaded from Marketplace, won't be sendable wirelessly. Some music labels aren't ready to grant that right. Not a huge driver for us, but we hope that Microsoft is able to get all its providers on board with the wireless sharing.

Summary. All in all, the player makes for a great ride. Now, if we just had one of those Speck leather cases, it would even have that new car smell.

In upcoming posts, I'll show Zune software, and the many Zune accessories that we were able to inspect and photograph. Also, I believe I got answers to pretty much all of the questions from our forum members. I'll pull those together from my notes, and get those posted too.

Now, on to the Zune party tonight at element, with Bitter:Sweet and Jason Bentley.

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November 9, 2006

A walk down Hollywood Boulevard

In a few minutes I'll be heading to a Hollywood nightclub, for the Zune review. I took a trial run to make sure I can find the place. Some pics:

Backside view of the Roosevelt.

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A very obnoxious billboard right outside my hotel room. What cheek!

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The Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame

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Close-ups of some stars...

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Hmmmm, I'm wondering what the criteria is for getting one of these stars... a good agent?

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OK, now I'm really wondering.

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Holy smokes, they knew we were coming!!

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I promise, Zune pics, posts, and answers to come shortly!

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November 9, 2006

Zune preview day: awakening

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Good morning, Zuners. Full day ahead. I've been invited to a "small session" with members of the Zune team from Microsoft, to see a comprehensive demo of the player and the Zune software. I expect that this is where we'll get answers to many of our forum questions.

Following that, I'll get to do my own test drive of a Zune player. I've got a circuit planned out that I want to test. If there's any particular features you want to hear about, or would like me to get a pic of, let me know.

Then I head to LAX to pick up my daughter, before heading to a Zune party hosted by Microsoft and with entertainment from bands Jason Bentley and Bitter:Sweet, of Zune pre-loaded content fame.

Zune posts and pics to come shortly.

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November 9, 2006

In L.A. for Zune preview

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I've arrived in the city of angels, Hollywood to be precise, for Zune previews with the Microsoft team.

Tonight, I met in the hotel lounge with Nate, the owner of ZuneScene. We swapped stories about the rollercoaster ride we've both been on over the past couple of months with our respective Zune sites.

Tomorrow I'll meet with Microsoft's Zune team, to see a personal Zune demo, after which I'll be conducting Zunerama's own test drive of the Zune player and software.

I'll post updates throughout the day tomorrow. I'm armed with several dozen questions from Zunerama's forum members, and extra batteries for my digicam. So check for new posts, new pics, and maybe some new answers to our Zune questions.

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November 8, 2006

Wired "impressed" with Zune; could be a threat "if Apple doesn't parry"

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Wired has performed a hands-on review of Zune and reports that "Microsoft clearly learned a few lessons, including the all-important one about device simplicity, from Apple's iPod before bringing the Zune to market. I was impressed, despite my earlier doubts. Given enough time, and if Apple doesn't parry, the Zune could become a serious threat to the iPod's dominance."

Apple will certainly parry, but we still think this'll be a fight worth watching.

Wired reveals a few tidbits that we've seen as questions in our forums, including details on privacy settings.

Ever since we created our Zune UI map, showing all player menu options, we've been pondering what's being those basic and detailed privacy settings. Wired reveals that basic, the default setting, lets nearby Zuners see only "your username and whether you're looking at photos, listening to music, or are busy (i.e. already connected to someone else)".

The detailed setting lets nearby Zune users see the artist and song title of your currently-playing song, or which radio station you're listening to.

See the whole review here.

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November 8, 2006

A date with a Zune

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Forgive me if I'm a little breathless today.

I'm on my way to the airport, heading to Los Angeles for a date with that hot newcomer, Zune.

Tomorrow, Zunerama will be part of a pre-release event, that will include hands-on use of Zunes.

Pre-load bands Bitter:Sweet and Jason Bentley will be entertaining us, while we mingle with members of the Zune team from Microsoft.

I'm allowed a guest, so am bringing my daughter. She's sixteen and a bit of an iPod lover (yes, I love her anyway), who will provide her own teenage view of Zune. As one of the first teens in the country to try one out, I'm interested in her observations and opinions.

So stay tuned for tomorrow's blogs from Zunerama. We promise lots of pics, and we'll try to answer your forum questions about all things Zune!!

P.S. We're having a great response to our Speck giveaway of Zune cases. Have you entered yet?

Good luck!!


November 7, 2006

Speck case giveaway - twice-a-day drawings

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Speck, that ultra-cool accessory maker, is giving away two Zune cases every day from November 27 through December 8, exclusive to Zunerama members.

Speck makes a sweet line-up of cases, including its executive leather case, active sport armband, and the much-heralded ToughSkin case (pictured). ToughSkin is its biggest seller in the iPod line.

Personally, I'm taken with that executive leather model.

Entering is free and painless at our Giveaway board. Speck will even cover shipping and handling for ya.

While you're there, join the discussion in our Accessory board, and see what all the best-dressed Zunes are wearing.

Good luck!!

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