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November 9, 2006

Zune: the Zunerama test-drive

zune graphic

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:

zune graphic

zune graphic

Here are initial impresssions from our preview of Microsoft's Zune 30GB player.

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.

zune graphic

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.

zune graphic

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:

zune graphic

zune graphic

zune graphic

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.

  Company: Microsoft
  Model: Zune 30GB Player
  Price: $249.99


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