My First Impressions

Ok, I’ve owned my new Zune for about 36 hours now, so it’s time for first impressions. Before getting my Zune 80 I researched lots of web sites and forums so I would be familiar with the Zune’s capabilities and features, how the button worked, etc. I also knew from specs the size and weight of the device. Although I visited several electronic stores in my area, none had any Zunes on display for me to test out. So, the first time I handled one was when I opened mine up as a Christmas present yesterday.

Size and Weight

First, I’d have to say it is heavier that I expected. I guess I’m use to devices with plastic cases that are lighter, with FlashROM storage. Since the Zune 80 has an aluminum casing, glass cover and 80 GB hard drive, I can understand that it is heavier than other similar FlashROM-based media players. It not so heavy that I’m unhappy with it, but rather I’m afraid that if I drop it it will impact the ground with substantial force (F=ma physics stuff).

Manufacturing Defects?

I was also worried that my Zune would have the manufacturing defects that have been mentioned in numerous forum postings (i.e., finger print and hair under the glass screen cover, noisy hard drive clicking, crooked/rotated center control pad, pushed in back/play buttons, etc.), so the first thing I did was a complete visual inspection. The only thing I found as a “defect” so far was the crooked (or rotated) center control pad. It was rotated about a half of a degree to the right, and was barely noticeable (I probably would not have noticed it if I didn’t read those postings). It’s not a big deal for me, as my Zune still functions well and it still looks fine. Of course, I could probably find similar nit-pick “defects” on any of the electronic devices that I currently own. But, I would have to say that Microsoft should correct this manufacturing issue for future devices. Also, the back button does sit a bit low (being almost flush with the top face of my Zune), but maybe it was designed that way? I’ll have to keep an eye on it over the next few months to make sure it doesn’t get permanently depressed from normal use.

Screen Clarity and Resolution

Another area of concern was the screen clarity and resolution. My old Dell Axim x50v Pocket PC had a 640×480 hi-res VGA screen which I used for watching AVI movies, so going to a 320×240 res screen would certainly be noticeable. In addition, I came across several forum postings where people were complaining about the pixelation of the Zune screen images, so that brought on some anxiety. I’m happy to report that the Zune screen looks great! It’s very clear, and I can’t see any such pixelation. I can only imagine that watching videos that have a low video bit rate might display some noticeable pixelation when there is lots of high-speed motion. In any case, I give the Zune a 10 for having such a nice screen for viewing videos.

Audio Capabilities

With my Dell Axim I was using some cheap ear buds that I got from a previous airplane flight (freebie). Since I didn’t listen to music (just videos), it really wasn’t such a big deal. My Zune 80 came with “Premium” ear buds which appear to be of much higher quality than my freebie airline buds. The buds actually fit inside your ear canal blocking out exterior noise. The sound from my Zune was fantastic, and I can’t image why I was using those old crummy throw-away ear buds! My Zune 80 was an expensive investment, and it’s nice to know that Microsoft provided a good set of ear buds for enjoyable listening.

User Interface

I just love the UI, I think because it’s so non-microsoft. It actually looks like something Apple might put together– a refreshing change from the standard “Windows” stuff we’ve seen for years. The flick-with-your-finger control pad is really nice, and the simplicity of the controls makes the Zune easy to use. The Zune Software on the Desktop PC also has a refreshing look and is easy to use. I can very easily find and purchase songs through this interface, and subscribing to podcasts is a snap. No complicated setup (at least for me). Everything was very easy to configure and use from the start (even my Wireless Sync setup was automatic, which seems to be a problem for some users).

What, No Slip Cover?

So what’s the deal with that? My Zune 80 didn’t come with a simple, basic slip cover to protect the screen. Sure, Microsoft will save some money by not shipping such a cover (where most users would replace with a better one), but until I find one to buy I’m stuck with a naked, exposed Zune. In the meantime, I’m using one of my old Pocket PC slip covers until I find a proper cover or case.

What I don’t Like

Most of what I’ve written appear to be glowing comments from a Microsoft Zune Fanboy (which I don’t think I am), but as my wife says, “it is what it is”. Just to balance things out, I’ll throw out a few things I didn’t like:

  • The absence of a slip cover or basic case. I’m forced to be extra careful with my Zune until I find and purchase a cover.
  • Inability to organize my video files into folders. The video files synced on my Zune are presented as one giant list on the main display, making it a bit cumbersome to sort through. Music files can be grouped by Album, Artist, and in playlists, but not video files.
  • When I first synced video files to my Zune, the Zune Software would “transcode” them, which is essentially reconvert them to a Zune-suitable format. This process was taking several hours per video (even for video files that are in WMV format). The only mention of this conversion was a half sentence under the “Status” screen in the Zune Software on my PC. It would be nice to have a more descriptive status telling what the syncing is doing and why it’s having to transcode a particular file.

I’m sure I’ll have more objective comments once the honeymoon is officially over, but until then I’ll be working to better utilize and enjoy my Zune.

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5 thoughts on “My First Impressions

  1. B Bedi says:

    Hi,

    Dude you are freaking me out! – I just posted a response to your opinion on the Home AV dock and mentioned the similarities between our experiences – now it is reflecting here including using my HP iPAQ handheld cover for the Zune as a slip cover for all of 48 hours I have owned it 😮

    Kidding – there are a few things here that I differ on (opinions):
    1. I am veteran iPOD user (3rd through current 6th generation) – the 80GB Zune is pleasantly way lighter than my 80GB video iPOD and generally speaking a very decent weight even without comparison. You’ll get used to it.
    2. The back button is indeed more flush with the body than the other play/pause button – so I also assume it is by design.
    3. Zune PC side software is very immature in features – you are right it visually does feel very un-Microsoft like – immature like earlier iTunes – for people like me with a very well organized Music collections in 300+ Gigs (I am multi lingual and passionate about music – hence the large collection) – it will be a nightmare getting a part of it on the Zune – I use a lot of playlists and Zune has very poor playlist management. I think MS does eventually get things right and hopefully will in a couple of more iterations for the software to mature.
    4. Video playlists are missing and is a major issue. I use 3GPConverter (free tool) to encode YouTube Flash Videos (.flv) or other videos into MP4 (a container more than a codec) – this does not require any transcoding requirement on the Sync cycle and the sync is as fast as a copy (plus I can play the same MP4 file on my iPOD). The video resolution is not good. Sorry I had to compare to the iPOD Video here – I love the bigger screen on the Zune and the landscape mode but even my own off-air DVD recordings converted at high bit rate (1200kbps+) show a noticeable vertical line pattern of the screen. Another thing – the videos have a distinct yellow/green hue bias(like the red has been suppressed) – it is my hardware? Dunno – will compare to others. These videos play well on the PC/iPOD.
    5. Sound is average – and I say that because there is no equalizer – oh come on MS please – even three/four profiles (hall/jazz/pop etc.) would have been great to start with. So one is dependent too much on the original music file being perfect for Bass/Treble etc. I like the thread feel of the earphone cable – tangle resistant, nice touch on the magnetic back to back ear pieces – it is easier to manage the earphones.
    6. So far I havn’t found any of the hardware defects mentioned – everything seems aligned.

    I think it is a good product so far. Let’s see the durability.

    I guess that is my bit…..like your stuff, tanks for sharing….keep it coming.

    Ciao
    BB

  2. zunetips says:

    B Bedi,

    Thanks for your feedback. For a long time iPod user switching to the 2nd generation Zune, that sure says something! I’ve never used an iPod or iTunes before, so I can’t make any comparsions with the Zune and Zune Software. Hopefully, it will get better in 2008.

    The only annoying thing about my Zune, is the clicking sound when I press the buttons (it bothers my wife late at night when I’m watching video podcasts in bed!). But, that’s the price she pays for buying me a Zune for Christmas.

    Dave

  3. brady321 says:

    Not sure if you’re got my lost entry if not here I am again. I am interested in an mp3 player and the Zune has certainly caught my attention. Most of the reviews I have read have been helpful but I had a few questions:
    1. No mass storage option however a file or program can be downloaded to do so?
    2. Three day or three plays limit on the shared files still in effect?
    3. Is that malfunction after three months common in the Zune 80’s ie should I just wait to download files after I send it in to be fixed?

  4. zunetips says:

    brady321: Here’s some answers to your questions:

    1) The Zune doesn’t have a method for using the hard drive as mass storage, however, there are freeware utilities that allow you to use it as a USB drive. I’ve never used such a program, as I don’t have a need to store files on Zune.

    2) I’m not sure with this one, as I don’t share music files with other Zuners. I primarily sync video files which do not have such a limit.

    3) My original Zune 80 (which I got in Dec 07) didn’t have any manufacturing issues (other than the noted “crooked squircle” (which is the center pad). If you look at pictures of the Zune in ads and on the Internet you’ll see that this crooked squircle is present on nearly all devices. It’s no big deal, as it’s rotated just every so slightly.

    Now, I had to send in my Zune 80 a month ago for warranty repair because the LCD screen stopped working, and they sent me a refurbished unit. The refurb looked brand new, and didn’t have any issues (i.e., no dust under the screen, etc). So, I wouldn’t worry about getting a Zune now and having manufacturing issues.

    As a side note, I primarily use my Zune for watching video files, so that is why I got a Zune 80 with the large hard drive space. If I were to listen to music instead, I probably would get a Zune 4 or 8 GB device. What’s also nice is the FM radio and wireless syncing which you don’t get with other mp3 players.

  5. brady321 says:

    Thanks for all your help but I forgot one last question. In searching for a case, I wanted one that would obviously protect it but that also had a belt clip. After searching for a while I found both acrylic and silicone cases with clips. I avoided leather cases becasue I figured if it had a case, I wouldn’t take it out even if it was on its belt clip or in my pocket (what better use of cargo shorts). Now Im faced with another problem. My bosses silicone case is nice and all protecting his ipod shock wise, however any dust or dirt that gets caught between the case and the device is rubbed and scratched onto the device. The acrylic case might capture dust an dirt but it won’t be rubbed in. Case solved, or so I thought. Im sure there have been tests involving the acrylic cases’ protection against short falls and Im sure it gets a high score on anti scratching and denting. However does it protect the hard drive as well as the silicone case can in terms of shock damage. Again thanks for all your help and I like the smiley face at the bottom of the page, it’s a nice touch.

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