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Zune HD review

Old 01-03-10, 11:19 AM
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Zune HD review

I got a 32GB Zune HD for Christmas and thought it might be a good idea to compare it to my impressions of the iPod Touch. Without further ado:

How the Zune HD is better than an iPod Touch (in my opinion):

1. Better screen. The Zune's OLED is much sharper than any LCD screen I've ever seen. If you haven't seen a Zune HD's screen, definitely check one out before getting a Touch. It will convince you that in a few years, we'll all be watching OLED TVs...

2. More processor power. The Zune is based on Nvidia's Tegra SoC means that the Zune has serious power. This processor has 8 separate cores including hardware HD codecs, discrete hardware 3D acceleration and 600Mhz processing. You see this in the silky smoothness of the interface, the games and in the videos. The Zune has the capacity to do true 3D gaming and outperform something like a PSP. Hopefully they'll release some games soon that demonstrate this (c'mon Microsoft, open up to third-party developers...)

3. Better interface. The Zune HD's interface is really a work of art. Incredible attention to detail, but very simple to use and beautiful. It's by far the best interface Microsoft has ever produced. There are many, many little details that show that Microsoft has anticipated how you might want to use the Zune and incorporated little features to make it easier.

4. Better PC client.I think it's safe to say that next to Zune 4.0, iTunes looks a generation behind. The seamless integration with the Zune hardware is particularly impressive.

5. WiFi syncing. Very convenient if you want to use the Zune with a dock and play stuff on your stereo or TV. Also, this is in no way complicated to do, it's automatically configuered on pushing one button. Very nice.

6. The Zune can output true HD. The quality is pretty damned impressive, just as good as a Blu-Ray disc. One note: you need a $50 separately purchased accessory dock to output HD. The dock is a nice piece of hardware (it includes a remote, ac adapter and every cable you need...) but having to purchase it separately is irritating. At least the dock has recently come down in price, it was $90 at launch, which is a ridiculous price.

7. Better sound quality. Test a Zune HD side-by-side with a Touch and the difference is pretty clear.

and the number one reason the Zune is better than the Touch:

8. ZunePass I know some people are slightly allergic to subscription services but the ZunePass is undoubtedly the best reason to get the Zune. Basically for $15/month you get unlimited access to the entire DRMed Zune catalog to download, stream over any browser and play on up to three computers and three Zunes. You also get the right to download and keep 10 DRM-free tracks every 30 days. The major drawback here is that if you stop paying for the subscription, all of the music you've downloaded from the Zune Marketplace disappears (unless you paid for it separately). Bearing that caveat in mind, there are some major benefits of this type of "all you can eat" system, I'll give you a few examples of some of the things it allows you to do:

1. Stream and/or download the entire Zune marketplace catalog anywhere you can get wifi in perfect quality with the full user experience (background photos, artist bios, related artists etc.) This is like having a music version of IMDB at your fingertips at all times with basically every song ever recorded instantly available in high fidelity. I've spent hours just reading bios, discovering related artists and uncovering loads of new music I really like. This is a lot of fun if you like having new music all the time.

2. Tag songs you're streaming or listening to on the radio (including HD radio) and either download them on the spot using wifi or when you sync the player to your PC.

3 Have the software sync both editor-selected playlists (called channels) and "SmartDJ" auto playlists to your player. Say for example you like Led Zeppelin. You have ask the software pick, say, 100 songs by artists similar to Led Zeppelin or inspired by them and then sync it to your player. You might get a playlist with some Cream, some Yardbirds, some Them Crooked Vultures and some White Stripes on it. Again, none of this music actually needs to be in your collection as with the ZunePass you have rights to the entire Zune catalog. These playlists can be generated for any artist or genre and regenerated whenever you want. It uses Allmusic.com's data to define linkages between artists and they're generally pretty accurate. As another example, you can sync the "Billboard Hot 100" channel to the Zune and have the entire top 100 automatically synced to your player everytime it's updated. My wife listens to that crap.

...etc. For me, the ZunePass is an ideal way to get easy access to boat-loads of content. To me, saving the time it would take to access content through, ahem, other means is easy worth the $15 it costs me per month. In my mind, however, the true power of the service is the curated playlists and channels which make discovering, obtaining and listening to music you'll probably like effortless. All of this is extremely easy to do and anything you access or download is seamlessly integrated with your own collection. Whether or not you actually have a copy of a song in your collection or on your player becomes completely irrelevant if you have access to WiFi. That's pretty damned cool.

Having said all of that, there are also ways the Zune is worse than the Touch. These are hardly trivial considerations:

1. The lack of apps. Microsoft has been very slow off the line to launch apps for the Zune. If you get a Touch, you immediately have 100K apps to try out. The Zune has a grand total of about 20 apps (including Twitter and a few good games...). It's possible that the Zune may catch up over time (though I highly, highly doubt it) but for the foreseeable future, this is definitely something to consider. It goes without saying that lots of the Touch apps are very cool and useful.

2. Lack of accessories. If you get a Touch, you can get thousands of different cases, docks, speaker systems, extended batteries etc, etc, etc. Lots of cars interface directly with the Touch, only Ford's sync system does with Zunes. The Zune only has a very limited set of accessories in comparison. Go to Best Buy and look at the ecosystem you're buying into with the Touch, it's absolutely comprehensive.

3. You probably already have iTunes and an iPod. Transitioning to a Zune from an iPod is seriously annoying: anything .aac needs to be transcoded, you lose lots of content in the deal (TV shows, DRMed music etc), you have to learn a new interface, etc. This is a pain in the ass if you're already deep into the Apple ecosystem... which was, of course, Apple's plan all along. Buying a Touch is obviously seamless.

Long story short, the Zune is undoubtedly a better media player than the Touch. Also, the Zune/Zune Pass combo makes the Touch seem like it's behind the times when it comes to content availability and management (I haven't mentioned the Zune/XBox 360 integration possibilities...). However, these strengths come with some big trade-offs. If the Zune Pass, gorgeous interface and potential for future expansion of the Zune HD don't particularly interest you and you want to do stuff like use apps, read books or watch Youtube on your media player, the Touch is probably the way to go.

Last edited by Hiro11; 01-03-10 at 06:14 PM.
Old 01-03-10, 12:18 PM
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Re: Zune HD review

Nice, well written review. I played with the Zune HD in the Microsoft Store a few weeks ago and was really impressed with the UI and the screen.
Old 01-04-10, 10:03 AM
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Re: Zune HD review

You can add this to the "ways the Zune is worse than the Touch":
The Zune HD is a dead-end product (particularly if WinMo7 is successful in meeting expectations)

The Zune HD is also lacking in little features like sleep timer, alarm. The Zune software is a resource hog that hasn't had a significant update to non-Marketplace features in nearly 2 years. There are still outstanding bugs that have been around since the release of the 2.x software a little over 2 years ago.
Old 01-04-10, 11:03 AM
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Re: Zune HD review

I haven't found the Zune software to be a significant resource hog on my machine, but I don't have iTunes anymore to compare usage.

As for significant update, has iTunes added anything major recently either? The Zune has really only added the Quickplay page, as well as the Smart DJ, but I find the Smart DJ feature pretty useful.
Old 01-04-10, 11:30 AM
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Re: Zune HD review

Originally Posted by fumanstan View Post
I haven't found the Zune software to be a significant resource hog on my machine, but I don't have iTunes anymore to compare usage.

As for significant update, has iTunes added anything major recently either? The Zune has really only added the Quickplay page, as well as the Smart DJ, but I find the Smart DJ feature pretty useful.
Why is it that whenever a criticism is leveled at the Zune HD that someone brings up the issue of iTunes and iPods in response?

SmartDJ requires that the Zune software be allowed to modify the ID3 metadata tag information of tracks. That is not necessarily a bad thing until one of the long-standing unresolved bugs rears its ugly head. Another annoyance is that SmartDJ is NOT available for all tracks. The Zune software doesn't analyze the audio of the tracks but references the artist/track/album against their database. As a result I see this message box a lot.....




Comparing Zune's SmartDJ with iTunes' Genius and Sony's SensMe, SmartDJ is the weakest of the 3... SensMe is the best in selecting music that is "compatible".
Old 01-04-10, 11:35 AM
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Re: Zune HD review

Originally Posted by sracer View Post
Why is it that whenever a criticism is leveled at the Zune HD that someone brings up the issue of iTunes and iPods in response?
Probably because you brought it up as a weakness compared to an iTouch.
Old 01-04-10, 11:41 AM
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Re: Zune HD review

Originally Posted by sracer View Post
Why is it that whenever a criticism is leveled at the Zune HD that someone brings up the issue of iTunes and iPods in response?
Originally Posted by SonOfAStu View Post
Probably because you brought it up as a weakness compared to an iTouch.
Exactly. That was specifically the comparison we were talking about, or do you forget writing -

You can add this to the "ways the Zune is worse than the Touch"
Old 01-04-10, 01:07 PM
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Re: Zune HD review

Since the unreal 3d engine was just ported to the iPhone 3gs and the latest touch, I'd say it has enough graphical power. The latest iPhones and touches have their own discrete gpu.

Zune is nice but it looks like Microsoft doesn't want to support it and it's a waste of nice hardware. There is better ms exchange support on 50 million apple devices than microsoft's own products.
Old 01-04-10, 01:17 PM
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Re: Zune HD review

Originally Posted by fumanstan View Post
Exactly. That was specifically the comparison we were talking about, or do you forget writing -
No I didn't forget. But the only comment about that comparison had to do with the Zune HD being a dead end product.

The other deficiencies I listed were in a separate paragraph because it was a separate thought. Those criticisms stood on their own and were NOT being compared to the iPod. But I can understand how you concluded that it was all being compared.

I apologize for the confusion.
Old 01-04-10, 01:56 PM
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Re: Zune HD review

Originally Posted by sracer View Post
No I didn't forget. But the only comment about that comparison had to do with the Zune HD being a dead end product.

The other deficiencies I listed were in a separate paragraph because it was a separate thought. Those criticisms stood on their own and were NOT being compared to the iPod. But I can understand how you concluded that it was all being compared.

I apologize for the confusion.
Gotcha
Old 01-08-10, 09:29 AM
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Re: Zune HD review

Originally Posted by sracer View Post
You can add this to the "ways the Zune is worse than the Touch":
The Zune HD is a dead-end product (particularly if WinMo7 is successful in meeting expectations)
Possibly true, but since the Zune HD just came out in September, surely it's a little premature to simply call it DOA.

The Zune software is a resource hog that hasn't had a significant update to non-Marketplace features in nearly 2 years.
Not sure that's true. The Quickplay screen is pretty much the default way I use the program, so that seems like a pretty major change. Also, the SmartDJ functionality is probably my favorite thing about the program (especially if you have a ZunePass). Those seem like fairly major enhancements. Lastly, it's a little disingenuous to minimize the impact of the enhancements to the Marketplace. As I said, IMO the ZunePass is the single primary reason to consider buying a Zune.

There are still outstanding bugs that have been around since the release of the 2.x software a little over 2 years ago.
I've never had a problem. I run the software on three computers: one with XP, one with Vista and one with 64 bit Windows 7.
Old 01-08-10, 09:33 AM
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Re: Zune HD review

Originally Posted by sracer View Post
SmartDJ requires that the Zune software be allowed to modify the ID3 metadata tag information of tracks. That is not necessarily a bad thing until one of the long-standing unresolved bugs rears its ugly head. Another annoyance is that SmartDJ is NOT available for all tracks. The Zune software doesn't analyze the audio of the tracks but references the artist/track/album against their database. As a result I see this message box a lot.....




Comparing Zune's SmartDJ with iTunes' Genius and Sony's SensMe, SmartDJ is the weakest of the 3... SensMe is the best in selecting music that is "compatible".
Never had any of those issues and I listen to some pretty obscure stuff. Again, SmartDJ is particularly effective if you have a ZunePass. It makes comparing the feature to Genius or SensMe a bit apples-and-oranges.
Old 01-24-10, 09:38 PM
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Re: Zune HD review

Great review Hiro!

Question to anyone who has input, should I replace my First Gen Zune 30 for a Zune HD.

Lately my Zune 30 has been acting up. It will freeze during playback, skip during playback, have issues Syncing with the software amongst many other things. Is that a sign it's on it's last legs?
Old 01-28-10, 06:10 AM
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Re: Zune HD review

Just bought a 16GB Zune HD today.

Interface is gorgeous.
Old 01-28-10, 09:14 AM
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Re: Zune HD review

Zune HD is very nice but the Ipod touch has incredible developer support which the Zune will never have. I was looking at the Zune HD but it does not have the app store which is an incredible thing to overcome.
Old 01-28-10, 09:14 AM
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Re: Zune HD review

Originally Posted by asianxcore View Post
Just bought a 16GB Zune HD today.

Interface is gorgeous.
Congrats. The UI is indeed nice. Make sure to get to know and use the QuickPlay screen. It is one of the best features of the device.
Old 01-28-10, 06:43 PM
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Re: Zune HD review

Originally Posted by sracer View Post
Congrats. The UI is indeed nice. Make sure to get to know and use the QuickPlay screen. It is one of the best features of the device.
I have the day off, so I will definitely be messing around with all the Zune HD's functions

I've been using the Quickplay/Smart DJ option in the Zune Software and I love it.

Originally Posted by RM811 View Post
Zune HD is very nice but the Ipod touch has incredible developer support which the Zune will never have. I was looking at the Zune HD but it does not have the app store which is an incredible thing to overcome.
I knew this when I bought it

I honestly just wanted a nice player that played music/movies and I couldn't pass up $200/16GB Zune HD.

For me personally, the only two PMP's/MP3 Players I have ever owned were the original Dell DJ and my Zune 1st Gen 30GB for about 5 years before the HD died on me. In that 10+ year span I never once thought about Apps. If I didn't care about them before they existed on PMP's and while they existed on PMP's, why would my mind change now.

I was in the Apple Store yesterday because I was still unsure what player I wanted. I really liked all the stuff the iPod Touch could do, but for me personally it was more than I really wanted from a player. I knew I wouldn't use all the Apps or the Browser.

The guy helping me at Best Buy said it right (he had an iPhone)..."If you don't care about Apps why would you want to get a iPod Touch?"
Old 01-28-10, 07:31 PM
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Re: Zune HD review

After the itampon debacle yesterday I'm actually looking forward to windows mobile 7
Old 01-28-10, 08:46 PM
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Re: Zune HD review

Originally Posted by asianxcore View Post
I have the day off, so I will definitely be messing around with all the Zune HD's functions

I've been using the Quickplay/Smart DJ option in the Zune Software and I love it.



I knew this when I bought it

I honestly just wanted a nice player that played music/movies and I couldn't pass up $200/16GB Zune HD.

For me personally, the only two PMP's/MP3 Players I have ever owned were the original Dell DJ and my Zune 1st Gen 30GB for about 5 years before the HD died on me. In that 10+ year span I never once thought about Apps. If I didn't care about them before they existed on PMP's and while they existed on PMP's, why would my mind change now.

I was in the Apple Store yesterday because I was still unsure what player I wanted. I really liked all the stuff the iPod Touch could do, but for me personally it was more than I really wanted from a player. I knew I wouldn't use all the Apps or the Browser.

The guy helping me at Best Buy said it right (he had an iPhone)..."If you don't care about Apps why would you want to get a iPod Touch?"
I think that is about right. But if you don't care at all about apps, why get a player with a touch screen interface? BTW - I really liked my 30 GB zune (except for the fact that it would restart with the smallest of static shocks).
Old 01-28-10, 10:32 PM
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Re: Zune HD review

Originally Posted by orangecrush View Post
I think that is about right. But if you don't care at all about apps, why get a player with a touch screen interface?
Because that allows the UI to be dynamic and modifiable based on the context. With hard buttons, you are limited to a fixed number of buttons and their layout.

Having said that, there are no media players out there that truly exploit a touch screen interface.
Old 01-29-10, 05:40 AM
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Re: Zune HD review

Originally Posted by orangecrush View Post
I think that is about right. But if you don't care at all about apps, why get a player with a touch screen interface? BTW - I really liked my 30 GB zune (except for the fact that it would restart with the smallest of static shocks).
Pretty much all my friends have iPhones or iPod Touches, so I've messed around with them a bunch. I really liked the feel of a touch screen, being able to fly through menus and large Music Collections. It just felt more interactive, if that sounds really lame at all.

I loved my 1st 30GB Zune as well. I got it for $100 and I felt like I got a great deal. It was a sad day when the HD crapped out early last week during one my shifts at work.

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