updated 11:15 am EST, Wed November 14, 2007
WSJ on new Zunes
Microsoft's new Zune line is good but meant more to compete against the last generation of iPods than the new models, according to a new review by Wall Street Journal technology columnist Walt Mossberg. While the new flash- and hard drive-based players are definite improvements over the original version released a year ago and work well, the devices are said to only truly excel when compared to Apple's 2006-era 5th-generation iPod and second-generation iPod nano. For every feature absent from comparably priced iPods, Apple has another of its own: the Zune's FM radio and larger screen (for the 80GB model) are countered by interface touches such as smart playlists, much better battery life, and a better-quality screen, Mossberg claims.
The edge in software goes to Apple again despite clear improvements, as the Zune's improved jukebox is criticized for focusing too strongly on whole albums and the absence of an interface such as Cover Flow. Those shopping the Zune Marketplace have less songs to choose from, cannot buy any audiobooks or videos, and lack a bookmarking feature that lets them return to their place in a store search if they switch back to the main collection view.
"Unfortunately for Microsoft, Apple hasn't been standing still," he says of the combined Zune player and software effort.
Mossberg also points out that the iPod touch steals some of the thunder from the Zune's previously clear advantages. While priced higher than the Zune 80 with a tenth of the storage, the touch is both stronger for video playback and makes far better use of its Wi-Fi. Purchasing from the iTunes Store, web browsing, and YouTube streaming are more interesting than limited song sharing or a slow Wi-Fi sync, the Journal writer observes. There also exists no option for a 160GB music player such as Apple's top iPod classic.
The review nonetheless notes that the gap between the operating system and now music player rivals has narrowed, as the touch-sensitive Zune pad improves scrolling through large lists and artists receive more lavish overall treatment on than in Apple's online catalog.