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Zune 4GB: first impressions versus iPod

updated 01:05 pm EST, Thu November 15, 2007

Zune 4GB First Impressions

Electronista is preparing to compare the new Zune against the iPod and has just received a new 4GB model for testing. While a full review is stil some time away, we already have initial impressions of the device and its accompanying software, as well as how they compare to their most obvious rivals from Apple. Read ahead for this first take as well as an image gallery.

Microsoft has managed to streamline the initial setup experience for the Zune significantly. The multi-layered packaging draws more than a few elements from the boxes for Apple's iPods -- including the simply labeled compartments for the USB cable and earbuds -- but this is arguably a useful addition that is frequently absent from most non-Apple players. Setting up the device is equally easy, though it should be noted the device is 'locked' until attached to a PC running the Zune software, even though several songs and videos are already preloaded. The iPod touch also requires an iTunes connection, however.

Anyone who has ever held a first- or second-generation iPod nano will certainly recognize the design -- albeit with a few twists. While many have criticized the original Zune (and to some extent, the Zune 80GB) for its bulkiness, the 4GB and 8GB models are narrow and thin. No one would complain about their sizes compared to the iPod nano, especially not when the Zune also includes a larger screen than the first two Apple models (at 1.8 inches versus 1.5). A few, however, might wonder whether the bottom-mounted headphone jack is necessary or just an attempt to draw on familiarity with a certain challenger.

So far, the attention-getting Zune Pad controller has also proven to work well; in a sense, Microsoft has managed to borrow the best elements of the iPod's click wheel without sacrificing the ability to tap or click (you can do both) to navigate items one-by-one. The interface still isn't quite as elegant as for the iPod, and we can see some users getting tired of having to reach for either of the side buttons, but it comes as a revelation compared to the confusing interfaces of most Creative ZEN jukeboxes.

Software will require more extensive testing, but if nothing else the Zune software is attractive and easy to read; this may be a partial step up from iTunes, which is certainly functional but at times plain. Having said as much, the program is less flexible than iTunes. Smart playlists are not possible, for example, and the music browser does not allow narrowing the list to a particular genre. The Marketplace is not as feature-rich (videos are absent, as an example) but is certainly easier to read and more devoted to artists. A cursory check shows that at least some groups have large biographies, photo collections, and sometimes rare titles: Underworld, for example, has a few rare online-only albums that are absent from iTunes.

We look forward to providing a full review in the next few days; while it will be unlikely to sway Mac users, the new Zune already shows hints that it may be worthwhile for those still attached to Windows.

by MacNN Staff




  1. Maneki Neko

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Seems reasonable to me

    I picked up a 30 gig Zune on the cheap from W00t a little while ago just to see how the "other side" lived. I went ahead and upgraded the firmware, and overall, I really like the new firmware, even on the old devices.

    The client software, while in some ways better than the old software, still has a ways to go. Smart playlists (which you mentioned), lack of MP3 encoding options and weird album art options are my big annoyances right now.

  1. nat

    Joined: Dec 1969



    Exactly what part of "still has a ways to go... lack of mp3.. weird album art options..." seems reasonable? For the price? For a 2g product? For Microsoft?

    That really sounds like a Windows user's response, they put up with all kinds of c*** with a never ending "hey, it's ok for me!" attitude.

  1. psdenno

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Welcome to......

    ....the "For A Fat Girl, You Don't Sweat Much" School of Compliments.

  1. Maneki Neko

    Joined: Dec 1969


    The article = reasonable

    I was saying the article is reasonable, as opposed to the crazy IT'S MICROSOFT, IT MUST SUCK attitude that's out there on most sites. The hardware is decent, the new firwmware is nice, the client software needs some additional features added.

    All the stuff the article and I mentioned can easily be fixed.

  1. dliup

    Joined: Dec 1969



    Look at the two buttons.

    One is a back button. The other button has both foward? and pause on it.

    Nice usability design... For a donkey with ADD.

  1. Mr. Strat

    Joined: Dec 1969


    I saw some

    Yesterday, I saw some of the new Zunes at the same place I saw their previous models - in a locked case at Wally World. Still waiting to see one in the wild.

  1. ZinkDifferent

    Joined: Dec 1969



    ..."me too" designs taken to new heights.

    The usual, I guess.

  1. Feynman

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Video Playback?

    How does video look on the screen? Does not look like it's proportion at all.

  1. slider

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Seems Familiar

    The packaging seems so familiar, but I just can't seem to place it......... Yeah, I just don't know, anyone, or am I just seeing things?

    I guess if you can't beat them, join them, or join them to beat them, whatever, go Zima!

  1. lamewing

    Joined: Dec 1969


    the packaging and stuff

    Well, MS has copied the Apple experience for packaging...this is true. BUT, they actually went back in time with the Zune 1 and 2 and used an older version of the Apple packaging experience. Currently, Apple has removed so much of the cool packaging from the iPods that the packaging is nothing special in any way.

    It is nice to complaint about the competitor's device when yours has the lead, but Apple has really fallen when it comes to the iPod last iteration:

    1. The nano is nice and small, but too wide and it has had build-quality issues with the screen being off-center. Not that ergonomic a design. The 2nd generation felt more natural to use. Hence, I like the current Sony and Zune designs better.

    2. The classic is built like a tank. Nice aluminum the front.. but still a scratchable chrome/steel back. WHY? a solid black unit would have been great and pretty much scratch resistant. The UI is simple too much for this HD-based DAP to handle well. The freezes and slow-down when browsing (not to mention the coverflow option) is really a let down.

    3. The touch looks wonderful and is easy to use, but suffers from (I tried THREE of them from different batches/weeks/stores/capacities) and ALL of the had terrible white noise/HISS. Unacceptable on a flagship product. I wouldn't buy one even if it did not have the HISS because Apple is playing the same game with the touch, that Sony played with the PSP; updating the firmware each time to block hackers from adding extra features to the device. There is no reason that the touch cannot have the same programs as the iPhone, except for Apple's desire to keep the products on a separate tier. Sorry, I have no need for a gianormus cell phone.

    IF Apple would produce a Newton-like product with no restrictions, I would grab one in a heartbeat, but none of the current iPods have "wowed" me in any way.

    Will I get a Zune, nope. Why? I like the hardware (heck I owned a version 1 Zune, but sold it due to lack of Japanese support in the song names), and the new Zune software is much improved over 1.4, BUT the new firmware still does NOT display East Asian characters such as kana, kanji, hangul and chinese characters. If MS has added that feature (4 simple font files) I would have bought one on the spot. As it is, I might have to go with the new Sony's or Cowon's until both MS and Apple stop playing corporate games.


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