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Zune HD: a closer look at the UI and 4.0 software

updated 05:35 am EDT, Tue September 15, 2009

Zune HD and 4.0 software

Now that Microsoft has finally made available the Zune 4.0 update, users can finally unlock the Zune HD and use its full feature set. We've already taken a quick tour of the player to give readers, especially those most familiar with the iPhone or iPod touch, an impression of what the interface is like. Read on for more details and photos.

An odd element of the Zune HD is that Microsoft ships the player in a largely non-functional state: not only do you need to sync with the Zune software to expose features, you need to download a Zune HD firmware update just to start using it. Apple touchscreen device owners will know the need to sync, but it's odd that a download is required just to start.

Once in, it's evident that, for all of Microsoft's claims of new features, the Zune 4.0 update isn't a major overhaul. The organization and layout is the same, and it's mostly bolt-on features that are different; that's not necessarily a bad thing, as media playback there is simple. Quickplay we can see being useful for those who return to content on a regular basis or who purchase content from the Zune Marketplace and want to play it right away. We think more people are likely to enjoy Smart DJ. It may be mostly cloned from Apple's Genius feature in iTunes, but having a hands-off stream of related music is appreciated, especially as the Zune Pass gives it access to a much larger selection of music than what you already own.

We'd add that Microsoft's device sync page is also now slightly more Apple-like with a bar representing the proportion of different types of content on the player, though as before it's a bit more advanced than what iTunes shows: it can tell you what's been newly added or give an impression of the overall progress.

The Zune HD's own interface is intuitive, if a definite break from what Apple does. It's more album-focused (the default view in genres shows albums, for example) but it's quick. The oddest break is having to tap to bring up the play, skip and volume controls; the favorite, repeat and shuffle commands are always available. In return, though, you get much more information about the current track visible at once.

Quickplay works more effectively on the portable media player than it does on the PC. It's most useful for getting back to what you've been playing (it will even show the current radio station), but it can also be handy for Marketplace downloads or the new album you synced from your computer. No preferential treatment is given to media formats, so you'll see photos and videos show alongside music.

Video playback is still definitely the highlight of this player. Now that we have our choice of content, we can again say with confidence that OLED was the right pick from a movie standpoint. The Zune HD's display is bright, vivid and doesn't show ghosting, so it's easier on the eyes, at least in moderate lighting conditions. Photos obviously receive the same benefit, although we'd note that unlike the non-touch Zunes, you don't see your custom background anywhere but on the lock screen.

If there's a disappointment so far, it's web browsing. The interface is generally intuitive: the on-screen keyboard is almost as good as Apple's (there's no auto-correction), bookmarking is easy, and it supports multi-touch gestures like pinch-to-zoom and flick scrolling. However, the use of Internet Explorer 6 as the basis is painfully obvious. The Zune just doesn't render as quickly or accurately as Safari on an iPod, and the double-tap zoom function is usually off. On Electronista, for example, it doesn't completely zoom into the news column, so you always need to pinch in to get readable text. There are also some instances of stuttering.

That said, the browser is infinitely better than that on the Sony Walkman X1000 and is very much usable, particularly for mobile-optimized sites like We'd also note that the accelerometer (tilt sensor) on the Zune is much more responsive than even that on the iPhone 3GS. Rotating the web view is nearly instant, and it also recognizes tilting to either side -- not just one, as with Apple.

So far, we're generally pleased, but we'll be testing the player more thoroughly over the next few days to provide a more final verdict.

by MacNN Staff



  1. jarod

    Joined: Dec 1969


    In other words....

    It's still the same POS that the original was. Here is a real article depicting the lies associated with that trash:

    I pity the fools that waste their money on this garbage.

  1. brainworks

    Joined: Dec 1969


    iPhone Safari rotates both directions, too

    I'm reading this on my iPhone 3G. Auto-rotate does go both directions, I just double-checked.

    I do wish it was more responsive. The accelerometer seems to miss some rotations altogether

  1. joecab

    Joined: Dec 1969



    Go read the AppleInsider article, then notice that all of these photos were taken in a darkened place.

  1. luckyday

    Joined: Dec 1969



    Just read the AppleInsider article. What a bitter, angry, posting. Any legitimate author should realize that if you are going to write an article like that, you need to back it up with citations. Much of what was written is simply untrue. It also denies the fact that OLED is the future of both televisions and handheld devices and that shortly Apple will also be using an OLED for its ipods.

    Grow up kids. The Zune HD has been held, played with, demoed by many people in light places (i.e. bestbuy doesn't get much brighter) and nobody has ever complained before. As far as I can tell, Apple Insider is the only publication to bring up any of those concerns.

  1. balanced

    Joined: Dec 1969



    Now try to use the player outside. Also note that when displaying white on a OLED screen, that it uses 300% more energy then an LCD display. So good luck with battery life. ;-)

  1. slapppy

    Joined: Dec 1969



    Let's see it in daylight and bright rooms.

  1. nat

    Joined: Dec 1969


    oh luck

    bitter and angry? well, that's one read on it, that's for certain.

    "It also denies the fact that OLED is the future of both televisions and handheld devices..."
    fact? a bit early for declaring this a fact don't ya think? many technologies have been "the future".

    demoed and played with? this is the definitive review then? "i played with it in best buy and it looked ok to me." that's it?

    because that's as far as you can tell we should all grow up?

    tsk tsk.

  1. Tofino

    Joined: Dec 1969


    comment title

    just like yesterday's post by 'electronista staff' this reads more like a regurgitated ms press release than a review...

    my favourite quotes:

    'almost as good as apple's' and 'mostly a clone of..'

  1. shawnde

    Joined: Dec 1969


    re: Comment Title

    Actually, since the past year, I've noticed that MacNN has been gradually cozying up to the "PC" and Pro-Microsoft hardware vendors.

    I don't know if anyone here remembers the old print publication MacWeek (eventually bought by MacWorld); I was a regular subscriber. They were a really good paper, but in the mid to late 90's, in Apple's dark days, they started advertising and printing DELL and Intergraph press releases to a very large extent, that it was almost silly to call it MacWeek. They used to cover more news on DELL, Intergraph and Windows NT, than Mac stuff. They were eventually put out like a lame horse (by MacWorld).

    I see the same fate here for MacNN. Have you all noticed all these Dell Inspiron, and Dell Adamo reviews? And lots of news and reviews of HP hardware? And of course the Zune?

    I think MacNN (and Electronista) are on the payroll, just like MacWeek was. They get decent coin to publish this drivel, in the name of objectivity and "fair reporting". Of course it's all bull. Readers here should just ignore those articles. Don't read them, don't comment on them; nothing. Let them know that you're not interested in that stuff. Then it will go away. Or maybe MacNN will go away. Either case, good riddance.

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