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Zune HD unboxing and early hands-on

updated 03:00 am EDT, Tue September 15, 2009

Zune HD's first look

Microsoft's long-anticipated venture into touchscreen players has just arrived in the form of the Zune HD, and we've already had an opportunity to unbox the player and give it an early look ahead of our full review. What might impress iPod owners first -- and the most -- is the sheer quality of the display. This is one of the few players to get to Apple's level in quality, responsiveness and the interface. The OLED display is extremely vibrant and high contrast, more so even than Apple's better iPhone or iPod touch displays; unlike an LCD, the Zune's OLED doesn't need a backlight and so black really is black. Colors pop out, and there's no ghosting or other slight visual artifacts you get from most mobile displays. We could easily see ourselves watching at least TV-length videos on the Zune HD during a commute just because of the pleasing picture.

Almost as important is that Microsoft has latched on to what has made the iPod touch work so well. It's a capacitive display, so it responds to the electricity in your fingers and is therefore sensitive to very precise, subtle input; this isn't a resistive screen of the kind Windows Mobile phones are saddled with, where deliberate pressure and questionable accuracy are the order of the day. Moreover, all the gestures are natural, if slightly imitative. Menus have a "bounce" when you reach the end, and it's possible to flick through items quickly or make pinch gestures to zoom in and out of photos or websites.

On that note, the navigation menus themselves are surprisingly intuitive. The highly stylized text menus from earlier Zunes are still intact, but here the words themselves are always interface elements: you can go up to the previous menu by tapping the word for that menu (usually above you), for example. Media playback is natural, if slightly opposite that of what Apple does. You have to tap on the now playing screen to bring up the full play/skip controls instead of using the same function only to bring up extras, as on an iPod. Transitions are all rendered in a quick but attractive 3D that both adds a sense of style and reminds you of what the Tegra processor inside can do: it's a genuinely modern 3D processor and can also decode 720p HD (with a dock).

The design itself may also come as a surprise to some who are used to the brick-like shapes of older Zunes. It's not only thin but tapered and generally sleek. Microsoft's design also exudes quality and a certain amount of attention to detail without being derivative. The back is (as far as we can tell) brushed aluminum, so it won't scratch the way an iPod's stainless steel might, and the home button on the front is wide, making it fairly easy to hit one-handed.

It's not perfect: the Zune HD is actually almost too light (though not flimsy), and the power/hold button feels slightly cheap with a hollow "click" when it's pressed.

For now, though, the Zune HD is one of the few players outside of Apple that might win someone over through a semblance of quality that isn't relying on obviously flashy elements like chrome trim or home screen widgets to distract you. We'll be sure to explore media playback, the web, apps and the Zune 4.0 software in greater depth and deliver our ultimate verdict in the near future. Our gallery of unboxing shots is available below.

by MacNN Staff



  1. Tofino

    Joined: Dec 1969



    does in squirt?

  1. Telekinesis

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Canada shafted.

    They're not releasing it in Canada >.<

  1. 010111

    Joined: Dec 1969



    looks like it still has the "e" in "Marketplace" cut off. is that on the device itself or just on the box?

    either is sloppy... but the latter is plain ridiculous.

  1. LEStudios

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Snowball in a h*** Chance!

    Microsoft wasted money on this they need to focus on Windows 7, Xbox 360 RROD and E-74. Microsoft got 1.1% of the MP3 Market Sandisk got more market-share than Microsoft. They actually need to support the iPhone & iPod Touch and put a Microsoft Office app. That will will definitely rally their stocks. Ballmer is a idiot.

  1. G4_Kessel

    Joined: Dec 1969



    LOVE the screws on the back!!!

    Comment buried. Show
  1. toohightocomply

    Joined: Dec 1969



    You wanna talk about marketshare? If Apple was so great they'd have more than 15% of the PC market. Funny thing about it is I can make a PC do anything a Mac can, just not have as "cute" of an interface and have 10 times the options to choose from, and pay 30% less. Ever run OS X on an AMD? Didn't think so. Apple just took Unix and put a fruit logo on it. The first Apple I cost $666.66. Steve Jobs gave less than $1000 to charity last year, but when he needed that organ replaced it didn't take long now did it? Steve Jobs himself admitted he wants everyone to buy a new iPhone/iPod/iMac every year, good luck getting insurance on it! The only reason people purchased Apple back in the day was you only had 2-3 turn key systems with ICC profile built in, and idiotic people said "Hey, it costs more so it must be better!" You gulf stream liberals make me sick with your sycophantic love affair with the mac userbase aura of smugness! btw, Welcome to 64-bit, s'bout time! Funny that Adobe released 64-bit enabled versions of Photoshop on the PC way before the Mac. I run OS X faster on a Phenom II than any Mac branded hardware.

  1. Mark Holoubek

    Joined: Dec 1969



    Must say the big disclaimer on the box about it not really having a HD screen is pretty funny. The OLED does look nice, though.

  1. testudo

    Joined: Dec 1969



    I'm always surprised at the amount of people who are interested enough in the Zune to comment about it on these boards. You'd think with everyone so mac centric around here, it would just be ignored...

  1. Monde

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Screen is interesting

    The OLED screen does look good. That won't prevent it from existing in utter obscurity. The zune brand is poison. The problem is, all the MS baggage you get with the device. They'll take a bath on this.

    Apple's modest bumps were okay, with the nano being the star. But an upgrade to the touch or classic using an OLED screen would be great.

  1. toohightocomply

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Zune HD gaming and app downloads confirmed: Twitte

    The promotional video and leaked shots already made it clear but now it's official: the Zune HD will be a gaming and application platform. In addition to a few casual games, calculator and MSN Weather apps pre-loaded onto the Zune HD, the official Microsoft press release touting the launch contains this little nugget of gaming gold:

    "Later this year, Zune plans to release free applications such as Twitter for Zune and Facebook for Zune, in addition to fun 3-D games such as "Project Gotham Racing: Ferrari Edition," "Vans Sk8: Pool Service" and "Audiosurf(TM) Tilt." Games can be added to Zune HD via Zune Marketplace over the Wi-Fi connection or when connected to the Zune PC software."

    Hear that Nintendo, Sony, and Apple? There's a new handheld gaming platform in town. All that remains to be seen is how it will integrate with the Xbox 360.

    A bit more is revealed in a Seattle Times Q&A with Brian Seitz, Microsoft's Zune marketing manager. At the moment, the strategy is to keep all the apps and games free and developed in-house or in close collaboration with third parties -- no third-party SDK for devs to freely crank out apps just yet. Seitz is clear that games will be the primary focus of the "sometimes-connected" Zune HD and the Windows Marketplace is Microsoft's priority for handheld app development:

    "So what we didn't want to do was build two parallel app store experiences that didn't work together. Right now our product roadmaps didn't line up perfectly for us to snap to what they're doing or vice versa... Down the road if there's a way we can work with Windows Mobile or another group inside the company that's building an app store and take advantage of that, that's something we'll look into."

    Man, Windows Mobile 7 and the rumored OneApp app store can't get here soon enough.

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