REVIEW After watching Apple and its ubiquitous iPod dominate the digital music industry largely from the sidelines, Microsoft has decide to tackle the market leader head on with the introduction of the Zune. And the Zune player takes a lot of cues from the iPod.
Microsoft learned the hard way that the top-down symbiotic relationship between the iTunes and iPod and its benefits are what made Apple so successful. Additionally, it understood the simplicity of the device itself and its user interface were of critical importance.
Thus, a lot of the Zune is -- for lack of a better word -- copied from Apple. However, the player's few differences are where Microsoft hopes to draw in the consumer. Microsoft wants to make digital music a social experience, and these features set it apart from the crowd.
But the question remains: Is the social aspect of the Zune enough to make it a viable alternative, or is this just yet another false alarm in a string of supposed "iPod killers" that barely left a scratch on the face of the seemingly unbeatable device?
At first look, Zune looks much like the iPod, although with a larger screen and smaller scroll wheel. The problem is the "directional pad" as Microsoft likes to call it doesn't scroll at all. Instead its used more like the navigation on an old Nintendo controller.
Even though the user interface on the Zune is probably one of the best available, and better than the iPod in my opinion, it is crippled by this shortcoming. I found the directional pad not very user intuitive, initially requiring guesses as how to get the device to do what I want.
A scroll wheel here or some equal function would have really set this apart. Instead, an archaic method of navigation cheapens a beautiful UI, and that's a shame.
Other decisions, such as the blocky look of the device and its weight -- about the same as a second-generation iPod, made in 2002 -- left me thinking that while the software itself may have been carefully thought out, the hardware seemed to be rushed in an effort to get the Zune to market. A questionable decision to say the least.
The Zune features a much larger screen than the iPod, three inches versus 2.5 inches, although both share a common resolution at 320x240. Microsoft's marketers claim the Zune's screen is better, but I could not see any appreciable difference that wasn't more a function of video encoding than display quality. Regardless, the bigger screen still made videos easier to watch - especially longer ones.
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Zune Has Too Many Issues to Compete