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.