I like the new Zune, definitely a worthy iPod competitor
I purchased the new Microsoft Zune the day after the device was available, and I am impressed. The half inch larger screen makes a noticeable difference in the display of photos, videos, and album art. The quality of the screen is top notch as well. Although the Zune uses a circular control pad for navigation, it is not a Click Wheel like the iPod. You do not spin the wheel, you navigate by selecting/holding the top, bottom, left, or right section of the wheel. The top and bottom of the wheel are used to adjust volume or scroll up/down a list; the left and right of the wheel are used for forward/reverse navigation and fast forward/rewind. The center of the control pad is the OK button. There are two additional buttons, one for back, and the other for play/pause. When scrolling through a large list of songs, the first letter of the song name is displayed in an easy to read large white font. At the risk of being labeled a heretic by the iPod faithful, the Zune interface is very intuitive. After 5 minutes with the Zune, I liked the navigation of the Zune better than the iPod. I have never been that impressed with the Click Wheel as a navigation tool, too much finger movement required. The main screen of the Zune is aesthetically pleasing to view, a nice change from the stark black on white screen of the iPod with Video.
The installation of the Zune Desktop software was uneventful. You have probably seen other articles detailing a horror show installation, but for me, it went very well. You can select as many folders as you like to sync with the Zune. The folders can be anywhere on your PC. If compatible with the Zune, the photos, videos, or music in the selected folders will be synced to the Zune when you connect the device. MP3's will be synced without any conversion. Photos are reduced to 640 x 480 by the desktop before syncing to the Zune, and videos are converted to 320 x 240 WMV format by the desktop before syncing to the Zune. The good news is that the conversion is automatic by the desktop software, and requires no intervention by the user. I would like to see the Zune support more native formats that do not require conversion before being synced to the Zune. I have already shared that feedback with Microsoft. Currently, the Zune does not support Audible content; hopefully that will change in the near future. I did purchase several songs from the Zune store, and everything worked fine. The sound quality of the purchased music was excellent. The new Zune store does not have the extensive selection of the more established stores, but it has only been in operation for less than a week. I am confident the number, and type of selections will increase.
The Zune is a bit heavier, and larger than the iPod with Video; however, it feels nice in the hand. The back is not slippery like the iPod so it should not fall out of your hand as easily. Also, the Zune seems to be much better at resisting scratches than the iPods. My iPod with Video had many scratches within a few days of purchasing it despite careful handling. No scratches yet with the Zune, a welcome change.
I have not tried the WiFi "squirting" feature yet, but it could be a nice way to share music, and photos. The quality of the display, and the extra half inch make the Zune a nice device for displaying photos.
The FM radio is impressive. I get good reception in my house which is usually not the case with portable devices. If the FM station is broadcasting program information, it is displayed on the Zune. I would like to see the addition of the AM band since we like to listen to sports radio in Boston.
I am not declaring the Zune an iPod killer, but it is definitely a worthy competitor which already has some feature advantages over its competitors. If Microsoft markets the device well, and listens to the feedback from the early adopters, the Zune could be a very successful competitor in the hard drive based portable media market.