Join Date: Aug 2006
Colorware Zune Customization: Proceed At Your Own Risk
There are some reviews that go wrong right from the beginning, and it's a real struggle to get through them. This is one of those reviews. First, a bit of background: the people at Colorware were glad to customize my Zune for me so I could review the process and the results. Colorware has been doing custom paint jobs on hardware for years, everything from laptops to gaming consoles to iPods - and recently they started to offer their customizations for the Zune. You can either purchase a Zune from them for between $325 and $385 USD (the price varies based on the amount of customization you select), or you can send them your Zune and they'll customize it for you. If you get the entire Zune in the same colour, it costs $74 USD. If you customize each of the four parts with a different colour, it can run you up to $134. Some quick math tells us it's a better deal for you to buy a Zune for $209 [affiliate] and save yourself $48.
I was really excited about getting a customized Zune, and I'd heard great things about Colorware. Step one was to pick the colours: Colorware has a great Flash-based colour selection tool that allows you to mix and match the colours for your Zune - the problem is that they assume you have a black Zune and there's no way to change it to white, brown, pink, or red. When I was configuring my Zune, this was the design I ended up picking (notice the black buttons - I thought that meant they'd make the buttons black):
Figure 1: The preview from Colorware's online tool. I selected the "solid" rather than metallic colours.
They have a process they call X2 Coating Technology, which is described as a scratch resistant plastic coating that acts as a seal over the paint job. I was expecting a Zune that was as tough as ever but with a new look. What's not to love? When my white Zune arrived back, it looks fantastic, but the buttons were white (see below). That's when I realized that they changed everything on the Zune except for the buttons. Disappointment #1. It still looked amazing though - the colours were bright and had a glossy sheen. Photos below.
Figure 2: My white Zune is white no longer - check out the glossy sweetness.
Figure 3: Perfect from every angle!
Figure 4: A shot of what the glossy blue back looked like.
Figure 5: Colorware adds their own custom logo to the back. It's not too big, but it would have been cool to get the Zune logo put back on...that might be a copyright issue however.
After admiring the new paint job, I fired up the Zune and started to use it - and quickly realized something was wrong. Press upward on the d-pad resulted in the middle button activating - which essentially made the Zune useless because it was impossible to scroll through a list of music without the middle button activating. Disappointment #2.
I emailed Colorware, and they apologized saying that they knew exactly what the problem was and if I shipped it back they'd fix it. They gave me their FedEx account number and I shipped it off - man do I hate paperwork! About a week later I got it back and the button worked as promise. Awesome...until I flipped it over. There was a series of small scratches on the back. I was baffled because I thought this thing was supposed to be tough with that X2 coating! Disappointment #3. I emailed Colorware again and they said something must have happened when it was getting packed up for shipping - they were apologetic and polite, and said they'd fix it if I'd send it back again. More paperwork (augh!). I shipped it back, and a few days later I got the Zune back, this time without scratches. Happy day! This is when I did the photos you see above.
I put the Zune on my Ikea computer desk, face up, and went about my work day. The Zune got moved around a bit as I worked on various things. I think it was the next day when I picked it up to admire it again - and I saw more scratches on the back. Disappointment #4. At this point I was baffled - how on earth could the Colorware process turn my rugged Zune into a simpering wuss of an MP3 player? If I wanted an MP3 player that scratched when I looked at it, I would have bought one of those flimsy iPods (come on iPod owners, you know they're fragile).
I emailed Shane at ZuneVibe because I remembered him having a write up about the Colorware process. He said his was great, and after a few weeks of use it was still scratch-free. Confused, I contacted Lars Rasmussen at Colorware, their Director of Sales and Marketing, and he told me that some colours are more prone to scuffing than others. The metallic colours are more "scuff resistant" and the the solid colours such as "jet black" and "coffee" are the worst. So it seems that what I was seeing was considered normal, X2 "scratch resistant coating" notwithstanding. Disappointment #5.
The Zune was already looking shoddy, so I figured it couldn't get any worse. As an experiment, with the Zune face up on my desk, I pushed it sideways about five inches - I applied no downward pressure at all, just sideways pressure. I don't think that's an unreasonable scenario for an MP3 player to find itself in - getting shoved aside on a desk to make room for something else. I do it to my Zune all the time and it doesn't mark it up. Here's what the Colorware'd Zune looked like when I was done:
Figure 5: Makes you want to weep, doesn't it?
I think the photo speaks for itself. That scuffing is "normal" so it seems that despite how gorgeous the Colorware process makes your Zune, depending on what colours you select, you should be prepared for your Zune body to be less sturdy than before. That's a shame - it seems pointless to get a customized Zune then hide it in a heavy case, but you'd need a case to protect the fragile Colorware paint from scuffing. So then what's the point? You might have better luck than I did, but based on my experience I simply cannot recommend the Colorware process to any Zune owner. Thank goodness I still have my black Zune with it's tough finish!
Jason Dunn owns and operates Thoughts Media Inc., a company dedicated to creating the best in online communities. He enjoys mobile devices, digital media content creation/editing, and pretty much all technology. He lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada with his lovely wife, and his sometimes obedient dog. He still digs his Zune.