music is my imaginary friend

I might have a small problem.

I ran the new Zune through some tests, comparing it to my arsenal of other portable music devices. Verdict: it’s pretty dang cool.

All three devices are using the same background image. While the new Zune screen is very small, it’s also very sharp – you can really see the difference here. The old Zune’s screen isn’t as clear, and you can see the refresh rate. Compared to the iPod though, the new Zune’s screen isn’t as bright – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I watched videos on all three devices, and it looks great across the board. It really just depends on where your priorities lie:

  • Old Zune (not available in Canada): Bigger HD (30GB), but also huge by mp3 player standards
  • iPod Touch: 16GB, thin but biggish, glass screen, does many other things
  • New Zune: 8GB, very compact and light, great basic mp3 player, has a radio

What else should you consider? Well, how about software?

  • iTunes: Love it or hate it, it gets the job done
  • Zune: I have to be honest here – this is the biggest drawback for me. HOWEVER – this is only because I mastered and quite liked the original Zune software. Around the launch date of the new Zunes, they updated the software for all devices to make it more “intuitive” – except I was used to the old way which made perfect sense to me, and this new method was just weird. It would probably be great if you took the time to learn the idiosyncrasies of the colourful GUI, but it kind of just makes me cranky.

Controls are another thing to consider. The original Zune is very tactile – I believe the scientific term is “clicky”. You click a direction to make it go backwards or forwards, change the volume, stop and start. The new Zune is also clicky, but they added a scrolly interface – the large black center is a touch-sensitive surface that will allow you to quickly scroll through the items on the screen. Nice touch, as holding the down clicky was slow and prehistoric.

Some might enjoy the clicky, though. A common complaint of the iPod Touch is that you don’t get a good sense of the device response, and I’ve found from personal experience that you can quickly give yourself one hell of an earache if you’re not careful when swiping the volume controls. Clicky would be good there. Same goes for pocket use – with the Zune you can feel your way around the options, but with the Touch you’re sort of groping blindly and hoping for the best, much like those dates in the back seat of your dad’s car. Me, I don’t listen to music while on the move – something about earphones and scooters that just don’t mix – so I’m happy with looking down at my mp3 player to skip over the Journey to get to the Rapture.

Okay, okay – how do they SOUND?

This is definitely more an accessory thing than a device thing, but I tested out the three earbuds that came with Old Zune, New Zune, and iPhone because I couldn’t find my iTouch ones.

*disclaimer: I don’t use any of these; I have tiny mutant ears that will not keep earbuds in place

Old Zune earbuds were made for giants. They’re HUGE. I can’t even get them into my ear, they crashed and burned at the Dance Test (putting the buds in, playing a song, and dancing around like an idiot), and they don’t sound very good. Old Zune earbuds are an epic fail, unless you have large deep ear canals. Like, massive. Large enough for a strange sort of fetish I do not want to give much more though.

iPhone earbuds had great bass, but were again freakishly large. They’re also uncomfortable, and if all those alarmist news stories are correct, wearing them will get you jumped on your way to grandmama’s house and your device stolen because it’s obvious you’re packing iPod heat. They passed the Dance Test, but just barely – the right earbud fell out as soon as I stopped dancing.

Surprisingly, the New Zune earbuds were the clear winner. They fit my test subject (Ed) like a dream, sounded fantastic, passed the Dance Test with flying colours, and come with interchangeable coloured foamie things for extra comfort and fashion appeal. A little less bassy than the iPhone buds, but that can be changed with the settings and isn’t necessarily a bad thing unless you’re listening to something with a lot of bombin’ bass.

How about price? According to Future Shop’s website, an 8GB Zune will cost you $189.99 ($139.99 for the 4GB), whereas the 8GB iPod Touch is a cool $278.99. That’s a little steep if you want a device that just plays music and does it well, so the Zune is the clear winner there.

Oh, I almost forgot: compatibility. The iPod runs on both Windows and Mac, but the Zune does NOT work with anything but a Windows PC. It might work on a Bootcamp’d Mac – I’m not sure – but right out the box you’ll run into issues. One might say that a Mac owner probably wouldn’t own a Zune, but I know of several – myself included – so it’s an issue. I’m lucky in that I have too many goddamn computers and can just use a Windows machine for my Zune setup, but others may not be as obsessive as I am and could have trouble.

This is a great many words, so I will stop soon. The new Zune is a pretty nifty device if you’re looking for something without a thousand bells and whistles, and does have an FM radio which most mp3 players do not. Price wise it’s much more affordable than the iPod Touch, and size wise it just can’t compare – the new Zune is friggin’ TINY.

Final point:

The New Zune comes with a spot for a Danglie! Clearly, it is the overall winner. Take a hint, Apple – I may be a shameless gadget tech whore, but I love having stupid things dangling from my phone!

11 thoughts on “music is my imaginary friend

  1. Hey, you should totally submit this to CNET or something. You’re, like, a PRO REVIEWER. Duuuude.

    But nothing will make me give up my Touch. I am but a simple girl. Although it could use a faster processor.

  2. I do understand the despair of the ‘clicky’ feel that a Phone/Touch lacks. I use my iPod when on two wheels and would find the lack of a scroll wheel pretty limiting I think. However, the iPhone/Touch is so far beyond being an mp3 player, I don’t really know if they even compare.

    You might have had different results if the iPod nano was thrown into the mix.

    I am surprised to hear that the Zune does not work with Mac at all. Not at all? Welcome to 2008.75, Microsoft. Get with it.

    Lastly, do people still listen to FM radio, other than the CBC? Also surprising. Can’t you just download the same commercials as a podcast?

  3. I agree Matt – the Zune is much closer to the iPod Nano, but I don’t have one and I was basing my review on devices I own and have used. :) They appear to be the same price, so it pretty much comes down to esthetics and your computer of choice.

    There are reports of people getting the Zune to work on a Mac, but it’s all from leet haxor forums – nothing official :)

  4. Hmm, I do not really see any need for a Zune when my Sony Ericsson plays MP3s and has a USB connection that allows drag and drop.

    Plus. Microsoft. Are you serious? When the Microsoft Zune came out, the headline was that it was not compatible with Microsoft’s own “Plays For Sure” system. That prior lack of vision does not interest me, nor does the possible lack of vision for the future.

    But hey, it’s your time.

  5. “The Zune is also Certified for Windows Vista, but it is important to note that former “Plays for Sure” music purchased from the MSN Music Store does not play on a Zune (even though both are “Certified for Windows Vista”).[6] This rebranding has been met with some criticism as Zune, which is Certified for Windows Vista does not play the previously known PlaysForSure songs.[7]”


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