Monday, September 25, 2006

Microsoft Zune - a preview

All right, even though I don't have a Zune in my hand to play with and explain how it all works, I can tell you what I know from my couple hours with it at Ellen - with the Microsoft rep and their publicist - in my room - the entire time. But I can tell you how I liked certain features, and can give you my first impression, which is all I am good for at this moment. I am really tired.

So here are some basics on the Microsoft MP3 player everyone is talking about:
-30 GB media player
-3-inch LCD
-3 color choices: White, Black and Brown (I don't get this one...) Each color gets a 'double shot' finish (ie. brown color gets goffy green overlay only really noticable on edges), which actually makes the player more scratch resistant, and with athat extra fog-like coating, fingerprint unfriendly. Unless you're eating fried chicken, then I can't help you.
-FM tuner
-Zune to Zune sharing (it can only talk to and steal tracks from other Zunes)

The Zune is able to ingest yoru existing music playlists, tracks, star ratings, videos and photos, as long as the DRMs don't kick your ass. The Zune is compatible with a lot of different media formats, so that is nice. I'm sure there will be hacks 2 minutes after the release of Zune to allow you to walk your dog, milk the cows, and vaccuum the house remotely using the Zune.

Here is my first impression of the Zune. I like that it is fingerprint resistant and has extra coating on the screen, as I have scratched my iPod screen about 3 times already. It utilizes a D pad, so everything is click or to move quickly through your playlist, click and hold - which takes 5 seconds to get used to if you've trained your brain to 'touch in a cirlce.' The other neat thing is as you quickly scroll through your music library on the device, there is a large letter that appears on tehe right hand side to let you see easily what alphabet you are up to, which needs a more aesthetic design, but utilitarianly designed. And when we talk about Microsoft, isn't that all we can ask for?

The controls, which I touched on above, are easy and intuitive. It is a circle with a center control button. The touch pad is more of a click pad, and even if you are watching a video, in which case it loads landscape to utilize the entire screen, volume controls switch so that turning the volume up will always be the top position, and down is the bottom position.

As for the 3-inch screen, it's fairly bright and nice. Watching darker videos on it takes some adjusting to make sure it doesn't start blowing out or aliasing. As for using it outdoors, I didn't get a chance to take it out of the studio. The screen, as large as it was and neat as it was to have the option of watching TV on a wider screen is nice, but it wasn't super impressive image quality. Sadly....

The FM tuner is easy to use, being digital and having a little glowing light tell you where on that damned dial you are.

The earbuds have a little magnet on the back of each bud so when you have them put away, the buds are held in position back-to-back, a pleasure to see for all us neat cord winders.

And since it is a harddrive, you can load content there, and using an AV cord, plug it into your TV or speakers for playback, just like many media players.

And the most important feature, the Zune to Zune sharing feature. Sure you can share tracks with your Zune buddies wirelessly, creating a social network of sharing and friendship, as their marketing people tell me, the track disables itself after 3 plays or 3 days, your choice. The sharing has no effect on homegrown tracks and videos, so trade on. And when you sync up your Zune to your computer, there is actually a place where all your 'shared' tracks appear and show whether you have marked them for purchase later, kinda like a waiting shopping cart. So yes, Zune to Zune sharing is an incredibly neat feature, to be able to send your buddies tracks, pics and videos, but in my opinion, what the Zune is will really depend on is what the Zune Marketplace (their version of the iTunes store) will be like and offer.

Since we couldn't get online, I couldn't see the store, but did get to see a couple screen shots. It looks organized and the images of CD art look large enough to quickly read at a glance, but then again, my linen closet looks good at a glance, but lemme tell you, there's a pillowcase or 15 out of place there. And no one knows unless I open up the doors. So open Microsoft, open up the Zune Marketplace.

Would I buy one? Only time will tell. Microsoft won't confirm a price point, but say it will be comparable to its rivals...