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Old 11-24-2009, 11:16 AM
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weedalin weedalin is offline
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Exclamation Another Zune HD Review? Madness!

Review: Zune HD 16 GB

Inspired by Medion, I've decided to make my own review of the HD. Enjoy.

First, right off the bat, let me say that this is my first review of anything, ever. So naturally, that would mean that I have no idea what the hell I'm doing. It can then be concluded that there will be errors in my review. Some I will notice by myself and fix along the way, but others will have to be noticed by you guys.

Back in about June of 2009, I was surfing the all-powerful internet when I happened to come across a Cnet rumor that a touch-screen Zune would be coming out. “Cool,” I thought, because I had always been a fan of the Zune PMP's and also because I would be needing a replacement for the ok, but far-too-small iPod Nano (GASP!) that I then owned.
In September, when I got the device, I was awed and my first impressions of the device were very good. Now that my childish yells of joy have subsided and I have a much more mature view of the device itself, I want to write a review.

Note: I won't use scores because I absolutely ABHOR scores. I think they detract from what a review should be and readers usually go TL;DR when there are scores involved with the review, which shouldn't be happening. If you're researching a product and you have time to do a Google search and find a review, you should have enough time to read the damn thing. So. No scores. Just a note.

Aesthetics and Exterior Design
When I remember the 1st generation Zune of yesteryear, and then look at the Zune HD, it almost seems as though two different companies made the devices. The only thing they have in common are the huge, over-the-top menu fonts, the UI quirk that made the Zune, a Zune.
Well. Microsoft has certainly matured and their third effort, the HD is a work of art. With its industrial style screws in the back, and angular plating and lines, the HD is a device with a look all its own. Many people (including Apple fanboys) have come up to me and said that they think my HD looks much sexier than the iPod Touch. Perhaps. But that is certainly something worth noting.
So, the HD has a 3.3” OLED screen dominating the front, with a home button (strangely enough, a significant amount of people didn't know what that did xD) below it and a media button on the side. The lock/power button is on the top. All in all, Microsoft did the best job they possibly could have done here with the exterior design, opting to go minimalist instead of button-happy.

Now, on to the next, out-of-the-box experience and connectivity with the Zune software.

Out-of-the-Box Experience
Well, before I got the HD, I had been using Zune 3.0 for quite some time already, so I was already familiar with the software when I got my HD. My experience with the out-of-the-box HD was fairly pleasant: the update didn't take too long, and the software made it particularly easy to dump media.

However, I have heard of people that couldn't get their HD to update or people that got a defective model right out of the box. This is unacceptable for such a hyped device like this.

Next, UI and Navigation.

One thing that can be said about the HD's UI is that the Zune Team most certainly tried to provide an easy-to-use, pleasant-looking UI.
The question is, did they?

Yes, they did. I was able to navigate expertly through the UI within the space of 5 minutes (although I had been watching preview vids and the like for about 2 weeks before I got it), and other people managed to get the hang of it fairly quickly. The zooming in and out of the menus gives you the sense that you're going deeper into the player (something other review sites noted as well) and the 3D rotor-like motion that occurs when you go to the now-playing screen (and to the browser) is especially cool.

The most striking thing about the UI, however, is not the menu fonts or the elegant transitions; it is the Quickplay portion of the home screen. The transition between the two menus is buttery smooth, and visually attracting, and while some users may derive no benefit from it, I use it very often.

Additionally, the HD is able to make playlists on the go and delete most content directly off the player. While these features are great, the one thing I would love to see the most is a search feature, including a specified and universal search feature. While these may be a bit redundant due to Quickplay, Search is a useful feature to have on any device.
In conjunction with this point about the lack of a Search feature, I would also like to point out the lack of Smart DJ on the device. Smart DJ can be found in the Zune software itself, but why not the player? This makes no sense and it would be great to have more music playing options than just shuffle. Edit: Smart DJ has been added with the 4.5 firmware update released on April 5.

However, one thing I've noticed is that on short lists (particularly the main screen, the settings, and short song lists), a certain type of finger motion will induce a jerky kind of scroll (such as in the main menu or in Settings). All other motions work perfectly fine. Another thing: transitions back to the main menu from Music, Video, and Picture using the bread-crumb navigation are a bit jerky and laggy, has anyone else noticed this? Additionally, I would like to point out a great UI feature of the Metro UI; if one scrolls all the way to the top/bottom of a list, and scrolls even further, the list automatically bounces to the opposite end of the list. Very helpful.

As for the media controls, I believe, as Enzo does, that Microsoft did the best they could have done here, by opting for a media button instead of a volume rocker.

The media button also allows you to switch songs without looking at the screen in addition to volume control.
In my case, using a volume rocker is oftentimes slower than swiping up and down on the screen of the HD.
The media controls (to me) are aesthetically more pleasing than a volume rocker.

I would like to make a point very bold and very obvious, since people still are under the misconception that the media controls require some sort of attention to the screen. There is no need to look at the screen whilst using the media controls (no matter what people tell you, horizontal movements are locked to song switching/position, and vertical movements are locked to volume). If you still aren't sold, just genuinely give it a chance. You might warm up to it.

One more thing that's somewhat annoying is the fact that one cannot look at a full song title longer than the screen; perhaps the Zune Team could include the title of the file when the mini menu comes up?

All in all, Microsoft has done a smashing job with the UI, better than anyone could have hoped.

Next, Battery Performance.

Battery Life/Performance:
Microsoft touts the HD as having 33 hours of audio and 6 hours of video. I'm far too lazy to convert anything myself, so I don't use the HD for video as much as I should, but audio-wise, a day of heavy listening has given me about a third of the battery meter. Pretty good for a touch-screen device like the HD, and very good for the low-capacity battery that the HD has. It makes me disappointed though, that Microsoft couldn't fit in a larger battery due to size limitations; if Tegra can squeeze this much battery life out of a small battery like this, imagine what it could do with a larger battery!

Add-on: Video Battery Life is decent. I can watch The Dark Knight with a little less than half the battery left, which is pretty close to the battery estimates.
Next, Audio.

The audio is pretty good on the Zune HD, but to get the best sound out of this thing, you need good headphones.

Headphones are one of the main factors that come in to how great (or how bad: need I mention earbuds?) a device sounds. Use what you use the most, use what you love the best. Just don't use earbuds if you can help it. Save your ears some pain. I would also like to note that the Zune HD sounds good enough for any pair of headphones (even earbuds, yuck), and that this important aspect of a PMP should not be a worry to prospective buyers; the Zune HD sounds GREAT. I've used the Koss KSC-75's and the JVC Air-Cushions. Headphones from the like of Sennheiser, Bose, Sony, Koss, etc., etc., etc.

On my Air-Cushions and KSC-75's (both of which are now deceased, quite unfortunately), I enjoyed a very nice sound, and all my music sounds very good (to my ear; YMWV, as always).

Another thing I've noticed is that despite the inclusion of various EQ options, I've found that the HD actually sounds better without EQ than with EQ.

Note: I am NOT an audiophile. I don't claim to have extraordinarily good hearing (in fact, quite the opposite) but the HD sounds great with the headphones I am using.

If you want actual help in choosing headphones, don't hesitate to visit ABI's very own [url=""]headphone forum[/quote]. They're very friendly and will help you as best as they can.

Next, Radio.

The radio is an interesting technology. It is a very old technology, that continually makes advances that continue to impress the right people.
The only reason I would use Radio would be to listen to NPR, which by far is one of the best radio networks out there.
However, I've noticed that In the suburbs, where I live there is little to no HD Radio reception, so I can't say anything about that, but and regular radio reception has been perfectly fine, albeit with a little static here and there, around my area.

HD Radio is the best sounding radio I've ever heard; music and speech sounds like CD quality, which is an impressive hallmark of HD radio. Try it out, it's really cool!

The Radio frequency bookmarking feature and the song tagging is just icing on the cake to a very good, fleshed out Radio function provided by the HD.
Next, Video.

The video is stunning on the 480 x 272 pixel OLED screen of the Zune HD. Actually, I don't even think words can do it justice. This is absolutely something you MUST see in person to appreciate. With truer blacks and more vibrant colors than its LED counterpart, the OLED screen doesn't disappoint when it comes to video quality. I have watched The Dark Knight (along with Up, Mean Girls, The Host, Dr. Horrible's, along with others) on my Zune HD, and it doesn't disappoint. The truer blacks where come into prominence here as the entire movie is predominantly black.
Next, Internet Browing/Connectivity.

Internet Browsing/Connectivity:
First off, let me say that it is sometimes INCREDIBLY hard to get a hold of a Wi-Fi signal with the HD. Laughably more so than on the iPod Touch. Also, the lack of Wireless N support and the lack of Bluetooth kind of knock the connectivity down as well.

The build of IEM6 that is on the Zune HD excels as a web browser. While it may not be able to do scripting as easily as Mobile Safari or Mobile Opera or Flash, one thing I've noticed by observing other mobile web browsers (yes, even on smart phones) is that the Zune HD is very snappy when it comes to the multi-touch gestures and landscape/portrait transitions. VERY snappy. I'll even go as far to say it does it on par or better with Mobile Safari.

However, heavy sites like Engadget or Facebook (not mobile) will induce some disturbing glitches with the browser, such as the page failing to load or images not showing up properly, due to the limited amount of cache space the Zune HD has allocated for the browser.

In addition, the inclusion of Flash to the browser would be a welcome update. nVidia has stated that all of the Tegra chipsets are capable of true Flash; I've seen it being implemented on other Tegra-powered devices, why not the HD?
Flash would open up so many media outlets that on the games front, the HD would undoubtedly come very close to the iPod Touch in terms of that area of the entertainment spectrum. The inclusion of Flash would most likely make the HD an elite media player. Microsoft can't ignore this opportunity.

Add-on: Medion has already stated, in very specific terms, that the Zune HD probably will not support Flash (Lite) in the way that we may expect it, due to the Zune HD's 128 RAM. Sad face, eh?

Next, Apps.

When the HD first came out, the number of apps was very disappointing.
Now? It's still a bit disappointing even now, despite the presence of some very high-quality games.

PGR and Audiosurf Tilt are excellent titles, but they can't make up for the fact that there is a very limited app selection for the HD right now.
I KNOW the HD isn't trying to compete on the App front with the Touch, but there NEEDS to be more Apps coming out. Facebook and Twitter are on the horizon out, but that may not be enough to shut up the Apple fanboys crying wolf.

Note: From whence I last updated, Microsoft has added a bevy of games/apps.
  • Solitaire
  • Hearts
  • Spades
  • Stopwatch
  • Labyrinth
  • Piano

However, I would like to take this chance to note something here. There have been a ton of long-term delays (4 months for Facebook, now 6 weeks since Hearts/Spades/Labyrinth). I'm sure the Zune Team is working hard, but prospective buyers should be aware of this fact if they choose to buy the Zune HD because of the apps (if so, this isn't the droid you're looking for).

Next, Customization.

Customization (or lack thereof):
Beyond the wallpaper of the lock screen, there is really nothing a user can do with the HD customization-wise.

Which is disappointing. The menu screen is literally ripe for user customization options. Different fonts, different menu transitions, different font colors, Italicized vs. Bold, the list goes on and on.

Please, Zune Team, add in supported-customization later on down the road. It would make the Zune HD all that more of a great device.

With the Zune HD, Microsoft wanted to make a wave in the PMP pool.
They have. The HD's stunning looks, it's great UI, and killer media experience have succeeded in making waves as the first touch-screen Zune player.
The HD is an excellent, excellent media device, but it isn't for everyone. Those who are looking for an all-purpose device that is a better value for their money will undoubtedly covet the iPod Touch, and those who prefer absolute control over their device will most likely look towards the Cowon S9 or the Samsung P3. But I believe that the Zune HD possesses the best UI of any PMP that is currently in existence. It's unique take on what we consider most important for experiencing media is a refreshing step forward in a field that is moving faster month after month. It has kept it's worth months after purchase; this is simply a fun, fun UI to use and experience. But don't take my word for it, try it out at a store.

Like Medion mentioned, the HD now occupies a unique niche in between the iPod Touch and the Cowon S9, finding a happy medium in between portable computer and ultimate media device.

Now, if you think I've missed anything, anything at all, please comment on it and I'll try to add it later on.

Keep in mind this is my first review of anything, ever.
Also keep in mind that I wrote this in the space of about 2 hours, so please draw to my attention any usage or grammar errors. Grammar Nazis, eat your hearts out.

Sorry for the bad pictures; I don't have an actual camera so I had to use my phone.

Last edited by weedalin; 06-29-2010 at 10:25 AM.
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