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Old 05-13-2010, 08:21 PM
D3ltra D3ltra is offline
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Join Date: May 2010
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Default Using a Zune HD in the UK

First post - hey everyone! I'm Peter, an engineering student in the UK. Just thought I'd give a little run-down of my recent audio troubles and my Zune experience so far (2 days!). Feel free to skip the spiel and check out the summary at the bottom for UK zHD info.

So, a few weeks ago, I realise that my 2nd-gen iPod Nano (8GB) only has enough battery capacity to last approximately one and a half songs before needing a recharge. (Coincidentally the very same fate that met my iPod Mini before that.) I'd been using my (budget) smartphone, a Nokia 5530, as a stand-in for my music needs - that is, anywhere I can listen to music, I will do - so, wherever my laptop wasn't, I'd use my phone (you know, on the bus and stuff). Anyway, it's only got a 4GB card in it, so I was having to be very selective with my music (seeing as I have about 15GB!) But the phone music player is very slow, very cluttered, and generally lacking - it doesn't even have repeat or shuffle, as far as I can tell.

So, last weekend I started looking into getting a new mp3 player. Having decided I no longer like the lazy design of Apple (I find the iPhone and iTouch to be extremely boring to look at, and the Nano still has the same old basic UI), I start off by typing "alternatives to ipods" in google - first result, is (of course) anythingbutipod.com.

I started looking at some of the reviews, the editor's choices, the 2009 top 5, and the Zune HD caught my eye. I'd never even heard of it - probably because I'm in the UK - and up to now, I probably assumed a Zune was just "that thing you buy if you hate Apple". Anyway, I have a look at the S9, and the P3, but I think I'd already made my mind up. Even though I don't get the marketplace here, which is, undeniably, a shame, I don't really mind - the main feature I was looking for was a top notch UI, that looks nice and functions well.

I looked at a few posts by other UK users, who hadn't had any problems - so on Monday evening, went on eBay, and bought one (32GB, 200 with free special delivery) - it was in my hand in less than 36 hours.

I tentatively plug it in (having installed the software and sorted out all my music the day before) - it immediately suggests updating the firmware, and then starts syncing all my music. Didn't have to change region or pretend I live in America or anything - Microsoft don't mind us using it here, it seems; they just don't actively endorse it. I already love the Zune software; having used iTunes for years, you really notice the speedier response and the nice browsing features, as well as the general prettiness. Anyway, I left it to sync.

A couple of hours later, it's all done, and I start playing with it (like a kid at Christmas ). I love it, the OLED screen looks fantastic, and responds so much faster than my phone (the only other touchscreen device I've owned). The menus look great and browsing is really easy.

Thanks to the registry hack, I can still get the use of SmartDJ - which I think works extremely well, better than Apple Genius - except for one attempt earlier: I seemed to confuse it with Diablo Rojo by Rodrigo y Gabriela, to which it gave me things like some of my brass band music, and 'Wearing My Rolex' by Wiley (which, yes, is in my collection I'm afraid - I don't really know why, to be honest).

Personally, I don't mind not having access to the marketplace - I prefer buying CDs anyway, really, and I'm not too fussed about apps. Obviously they would be a nice perk, so it'll be good if they do roll out the marketplace to the UK, but I'm sure I'll survive until then it's all about the music, for me. But that's just personal preference, and probably the main dealbreaker if you're a potential non-US user. (It does, interestingly, still download bios and pictures for artists - this may be related to the registry hack, I don't know.)

For playback, being in a tiny bedroom in a, frankly, terrible student house, I hook up my Roland drum amp to my laptop - I don't really have room for speakers as well, and it does the job fine, especially on the bass end. I can plug in the Zune easily too, and it sounds fantastic.

For when I'm out and about,I had a pair of HD205s, but a few accidents involving my foot, the overly-long cable and standing up rapidly caused some serious breaks in the wires, to the point where you couldn't hear anything at all except random, intermittent bursts of noise. The left earphone of my phone earphones just went dead a couple of months after purchase, and they weren't really worth replacing, so I got some Sennheiser CX400II in-ears from Amazon for about 30. They're very good for sound, but I've kind of gone off the whole in-ear thing - they don't ever stay in my ears very well, they become uncomfortable extremely quickly, and when I'm walking, all sorts of sounds are transmitted straight through to my ear, from my footsteps, to the whistling air flow around the dangling earphone wires.

So, I got some Sennheiser PX200 headphones (again from Amazon, ~30), which have all the advantages of headphones, but with the compact size of earphones (to a certain extent, obviously). Together with the zHD, they make a pretty formidable combination if you're looking for portability.

I'm working on a setup so I can use it in the car - and found a UK supplier for Proclips and Brodit holders, including the zHD holder: (http://www.mountonus.com/Brodit-Mode...B-Holders.aspx).

So, to summarise, if you live in the UK and are thinking about getting a Zune HD, here are my thoughts and findings so far:
  • There are UK-based suppliers on eBay, or over at zunethings.co.uk, so purchase itself is not a problem (and works out no more expensive than shipping it from America, really). ZuneThings also sell the official accessories, should you want any of them (although they're pretty expensive, and there are cheaper alternatives around).
  • If you keep your PC region set to UK, the software will have several features removed, and your Zune will not show the Marketplace or Apps sections in the menu (although you can see the "marketplace discography" feature under artists you have, and listen to previews of songs). You can, however, retrieve SmartDJ functionality with the registry hack, which is well worth the (minimal) effort.
  • If you change your PC region, you can get access to the Marketplace and Social. To buy anything from the marketplace, you'll need Microsoft Points, which (as far as I know) you may be able to buy vouchers for online, or through your Xbox. Creating a Live ID with a US Zip code will let you make a Zune account and link it with your zHD - this will unlock the Marketplace and Apps sections. You can download free apps with no trouble whatsoever, and you can listen to song previews. Song purchase requires Microsoft points on your account.
  • Something I didn't even mention (as I don't really use it), but the Radio feature works fine, although the HD radio cannot be used, as it is completely separate from DAB in the UK.
  • The PC software is both functional and attractive, and even with the missing features, I already prefer it to iTunes. Note that you can't use it with a Mac - but having said that, I'd be surprised if there were many Mac users on this website.
  • It is quite pricey, but you get your moneys-worth - a sturdy product with very impressive hardware. Unless you're the kind of person who thinks the earphones that come with an iPod are "pretty decent", then the zHD is probably an unnecessary investment.
  • If you're just looking for a PMP with a sharp UI, I would highly recommend it. The screen looks great and responds very well, and the menu system is very polished.
(I'll keep revising this list as I find out more.)

Just realised how long this turned out. Thanks for reading, if you made it to the end!

Last edited by D3ltra; 05-14-2010 at 12:41 PM.
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