I’ll preface this by saying that I have never owned a portable mp3 player of any kind and I do not consider myself any kind of expert on these things but I do own a Zune so I’ll tell you what I think about it. I think all mechanical devices have a life/mind of their own and my Zune will not act like your Zune or her Zune or even his. My Zune is mine and unlike any other, his name is MAX but you can find him on the Zune network as zunemax-com.
MAX is a sexy man with an executive look and sensible styling. He’s a tough guy that can handle a fall from 3 feet high to the floor below without skipping a beat and has been 35MPH on my 4 wheeler up and down some pretty rough trails and never cried once. MAX fell off my desk to the carpeted floor twice and rolled from my lap onto the parking lot when I parked the car the other day. I thought all of that was tough until MAX took a swim in the glass of water next to my desk last night and came out with little more than wet skin. That’s right, my Zune took a dip in my drink and came out perfectly fine. Yes, it was playing when I snatched him back from death by his earbud cords. It was literally nothing more than a dunk but he came out fine and still rocks on. No troubles yet. I think I jerked him out so fast he never really got wet but he did go underwater. I told you guys I was tough on my equipment and MAX has handled the worst of it thus far with no trouble.
MAX carries my Zunetag which is affordableweb, I could not get my old Gamertag from Microsoft on this Zune because it’s been reserved. Of course it was reserved for me but they can’t seem to find that information yet. This may have something to do with the fact I don’t have an Xbox 360 yet and my original Gamertag has been retired or something. I don’t really know, I’m hoping for an Xbox 360 from Santa Cuz this year so we’ll see how that goes. Maybe I’ll set my old Gamertag up on it and use it for my next Zune player I guess. I understand I’m not the only person that had trouble securing an old Gamertag for use as the Zunetag so at least I’m not alone at the social.
Setting up MAX and the Zune software on my PC for the first use was pretty painless. The Zune software CD installed fast and easy. I never received any errors or had any issue besides my Zunetag registration. It appears some have had worse luck than I and even got some Sexy Zune Errors that I was not privy to. That’s a shame as I would have loved to have seen that womans face on my monitor. Whatever she’s going through it looks like fun. I would have enjoyed writing about that one but its done now. It’s just my opinion but I think someone staged that photo. I just fail to believe it passed through unnoticed from artwork through development, testing and then into production without anyone seeing it. I think it was inserted somewhere in the process by someone for nothing more than bad PR. I mean did no one ever actually look at that photo? How was it selected for inclusion in the Zune software and how did that end up on the installation error page of all places? That’s simply to convenient for me to believe as random and not setup.
I have a very limited music collection and have decided to give the Zune pass a shot. I realize I don’t own the music but do we ever really own it? I mean even a CD has restrictions and limitations. I figure for the money I can experience quite a bit of new music and if I really like something I am still free to purchase the CD. I do not think purchasing digital music is the way to go for long term storage of your collection and keeping it on something as delicate as a harddrive is risky to say the least. The convenience of the Zune MarketPlace and Zune Pass will hopefully offset my monthly cost. I plan on having two players and we already have two computers. If I get the Xbox 360 and can actually sync music on all the devices then its well worth the money. Everyone in my family will have a different use for the Zune MarketPlace and I’m sure we’ll enjoy it. I’ll let you know how that goes in further reviews.
Signing in with the Zune Pass free trial was pretty fast and easy as well and I experienced no troubles at all with this process. No one has asked about a credit card yet so we’ll see how that process goes next week sometime I would guess. The pricing plans are limited and you get no breaks for paying for 3 months. I would think they want to sink some long term buyers and would offer a discounted annual package but no go. Sad as I would have laid down $100 for a full year, I assume they would rather milk me for $14.99 in monthly installments. The $44.97 for 3 months is silly as it offers no benefit to me for the additional investment. Of course a certain percentage of us will not even bother to do the math and realize there is no price break and we’ll pay it anyway. Those are most likely the same people that won’t really use it either but I’m looking forward to a world of new music risk free from my Zune pass.
Some folks in the Zune forums stated it would have been better for Microsoft to offer Points cards with each player to get people into their Microsoft Points system and I would have to agree. I think they should have offered either a choice or even both. Offering even $5 worth of free music in the Zune MarketPlace with a free Points card would have kick started the Zune MarketPlace. The subscription service will probably find limited acceptance in the beginning and an incentive like some free music to keep might help draw attention to the store. I have not gotten into the Microsoft Points program yet so I’ll wait to review that later also.
For being a wireless device Max sure is attached to my PC an awful lot. I have to use the PC installed Zune software for such mundane things as creating a new playlist and deleting files from the player. Each of these is a rather simple task I would think the player should do on its own. I’m not real sure why it doesn’t but it may be related to the sync process. Either way it would be nice to delete items from the device and have the software ask me if I want to delete from just the device or the library as well on my next sync. Zune software lets you add songs to your Quick Playlist but you cannot create a Playlist without using the PC software. I don’t really understand why you can’t create a list using music already on the device but you can’t.
I was also bummed that MAX can’t play music on the player and sync at the same time. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to ask that when I have my Zune attached to my PC and it is syncing that I be able to listen to the player with my earbuds but I can’t. I have to listen through the Zune software and my PC speakers, time for new speakers obviously as MAX cannot play while in a sync.
Of all the things I love about my new Zune the PC software is the one I don’t care for as much. The Zune MarketPlace is nice and the user interface is clean and easy to navigate but the software is buggy. I have had some real issues in updating MAX and it seems I can’t keep the software up and running for more than 2 hours without it crashing. At first I assumed this was due to PC memory as I run lots of programs so I restarted and ran just the Zune sync but that really offered little help. When I first entered the store I added quite a few full albums of music that I expected I could download in one evening. Man was I wrong. It has taken me 5 days to download just over 1GB of content from the Zune pass and storefront. I have yet to even complete my first sync and this creates even bigger problems.
I cannot delete a song from my sync list until after the song has been downloaded to the device. I can’t seem to delete the entire list either so for now I’m stuck downloading all the albums I wanted on that first evening last Friday. I selected over 2GB worth of music and in 5 days I have managed to sync less than half of it. I have not experienced much in the way of new music on my Zune yet because it can’t sync the old stuff I tried loading the first time as of yet and I can’t delete the sync list.
I tried to sync MAX by installing the software on a second PC but you can only login as a guest or if you chose to move the installation you must replace all your Zune content with that on the new PC which then becomes the home base for your Zune. It says its a full replacement of all content and I am assuming I will lose all the preloads etc. I really wanted to review some of the preloads and so i don’t want to chance losing them yet and have decided to tough it out for now on this PC.
The Zune MarketPlace has loads more music then i’ll probably ever need. It may lack in some areas but i personally think it will make up for this in may others. I’m open to suggestions on new music from the Zune MarketPlace. Tell me what I should be listening to and I’ll definitely check it out as soon as I can get my Zune to sync.
The Zune Operating system or firmware is really rather simple and does not offer much at all in the way of extra features or anything. I was totally shocked not to even find a clock in my Zune player. I realize that the iPod is known for it’s simplicity but the Zune seems lacking in this area. I suppose I expected it would do lots more as most Microsoft software often does. The graphical user interface (GUI) is very clean and easy to navigate but its a straight forward media player, no extra bells and whistles yet. The 400 MHZ Freescale processor clicks through the menus so fast it’s a breeze to move across a large number of files easily.
The control pad is also easy to use and the entire device and navigation controls fit my hand well. The Zune is a man sized player and not made to hang on your lapel like the Apple Shuffle did for Soledad in the CNN Zune review. This bad boy has a 3 inch screen plus an FM Tuner and WiFi antennae to pack in under the durable rubberized finish when compared to the 5G Video iPod . It ends up less than half an inch in width and one ounce in weight more than the iPod in order to carry these features and the buzzword for slamming it is “clunky”. I think it’s just because they can find little else wrong with the device itself and had to go with its slight difference in size as an issue. I’m an average sized guy and the Zune fits me fine, it carries easy enough in my jeans and even a T-shirt pocket with no problem. It’s not heavy but it feels well built and sturdy.
MAX does not have a cheap or plastic feeling like so many consumer electronics devices these days and I’m not scared to scratch it up although I am very careful with that gorgeous screen. It’s a thing of beauty. They say size does not matter but when you’re watching portable movies it surely does. The Zune screen is sweet. It’s super bright and very colorful. I realize the processor and TV chip can handle higher resolutions and would probably be nicer but with a sacrifice in battery consumption and that’s where we can’t afford it. The battery life is not up to the 12 hours advertised. MAX seems to get between 10 and 11 hours of actual play time on audio only using the random song feature on a loaded player and making volume adjustments. Regular usage, which includes viewing all the preloaded video clips and pictures at least once and listening to music ends up at 9 to 10 hours.
I can’t tell you what the battery life is after a feature length movie because I’m having some issues ripping DVD’s to my Zune. I’m fairly proficient in the use of software but I have never really messed with DVD recording for more than data storage. I decided to rip the longest movie I had recently seen and pulled out the widescreen version of King Kong. I wanted to see how MAX handled a full length movie and what it was like to sit through 3 hours of Zune video but my rip failed using a popular open source method and I’m trying it again. I need to find a decent DVD to WMV software application but I have not had the time to find one. I’m open to suggestions on that one and I’ll get back to you on a Zune software review soon.
The one thing MAX has done for me is open me up to hearing music I would normally tune out. I listened to everything on the Zune and although I’m not buying anything on it I liked it enough to listen to it more than 3 times. Would I buy it? Who knows, maybe I would but with the Zune pass I won’t have to. I am looking forward to more from BitterSweet (what a sexy voice) and CSS. I’ve been a fan of Kranked videos since the first one and have had up to the first 4. Those guys are absolutely nuts but inspiring to watch. Every time I ride my bike I think of some sick things I would never dare on the trails around here and the ease with which some of these people do it. It’s blows my mind to watch a man jump a bicycle off a mountain like that with what seems like no fear at all. I haven’t taken MAX for a ride on the bike but I will soon. I’m thinking about one of the sports arm bands for the bike thing but the earbuds have to go first.
MAX has a lock button on the top that disables any changes to the player. If you don’t read the Product Guide, which is little more than a liability disclaimer as it offers nothing about how to operate your Zune in real world because its too busy telling me not to walk in traffic during a lightning storm with my Zune on, you may not notice it. This can lead to a mini fit when you don’t understand why your Zune is locked up. Don’t worry these are easy enough to get over but they can aggravate your day.
The USB port on the other end stays open if you have no case and that seems bad to me. Leaving this port open for dust, dirt and grime is not the best design and should have been covered with something similar to the lock on the top. A small sliding hatch would keep MAX clean on the inside. The Zune USB plug has small tabs that lock the cable into place on the player when inserted. It’s a nice tight fight and probably helps save the port but these clips can get stick if you don’t remove the plug properly and are a hassle if they stick. Don’t yank it out, just firmly depress the tabs on the plug and it should slip free.
MAX is a music player and he does this well but they stuck him with this set of cheap earbuds which can numb the ear canal after a few hours of listening to them. The Zune earbuds seem pretty large also as they do not fit in my wifes ears at all. We’ll have to find her a more suitable set for extended play. Any suggestions from our lady Zune fans would be appreciated. I think I’ll go for a pair of nice headsets myself. I can’t handle the earbuds much longer. The cord has to go also, it just gets in the way. The first company with a decent set of wireless headsets on these has a hit for sure. The Zune rocks and it rocks loud. I’m not an audiophile but I like loud music and with 20 settings you can get some volume on these things. I ran my ATV off road with the level at 20 and could hear it over the motorbike. I was pretty impressed with that and the Zune makes a trip through the trails just a bit more fun.
Beyond that I’ve become familiar with what is known as gapless playback and I wish my Zune supported it. It really makes a difference on Live Shows and when listening to a full CD. The gap sucks! Some complain about a lack of support by Microsoft of different formats or codecs as well as the Mac OS. I don’t quite understand the logic in it but they must have one. Even with only 6% of the OS market they should still be recognized as valuable consumers and Zune should work on the Mac. I don’t have many music files so I’m ok with wmv and wma files primarily because I don’t know any better as I imagine most of us don’t.
Microsoft has promised more to come in the way of firmware updates and their seems an ever increasing number of accessories for the Zune. I’m ho ping to see some great things from the updates and expect we can get max up and above a 9.5 some day soon.
I have not gone searching for a Zune to share with yet. I will soon enough so the wireless is off for now. I’m working on a second player for myself and I’m going setup a local Zune users group with the help of the kids at Walmart.
That said, I’m in love with my new Zune. His name is MAX. He’s not perfect but he’s good enough for me. On a scale of 1-10 I think MAX is an 8.5. You’ll be seeing more from him in the days and weeks to come. I think I’ll tackle the Zune PC software next and try a reinstall. Maybe I can get my Zune synced and loaded with some new music suggestions from you Zuners before the weekend.