A week with the Zune

A week or so ago I got my Zune, and wrote a bit about its software and some of the issues I had with it.  This time around I want to discuss the hardware.

First, I’m not a very hardcore user of mp3 players.  I bought this unit because it was a good deal from woot.com and I wanted something that could hold my collection.  I haven’t used the video features of the Zune much yet because honestly I haven’t found a use for that feature.

The first real problem I stumbled upon with the Zune is a common problem with mp3 players: since Apple patented their clickwheel there is no clickwheel on the Zune, and I am convinced the clickwheel is the perfect input method for an mp3 player.  What the Zune does have is the standard “clickwheel emulator”.  It is a small circular button with another button in its center; 4-way navigation is facilitated by the outer button and menu choices are selected by the inner button.  There is a “go back” button and a “pause/play” button on either side of the clickwheel emulator.  The size of the center button makes navigation feel a little clumsy sometimes, but I haven’t had any serious problems with it so far.

The Zune UI is quite usable compared to the PC software . For music, you have the usual plethora of browsing options such as by playlist, artist, and album.  Scrolling through large lists is made easier by a neat feature they added: when you are moving pages at a time a large letter is displayed behind the list to indicate the first letter of the artist or album you have reached (depending on which browse option you are using).  For randomly playing a playlist, I find the Zune quite satisfactory.  The shuffle algorithm seems a little less random than I want, but I’m going to give it a few more weeks before I think it’s completely off.

There’s a radio feature on the Zune and I think that’s kind of neat, though I’ve never listened to it other than to just test it out.  Reception seems pretty good.  The picture browser is horribly crippled by the limited browse options of “folder name when it was on your PC” and “date of creation”; if you take pictures frequently, save a lot of random pictures, or have lots of different image folders the Zune is practically useless for making nice slideshows of favorite images.

There’s also a wireless community feature, where you can send songs to other Zune users and download songs from their Zunes.  Unfortunately I haven’t managed to find another Zune owner yet to test it out, but I’m sure I’d be frustrated with the “3 plays or 3 days” DRM that is placed on songs transferred this way.

In short:
Playing mp3s: Awesome
Viewing Videos: I don’t care
Listening to the radio: OK I guess
Viewing Pictures: Needs work