Zune HD User Interface and Screen
The Zune HD interface differs dramatically from the Apple UI. This is not a big surprise really and a smart move on the part of Microsoft. It is a text based UI supplemented with graphics in the form of album images, application “icons” and more. When you are on the home screen you can see the main headings. These are all text based and touching any of them will get you to the desired area. Like the iPod Touch and iPhone the Zune HD has a lock screen that you have to slide to open. Unlike the Apple devices the Zune HD you have to slide up. If you have a PIN on the Zune HD the lock screen will “bounce” and reveal the key pad if you leave the player on the lock screen for too long. The lock screen can be customized with a picture of your choosing and also displays the time and battery status. You will also see a play or pause sign to indicate the status the player is in which is good as there is no external speaker.
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Floating just to the left of the main text headings is a row of graphical icons. This is part of the Quick Play menu that is in the UI. To access this you just need to press the home button while on the home screen.
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Once you are here you will see anything that you have active [or paused] as well as anything you have chosen to Pin as a favorite. I know you are thinking, wait… Um, Pin as a favorite? Well you can do that. Any application, song, video, HD station, pretty much anything at all can be pinned here by pressing and holding that item. On the Quick Play menu you can also view a short history of items that you have used. You can also see a list of new items added to your player here.
The Quick Play menu is simply a great idea; what’s more its ability to have any item added to it makes it more powerful and flexible than the iPod’s favorites menu.
Heading back to the Home screen you have a few options here. You can select from your music library, videos, pictures, radio, and applications and settings. If you are connected to a WiFi network you can also access the Zune Marketpalce, the Social, and the Internet. These options are all visible you just will not be able to use them if you are not connected. Under some of the menu items you will see what sub-menus are available immediately under the top level.
The Settings menu is one of the first places you will want to visit. Here you can customize you Zune HD and setup items like Wireless Sync, Radio location where you can chose North America, Europe and Japan [again this is odd as it is a US only player,] Display features such as time out, brightness tilt and screen saver, music equalizer and how your albums are listed.
Other items let you set preferences for the Internet, language, screen lock [PIN] and view general information about your Zune HD.
After you have setup your Zune HD the way you like then you can move around the UI and check things out. Heading over to the music section the Zune HD gives you a couple of options here that in our opinion out do the current iPod controls.
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What you see are the actual album covers for each album, right next to it is a small listing of the actual tracks. If you click on the album cover you start playing the album from track number one. If you click on the tiny listing next to the cover you will get a listing of the track and you can select the one you want. Once you are in the play screen you can set the player to shuffle, repeat or rate the song. You can also switch to the track listing view pretty easily by touching the small listing at the bottom. If you are in the listing you can chose from play, add to now playing, or e-mail/Zune tag a track or album. Selecting send an e-mail brings up the virtual keyboard for you to type an e-mail to someone [using their e-mail address or Zune tag] about the album in question.
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The HD Radio feature is very simple to use. You simply slide the tuning point to the desired channel and listen. If there is an HD channel available for the station in question you will see the available options for HD listening. You can also add channels to favorites inside the radio app. Once added you can also Pin these to the Quick Play menu.
The Marketplace is exactly what it says. It is a smaller mobile version of the Zune Marketplace. You have to be connected to a wireless network and to use this feature. Once you are connected you can view an abbreviated listing of songs, and applications that you can download from the Zune Marketplace. If you have not already setup your player to auto sync with your account you will need to log in at this point. I would recommend you not allowing auto sign in for kids as this can lead to accidental paid downloads once the market place opens up. Once you have downloaded an album or app to your Zune HD it will also show up in the Zune 4.0 Software as an item in your cart. This means that you can place it into the Zune HD and the software at the same time instead of needing to sync after the fact like you have to with the iPhone and iPod Touch. Thankfully as of this writing you cannot purchase videos or points from the Zune Marketplace as these cost money, but that may change in the future.
Inside the Social menu you can view any friends you have made using the Social tools in the Zune 4.0 software. You can also read any messages that are synced from your Inbox on your PC.
Now we come to one place where we feel Microsoft might have done much better on the Zune HD software. The internet experience is not what it could be. With such a revolutionary SoC under the hood and an OS that is slick and clean I was expecting much more than this. With Tegra under the hood MS could have made a robust, full featured browser to really set the Zune HD apart. Unfortunately it is not the case. Microsoft is using a tweaked version of its Mobile Internet Explorer that is found in Windows Mobile 6.5. It feels slow to render [we will cover load times in the performance section] even if it is better looking once rendered it makes it clunky to use. There are no tabs, history or major navigational features to speak of. As with most mobile devices there is no support for Flash Video yet. In all we were disappointed by the Internet experience.
One thing I want to stop and talk about here is the keyboard on the Zune HD. It is simply fantastic. I found it easy to use even with my thick fingers and clumsy typing. The way the letters bounce and stretch it also nice to see. It makes typing something in very simple. Microsoft has also included both a portrait and a landscape version making it much easier to use regardless of the orientation of the Zune HD.
Navigating around the Zune HD player will take a little getting used to as there is no evident back button on many screens. Instead you have to tap the upper section of the screen. Here you will often see the letters from the menu just before as a visual indication of what to do. However all that aside the UI fits the absolutely gorgeous OLED screen. It is this screen coupled with the NVIDIA Tegra that gives the Zune HD its power and attractiveness. The OLED allows for very deep blacks, crisp text and sharp graphical images. The way the menus flip over or seem to descend into each level is also very clean and quite simply cool to watch. It gives the UI a three dimensional feeling that draws you down into each new level of the player.
But of course there are always downsides to anything. One of the bigger complaints I have is that none of the major menu headings or submenus will work in landscape mode. You have to keep the player upright to navigate. This would have been nice to have and is something that you can do on the iPhone/iPod Touch. One other problem was application load time and pre-app adds. I was not impressed with the amount of time it took to load most applications. Also there are ads that you have to view before any of the “free’ apps will launch. It takes away from the sleek and classy feel of the player when you are subjected to this. Still the Player OS are new so it could be that performance improves in later versions and [fingers crossed] the pre-app ads go away.
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The last part of the Zune HD Software that I will cover is the Wireless Sync. This functionality is simply cool. I love not having to plug my Zune HD in to sync up with my PC. To enable it you have to turn it on for both the player and the Zune desktop software with the player connected. Once enabled it you can manually sync the player or allow it to automatically sync on a regular basis. The Wireless Sync options are in settings menu under wireless, sync.
We are working on video of the Zune HD UI and will have that online as soon as we finish with it.
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