As with all products that include subjective topics we try to break out our conclusion into separate part to give you a better idea of how the product fairs. We split this into three parts. What they did wrong, what they could have done better, and what they did right. With these three sections we offer you the best impression of the product and where it falls in the market.What they did wrong,
This is a touchy subject but one that needs to be covered. The first thing that Microsoft did wrong was to keep the Xbox Live system for the Zune Marketplace. That system is buggy and does not offer any good representation of the dollar value of the items you are purchasing. Most people do not want to worry about points. They want to know that movie X cost this much in dollars and cents. The whole points system is plain broke and needs to be dumped. Someone buying a movie cannot just buy the points they need but must buy them at the next highest block. As an example if you want to buy a movie for 830 points you have to buy 900 points. This means that you are actually paying more for the movie than you should or need to. Add to this broken system of purchasing you have a ridiculous system for getting any parental controls [plus the complete lack of them on the actual player] this is a glaring problem. The PMP market is aimed squarely at teens and pre-teens. Parents need the ability to control the content their kids have access to. Microsoft’s solution of giving them their own Live ID is a joke. As a parent I would not want my 10 year old to have their own Live ID that they can run with. This opens them to Messenger, Hotmail and a ton of other web based, single sign on applications that kids of that age should not be using. In fact these complaints are some of the same ones that Apple had to deal with in iTunes and the iPod/iPhone. You would think that as Microsoft is trying to compete and pull people away they would have gone all out on the parental controls for this. Sadly they did not.What they could have done better,
First thought here; put in a phone. If anyone at Microsoft is reading this, or if you are reading this and know someone there tell them that everyone that I have shown the Zune HD asked about a phone for it. IF Microsoft could work that in [say in six months to a year] the Zune HD would take off like a rocket. Next on the list of wishes, is a little bigger screen. The OLED screen is excellent but as it is smaller than the iPhone/iPod touch it take a little away from its impact. A bigger screen would also help with the Virtual Keyboard and if a Phone or camera is ever dropped in. An external speaker would also have been nice and again would be a must for any future phone plans. Stereo Bluetooth support would also have been a very nice touch and one that I hope will show up in later models. Rounding out or list of hardware desires is of course a camera. Again if this had been put in it would have given the iPod touch another reason to be jealous. After all the disappointment over Apple not putting one in the Touch, a camera in the Zune HD would have been great especially given the Tegra’s built in support for up to a 12MP camera.
Software improvements that would have helped the Zune HD right out of the gate are pretty easy to see. Open up the App section of the marketplace, it would have also been a good idea to have a few more offerings here before launch. Microsoft needs to improve the browser on the Zune HD. It should support tabbed browsing, have a history and will someone, once and for all, just figure out how to get flash on one of these things??!! I mean really, how long has it been since this was asked for? The lack of flash locks out youtube, and most other video content sites Microsoft needs to fix this as it would give them a HUGE advantage in the market if they can get this running. The media button should also probably be replaced with a volume rocker or made into one that also supports a single press feature that can bring up the on-screen controls.
The AV Dock also needs some work before it is a more useful and attractive product. As it stands the hardwired cables make it clumsy. Also the usefulness of 720p video when we are on the cusp of 2k and 4k HD video in the consumer market is dubious at best. What they did right,
The first and biggest thing that Microsoft did right was to drop Tegra into the Zune HD. This was a masterful stroke as it allows for a lot of maneuvering room for the Zune HD. As it stand right now the software in the Zune HD is barely taping the power of the Tegra. As Microsoft continues to work with and improve the Zune HD they can expand the performance [including adding in a camera] and include 3d gaming offerings that no one else in the market can compete with right now.
Using an OLED screen was a great idea, it gives a cleaner picture while using less power and generating less heat. Next on our list of good ideas is the addition of an HD radio tuner. It provides something that as of this writing Apple cannot. It puts and extra into the Zune HD that people would actually use and want [I listen to the HD tuner in my truck every morning]. The sleek design of the Zune HD is also a plus, it is eye catching and just plain sexy. It makes the Zune HD stand out and shows how old and dated the design of the iPod Touch is becoming. The UI on the Zune HD is also a great idea; it is clean, and unique. It is just plain cool, even if it does take a little getting used to. The last item that sets the Zune HD [and indeed most of the Zunes] is the ability to sync wirelessly, this is simply put a wonderful thing. I can add music and videos to my Zune HD without the need to tether it to my system. It will also sync the Zune HD with the Desktop software on its own [if you grab something from the marketplace on the Zune HD it will sync it with the desktop over the air] you do not even have to have the Zune Desktop software open and running to do this.Overall Conclusion
Over all the Zune HD is hands down still the best Personal Media Player that I have ever worked with. In fact let me say that again, over all the Zune HD is hands down still the best Personal Media Player that I have ever worked with. The display is clean and sharp with smooth playback. The audio is spacious and full [sounds simply amazing on my tube amp] The UI is sexy and cool. Items such as Quickplay, Album Art, HD Radio Tuner, the Social, Channels, and the Zune Pass make it a great product. Yes there are things that are wrong, but they can be fixed and do not take away from the experience of the actual hardware. The price of the player is great for what you get and beats the competition by a good margin.
If Microsoft would drop in a Phone, a Camera, and improve the Software [getting rid of the points system would be a start] and Dock this product would simply stomp the iPod touch and iPhone. The App issue will gradually correct itself as more developers begin to code for the Zune HD. Microsoft has even demoed some very impressive 3D games for the Zune HD that are going to be coming soon so that is being handled. In all we can and do highly recommend the Zune HD as a product, just be aware of the hidden issues with the Marketplace and you will be ok.
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