Finally got my Zune HD
If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll have suspected for some time that I’ve been hankering after a Zune HD.
Now that I’ve changed jobs, and got my first pay cheque, my wife and I decided that it’s about time we each bought ourselves an item that we’ve wanted – she ordered a Kindle, which sadly took three weeks to arrive, and I ordered a Zune HD, which arrived a week after ordering it.
First, the good stuff.
As I remembered from borrowing my friend’s Zune HD last year, the thing is incredibly light. Same size display as the iPhone (or at least the pocket version, not the maxi version that doesn’t make phone calls even when AT&T is working), but considerably smaller and thinner and lighter.
The display is incredibly good-looking, bright and clear. I almost don’t dare put it up to maximum brightness for fear I will go blind. Perhaps I shouldn’t watch that kind of video anyway :)
Like pretty much every device of late, you have to convert your videos to H.264 in order to view it, and the Zune software will do this for most of your video content. Not MPG files, for some reason. However, there are several encoder tools available – I used encHD before I realised that I actually have the functionality built in to Expression Encoder.
The operation of the Zune HD is smooth and intuitive – sliding menus around on screen is simple and, as my friends who use iPhones tell me, far less of an effort than on the iPhone. “You don’t have to press so hard,” is the quote I heard from someone directly comparing the two. You can literally flick a long menu up or down to get through it more quickly. On a long list, if you want to go to the end from the top, you can slide the list down, and keep holding it down – the screen will shortly pop to the other end. Similarly, to go to the top of the list from the end, slide the list up to the top of the screen, and it’ll quickly pop to the top of the list.
In the Music list, you can make your way through your really long list by selecting one of the squares marked with a letter, at which point your view will change to that of a list of letters (and the “#” sign, for non-letter initials), which makes it easier to jump to a particular artist without scrolling.
A long-awaited feature (at least, for me) is the ability to delete an item on the device, without having to wait until you’re syncing with the app on the PC. Simply hold down your finger on the item to delete, and then touch “Delete” when the menu appears. Oh, and then you have to hit “Yes”, to indicate that you really do want to delete the item.
The new games are really cool, and my son has repeatedly worn down the batteries just playing PGR Ferrari Edition. I like the Labyrinth game, myself, which has you using the accelerometer to steer a ball through a maze avoiding holes and spikes.
It’s also handy that the Zune software accommodates syncing with two devices without getting them confused, so that I can move content across from my old player.
What features are still missing?
Vibrate, so that you can feel the little ball in Labyrinth roll into the holes.
OK, I don’t really want that, because it’d drain the batteries like crazy and make the device bigger and heavier. Do. Not. Want.
Er… that’s it.
But there’s bad stuff too, right?
Sure there is.
Like before, it really doesn’t take into account my use of audio.
I have a number of programmes I’ve recorded from the radio, each of which might be 30 minutes, some of which are up to three hours in length. I can’t put those in the Music folder, because if I do, there’s no way to listen to part of the show, then part of another show, and then come back to the show I first listened to, because each time you play a different item in Music, you get to start from the beginning.
So I’ve had to put these programmes into the Podcasts directory – and that requires that I set their “Genre” tag in the MP3 file to “Podcasts”. That’s not a huge issue, but there are some things you lose by doing this. First, of course, by setting the Genre tag, there’s no way to sort by Genre. Bummer.
Then there’s the insane issue that the image stored in the MP3 file is not displayed in the list, or when playing the “Podcast”. While it’s clear that images are supported in MP3 files in the Music folder, and images associated with Podcasts are supported, the two are not combined. Irritating.
There’s also no way to determine, from the PC, which podcasts you’ve listened to on the Zune, so there’s no good automated way to delete, or move, the Podcast files from the PC that have been listened to. You just have to do it manually. Not cool.
While you can certainly delete items now, the support is not that wonderful.
From the Music menu, you can delete an album, but not a song, unless you go through to something other than the Albums list.
In the Pictures menu, you can delete an individual picture, but not a folder. Makes it rather difficult to remove your ‘personal’ pictures before handing the Zune off to a friend for a demo. And, let’s be honest, this thing’s so good you’re going to spend the first month of ownership handing it to people for a demo.
In Podcasts, you can delete groups of Podcasts as well as individual Podcasts.
In History, you can’t remove items from the History. Why would you want to?
Scrolling from top to bottom is a little awkward – you have to very carefully find and grab the top of the page and slide it all the way to the bottom, not letting go until you get there. There’s no way to ‘throw’ the top down to the bottom and reach the bottom of the page.
Scrolling through Podcasts [remember? that’s where most of my good stuff lies?] is limited to up and down only. Unlike the Music folder, there’s no ability to scroll through the alphabet. The episodes in the Podcast list are still sorted in a manner I can’t completely fathom, but the primary sort key seems to be the date of the file on the hard drive of your synced PC.
In the Internet app (the browser), there’s no ability to scroll from the top to the bottom, nor can you quickly scroll massive distances – which you might want to do if you find yourself on a site like this blog, which doesn’t display well on the Zune.
Summing that all up.
The good stuff far outweighs the bad stuff.
The Zune HD is a seriously wonderful device. Light and compact, it fulfils exactly the purposes I had in mind for it. Obviously there needs to be a phone-based version as well, but those are either here or on their way.
Look at the items in my “good stuff” list – they’re all ‘architectural’ components – basic concepts of the design of the app. Now look at the items in my “bad stuff” list. They’re all small winces that happen at the corners. “Fit and finish”, if you like, or a “simple matter of programming” to fix. I just hope that someone at Microsoft reads my blog and does something about it.
From the perspective of the Podcasts and syncing up and down, I’d be happy if Microsoft would just introduce an SDK that allows me to enumerate the files on the device, and whether or not they’ve been played.
It doesn’t have a fruit on the back.
I deliberately bought a Zune HD rather than an iAnything. If you read through my previous entries on the blog, you’ll find that Apple have repeatedly given me a poor computing experience that fails to jibe with the expectation that I’m given by the man in the black turtleneck and his dedicated followers. Yes, I’ve seen your Mac, and I’ve seen your iPhone, and it works far less the way I do than any other device I’ve used.
I have a phone that makes phone calls, connects to a Bluetooth earpiece, and receives text messages – and that’s currently all it does. I only charge it once a week. iPhone users that I know find themselves frustrated with the quality of Apple’s customer service, as well as the overall phone service they get from AT&T, and they charge their iPohne constantly. Not even nightly – whenever they are stationary for more than five minutes in a room with a power outlet. At least, that’s my impression.
I might consider getting a Windows Phone 7 when it does arrive, simply because I really like the Zune interface, but I suspect that I may simply remain more comfortable with a separate phone, and not buy the Phone 7, or zPhone, or whatever they wind up calling it (seriously – a dorky name like “Windows Phone 7”? The manufacturers are going to name theirs something cooler).
It needs apps.
OK, here’s where the iPhone / iPod wins out in some measure, except that Apple controls the apps you can put on your iPhone / iPod, and Microsoft lets you put any old crap on the Zune – apparently, it’s actually your Zune, not Microsoft’s. But there are relatively few titles out there, and most people will continue to get their apps from the Microsoft Zune Marketplace, rather than from third party shareware web sites.
Everyone says “oh, that’s cool”
Even the iPhone users I’ve shown the Zune too have noticed something about it that is cool. Most often, they say it’s light in weight, the screen is bright, you don’t have to poke the screen as hard to make it work, and it fits their hands better because it’s smaller.
That’s a takeaway Microsoft can be proud of.
But if they’d fix the little winces I note above, I’d be even happier. :)