Monday, January 28, 2008

The New Zune Review

Shortly after I learned I was getting my 4-gig Zune, Todd Cochrane gave his list of criteria for the Perfect Podcast Player (P3) on the Geek News Central Podcast. I vowed to evaluate the Zune v. 2 based on that criteria so here goes.

Todd's P3:

1. Must be WiFi Enabled
One point for the Zune. Not only is the Zune WiFi enabled, it can use WiFi to synchronize content and the setup to connect to your home network couldn't be easier. The Zune software automatically detects the wireless network, lets you put in the security code and sends the information to the device at the next sync. It takes about 30 seconds - seriously.

2. MP3 Player
Honestly, Todd said this as part of a sentence to clarify what type of device he was talking about, as in, "...WiFi-enabled MP3 player" but I think it's an important point. I have owned and seen MP3 players that don't play MP3s. Come to think of it, the iPod falls into that category, doesn't it?

3. Ability to subscribe to podcasts via easy-to-navigate RSS feeds
Another point to the Zune. Podcast subscriptions can be accomplished via the Zune Marketplace, using special Zune subscription buttons that webmasters place on their sites or by manually entering the RSS URL into the Zune software.

4. Allows import of OPML lists for subscriptions
I may have this listed a little different than what Todd intended. Honestly, I had to look up what an OPML list was. Basically, as I understand it, the software would parse the OPML list (essentially a text file) and automatically subscribe to the podcasts on the list rather than having to subscribe to them individually. It doesn't really matter whether I understand this correctly or not, the Zune doesn't do it. We're 3 for 4 so far, not so bad.

5. Unattended, automatic, wireless sync
The Zune comes close. If you have the Zune plugged into power via a dock or a power adapter*, it will perform a wireless sync. This is provided that the wireless radio is on and, presumably, not otherwise using it (I haven't tested that last part). If you don't have the Zune plugged in, you can initiate a wireless sync manually at any time. This works well for me since I can sync as soon as I get up in the morning or while I'm walking out the door. The reason for the powered-only automatic sync was described on GNC as being a power issue. Presumably, as battery technology improves, we will see this improve as well.

6. Stop and resume playback of podcasts
This makes 5 for 6 for the Zune. The podcast feature of the Zune remembers your last position and gives you the option of resuming from the last position or playing from the beginning. I did find out today that there is a way to short-circuit this. There is a key combination you can use to save battery power and put the Zune into a deep sleep (hold "down" on the squircle and also hold the "back" button). If you shut it down this way, the device loses your bookmarks.

7. Seamless transition from the device to your car radio and back
Okay, even Todd admitted that this was a fantasy criterion. To start with, digital storage and playback technology from within the radio itself is not widespread. For now, you'll still have to connect the device to your radio somehow. Moving on.

8. Fits in the palm of your hand
The 4GB and 8GB versions of the Zune fit this criterion well. With the advance of memory technology and development of Solid State Drives, I think we'll see larger capacity devices in a smaller footprint. The 4GB version is also quite light. Of course, one advantage of the 80Gb Zune is its larger screen.

9. Ability to remove played podcasts from device but not PC
This one I actually added after the fact but Todd agreed with completely. I was pleasantly surprised to find the Zune quite readily handles this automatically. When you've played a podcast all the way through, it is removed from the device at the next sync. You can always put it back on if you want but I like this as it keeps manual memory management to a minimum. Mmmm, feels good (sorry, couldn't help it).

So the Zune meets seven out of nine criteria. That's not bad... not bad at all. Next time, I will give a review of the Zune manual, device and software.


*Side note: Don't buy the $30 Zune A/C charger from Microsoft. It's just a 5v transformer with a USB port on it. You still have to use the sync cable included with the device - it doesn't come with an extra. For half the price, I got essentially the same thing as in the MS packaging AND I got a car plug with it.

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