The early bird gets the worm and I almost missed mine. When the new Zune’s went on sale a couple of weeks ago, I thought it would be a big deal. I went so far as to stop by Wal*Mart at midnight to try to snag one. The discussion with the late shift was pretty interesting. I asked, "Do you have any of the new Zune’s?" The ladies responded, "I’m not sure if we have any Zooms. We’ll have to check in the cage." Twenty minutes pass. "Sorry, we don’t have any Zooms. Who makes it?" Sigh…
There was another Wally World on the way home so I asked the guys there. They knew exactly what I was looking for but they said they have not received their shipment. Maybe on the truck tomorrow. Oh well, it was worth a shot.
The next morning I got up early. I was talking with my wife about the possibility of finding one at the SuperTarget and getting a $25 gift card with the purchase. It just so happens she was planning on going there and getting a Starbucks along the way. How convenient! Grin. So I follow her to see if they have one. As it turns out, they didn’t but we spent nearly as much on other Christmas gifts anyway. I took the gifts, produce and head home. It’s looking like I am not going to bag my game. But I am a skilled hunter. Time to use the tools of the trade.
After putting up the groceries, I fire up my trusty laptop to see what’s happening on our internal Zune email alias. I figure if there’s a channel supply issue, it’ll be apparent pretty quick since I’m an hour behind the east coast but ahead of the west coast sleepy heads. I spy a tip. According to the tip, the CircuitCity stores seem to have more stock than most retailers. The one by me has been pretty good at having hard to find stuff because it’s a little off the heavy trodden path of the shopping areas in the metroplex. Sure enough, a call to customer service indicates they have two. I’m at the desk five minutes later. I bag my game and head home to eat some music and video.
I immediately unpack the goods. Slimmer 80GB player, check. Premium ear buds, check. Sync cable, check. Hey, where’s my Zune pouch? Drat, no cover for the unit. Fortunately the legacy iPod Video I have has a little pouch that came with it that is unused. Now I wish I had not sold my Belkin case to Bryan when I gave him the Zune 30.
I like the size and I really like the feel of the surfaces. It is not slippery. The black surface reminds me of my Lenovo ThinkPad T61p. The back is brushed silver. I can’t wait to see the 80 with the laser etched artwork. That is going to look very kewl on this unit.
I plug my Zune 80 into the laptop and let it charge for a couple of hours. While it does this, I review the manual. Read The Fabulous Manual (RTFM). I install the Zune software and of course check out the premium ear buds. More on those later. Since I am a video buff, I of course have an eye on the screen. I am a little under impressed. I knew it was only slightly larger than the Zune 30 but I was hoping it would be more widescreen than square. Nope. What were we thinking? Have any of you purchased a TV or HDTV in the past couple of years? Was it square or widescreen? Of the past thirty DVD’s you purchased, were any FULLSCREEN ? Gosh, I hope not.
The new squircle Zune pad is interesting. I am not used to it yet. It seems a little sensitive to me. I keep selecting the wrong song or video. It’s probably just me. I noticed someone was talking about using this with gloves on and having a hard time. After testing it with gloves on, there are two things I notice that aren’t possible with gloves. You cannot press in the middle to select an item, and you can’t raise or lower the volume. That requires a direct touch from your finger.
The navigation system is easy enough. Moving around and playing media is pretty straight forward. Changing settings is easy. I immediately check the wireless status and make sure it is off. I want to save precious battery life.
Speaking of battery life, I’ve been doing my sustained video playback tests. So far it appears the Zune 80 will play video for about 3 hours 30 minutes when the LCD brightness is set to high. If you set the brightness to medium, it adds an hour to the playback time. From totally dead to totally charged takes about 2 hours when using the USB port on my Lenovo ThinkPad T61p.
The screen itself is very nice. It has good contrast and color however I am used to finer grained controls for brightness, contrast, gamma, etc. I am also wishing the Zune 80 had zoom and aspect ratio controls for video playback. To compensate, I have to create video output that works well with the Zune. That isn’t trivial and I’ll cover that in more detail in another post. I attempted to get some notes on paper with a previous post, but it was rushed before we left town to visit our family in Georgia. I am taking my time this time around and it will be much more detailed. Although the screen is obviously much larger that many other portable media players, I still prefer widescreen. I prefer big widescreen. 4.3 inches is my preference and right now I’m still digging the Archos 605 WIFI screen more. The Zune 80 is going to be much easier to travel with when space is at a high premium, but I usually have plenty of space in my backpack.
The ear buds that come with the Zune 80 are good. I like the magnetic tips to help keep the cords managed. I also like the braided cords to help keep things from getting tangled. You get some noise from the material used in the cords, but I didn’t notice any of that on my recent flights to Georgia and back.
I like the new Zune software in many ways. It’s easy to move around and figure stuff out. I would prefer more color schemes for the software. I like dark themes like the previous version. This version is a bit dainty for me but it is bright and easy to see. Some users have commented they don’t like the play and pause controls in the bottom right. It doesn’t bother me.
I purchased a three month Zune marketplace pass and downloaded some music. The software is very music focused although I have seen some pretty terse feedback on the changes in categorization and scoring. I added a portion of my music repository to my personal ThinkPad and let the Zune software add it to my collection then sync to the device. It’s all pretty straight forward. I am not a big music fanatic (any more). When I was in college it was different because I was a DJ, but I’m much more into video now. The Zune marketplace is lacking the type of video I am interested in (movies and television programming). Syncing my movies into the collection and over to the device was pretty slow. They were not conversions because I had already encoded the .WMV files to support the Zune. I can’t tell if it’s a Zune issue or another symptom of the bugs we are tracking with the ThinkPad and non primary hard drive copies and moves.
I would prefer having my Zune show up as a hard drive to my laptop. I would also prefer being able to manage my collection on the laptop differently from the Zune device. I understand why the Zune team is doing this, I think, but I much prefer the way Archos and Creative expose the hard drive and the folders. I think at the very least we should have an advanced mode that allows for exploration of the hard drive through traditional tools like Windows Explorer.
The new Zune 80 holds it’s own. There’s a lot to like and it will be a solid seller this season and beyond. Since I am mostly into video, I am still looking for a larger screen, better video controls, and a deeper video offering from the Zune marketplace. I will also be looking for better battery life, a removable battery, or extra battery options from Microsoft or other partners. This years Zune offering took another great step forward and I look forward to future generations.