If you’ve been reading my prior blog posts, dating back to about two years ago to the present, you’ll probably remember that I purchased one of the Halo 3 Edition Zunes. In those two years, I’ve grown to love my little 30GB Zune, as it has delivered just about everything I could reasonably expect from an MP3 player. Music quality was great, videos were watchable on its small LCD screen, the FM radio is a very nice addition (albeit underutilized recently due to my dislike of the music radio stations tend to play these days), and the wi-fi, even if its implementation was somewhat half assed at first, has been upgraded in recent updates to add wireless syncing and access to the Zune Marketplace through hotspots. Sure, leaving the wi-fi on nukes the battery life but the features are nice to have nonetheless. It almost goes without saying that I’m a bit of a Zune fanboy.
After two years, the Zune 30 has become a bit dated next to its younger siblings, the Zune 120 and flash based Zunes and a number of other MP3 players like the Creative Zen, Samsung’s P series and, of course, the iPod Touch, the MP3 player that has inspired so many clones as other companies attempt to cash on both it and the iPhone’s runaway success. As I sat and watched the first public unveiling of the iPhone and later the iPod Touch, I began to hope that Microsoft had a Zune Phone or Zune Touch in the works to combat them. Well, a while ago, my hopes were answered in the form of the Zune HD, Microsoft’s answer to the iPod Touch.
The Zune HD packs a number of interesting features such as a 3.3 inch OLED capacitive multitouch touchscreen sporting a 480 x 272 resolution which should prove exceptional for viewing videos. The interface is very similar to the interface already seen on current Zunes which may or may not be a good thing. On one hand, it appears fully functional and easily usable but next to the iPod Touch and iPhone, the UI runs the risk of looking a bit dated.
Outside of the touchscreen, the ZuneHD packs in a number of new features and upgrades such as the inclusion of HD radio. There hasn’t been much information released in regards to how the radio will integrate with the Zune HD but based on how the radio was integrated and later improved upon in current Zunes, this should allow for tagging songs for purchase later on the Zune Marketplace through their RDBS data. It’s pretty much a given that the radio will offer far better quality over the current Zunes due to the superior digital signal so there is no doubt that the inclusion of HD radio will be a great new feature.
In the time since the announcement of the Zune HD, gadget blogs such as Engadget and Gizmodo and larger tech oriented sites such as CNET have had the chance to play around with prototype versions of the Zune HD and initial impressions seem to be very positive. The UI has been very snappy and video has looked fantastic. At this point, I’m less worried about the hardware capabilities of the player and more about whether or not the device will be able to stand up to the inevitable onslaught that will be levied against it in the form of the iPod Touch. It’s no secret that Apple has a stranglehold on the MP3 player market and rules with an iron fist. The iPod Touch is an amazing device on its own due to its intuitive multitouch interface, excellent web browsing experience and its great media playback abilities, but what truly makes the iPod Touch stand out among the crowd is the revolution known as the App Store.
Since its debut alongside the iPhone 3G, the App Store has matured into a force to be reckoned with of unparalleled size and scope and has inspired many copy cats and imitators. To date, none of these imitators have even come close to matching what Apple has created. Now it may seem like I’ve gone off on a tangent but this is directly related to the Zune HD. If the Zune HD is to make any sort of dent in the market, it will need something along the lines of the App Store. It would be too much to ask of Microsoft to expect them to be able to stand toe to toe with the likes of Apple right out of the gate but they will need an ace up their sleeve to be able to take on the reigning champion and I don’t think HD radio is going to be enough.
Overall, the Zune HD looks to be a very impressive piece of technology and a nice addition to the Zune family. I have been impressed by what little I’ve seen so far and hope that new information released about the player will be just as impressive. It remains to be seen if the Zune HD will have a real competitive edge that will make its long, uphill battle against Apple a bit easier. This is something the original Zunes had problems with. While I think the Zune 120 was head and shoulders ahead of its 120 GB iPod Classic counterpart, the market obviously didn’t share the sentiment and Microsoft has a great deal of work ahead of them if they want to convince the market that they truly have the superior product.
That is, if they do indeed have an iPod Touch killer on their hands.