15th Jul 2007

Microsoft Zune Review

Microsoft would badly like to take away Apple’s title as king of the MP3 player world, and the Microsoft Zune is their attempt to take the crown for itself. This is their first foray into the world of MP3 players, and only time will tell if the Zune line of products will one day be able to one day take the top spot.

The Zune offers an impressive 30 GB hard drive, meaning you can fit a whole lot of media on there. It’s got a decent sized 3 inch screen, good for both pictures as well as video. The graphical UI is pretty simple and straight forward, as well as nice to look at, so there isn’t too much of a learning curve when you first pick up a Zune and start playing all sorts of music and videos, as well as looking at your pictures.

It definitely looks pretty stylish and comes in three colors: black, white and brown. Nothing too terribly fancy but definitely appealing to the eye. This is all done in a package that isn’t too large and isn’t too small, it’s a pretty nice fit, actually. It is a bit bigger than a similarly sized iPod, but oh well.

Like the iPod the Zune comes with its own online store: the Zune Marketplace. Here you can buy all the music that you want and put it into place on your handy dandy Microsoft Zune. It runs following a set-up similar to Napster and other online music stores, part of the problem is, though, that currently there are no movies for sale through the Zune Marketplace, you can only buy music.

Another problem with the Zune is the fact that it isn’t backwards compatible with Windows Media Audio (WMA). Basically it only works with WMA-DRM 9.1 and up files; if you’ve got WMA-DRM 9.0 or less, well, it isn’t going to work with the Microsoft Zune. Even a bigger slap in the face is the fact that it doesn’t WMV files for movies. Considering that this is the official video format for the Windows Media Player and other Microsoft products, this really doesn’t make any sense to me. Since WMV is known for being able to produce high quality video playback in a smaller size than, say, the MP4, this is a real let down.

One of the highlights of the Microsoft Zune is its wi-fi compatibility. This makes it very simple to share files between two Zune players. Of course, both people have to have the Zune in order to do this wi-fi sharing, which means you’ll have to hope you have friends who also use the Zune to share. The shared files also have limited playback; you can only play them every so often.

At $250 the Microsoft Zune isn’t too badly priced, and it is pretty easy to use. The biggest drawback is definitely its playback support; it only supports some files and there are a lot of major file formats that can’t be played, particularly when it comes to video files.

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