Zune HD evaluate
Once we broke information and pictures of the Zune HD again in April, we have been greater than somewhat excited. There had been speak — and rumor — of a widescreen, touchscreen Zune for a while, and seeing the fruits of Microsoft’s labor made it clear that the corporate had completed its homework. As time wore on and we reported on the official announcement, affirmation of NVIDIA’s superior Tegra chip inside, and information that the Zune Market would prolong into Xbox Reside, we have been downright giddy on the prospects. Lastly the a lot-anticipated, closely lusted after micro-slab has been delivered to market — and it isn’t simply the unit itself. Together with the discharge, we’re seeing new desktop software program, the Zune model transfer in the direction of a related expertise for Home windows computer systems, and the enlargement of the Zune Market and ecosystem — replete with purposes designed only for the Zune HD interface.
So the time has come for the Engadget assessment. Does the Zune HD lastly match up with Microsoft’s ambition, and may it stand as much as the warmth and ubiquity of the competitors? Learn on for all of the solutions. %Gallery-72768%
- Beautiful new UI
- Responsive touchscreen
- Zune Move
- Restricted past music and video playback
- Unclear roadmap for purposes
- No Mac compatibility
The very first thing you will discover — the very first thing everybody notices — is simply how extremely attractive the Zune HD is. The modern casing and large, shiny touchscreen is a far cry from earlier units within the line. The physique of the participant is a sandwich of brushed metallic bread with plastic “meat” by way of the middle. On the face of the system is a tall and skinny three.three-inch OLED show and a lean residence button on the southern finish of the panel. The again is barely curved on the sides and fixed with 4 outstanding, industrial screws. On the underside of the gadget there is a Zune adapter port and three.5mm headphone jack, whereas the highest homes an influence / sleep button, and a “media” button lives on the left-hand aspect of the unit (extra on that later). All in all, the package deal is well put collectively, and whereas it typically felt a bit mild (or not fairly there) within the hand, we’ve got few complaints about its construct and elegance. It is one of many extra mature choices Microsoft has made to the gadget world — and we’re taken with it.
Inside, the ZHD is powered by the a lot-lauded Tegra APX 2600, a system-on-a-chip with a give attention to HD video and sophisticated graphics efficiency — minus the standard battery suck related to stated actions. The 65nm CPU options eight separate cores, together with HD encoder and decoders, a 600MHz ARM11 element, and a stand-alone 3D GPU. What does that imply? Nicely, presumably (and based mostly on myriad demos we have seen from NVIDIA) the Zune HD is able to some fairly fierce graphics efficiency, and provided that Microsoft has simply introduced “3D video games” for the platform, it is probably we’ll see it put to the check. To date there are not any actual examples of the facility of this Zune past the graceful dealing with of photographs and HD video (and it’s clean). We think about this portion of the system has but to be absolutely tapped.
The Zune HD is available in 16GB and 32GB varieties, and we had the pleasure of testing each the platinum and black iterations, as our unique unit was utterly damaged. We might have appreciated to see a bigger choice for storage, however for many customers, we’re guessing there will not be a ton of complaints. When paired with the Zune Cross service, it is virtually an afterthought, as you will probably be shifting a lot of music on and off of this factor — we positive did.
Up prime the unit boasts a shocking 480 x 272 OLED show — nonetheless a rarity for many PMPs. The display additionally occurs to be capacitive (Microsoft’s first foray down this street), and options multitouch enter together with gesture help. The Zune HD’s show is very responsive and efficiency is tremendous snappy — for those who’re used to the motion of an iPod contact or iPhone, this could really feel about the identical to you. Extra to the purpose, the colour saturation and deepness of blacks is unmatched by virtually any handheld gadget we have used. It is a beautiful display, and a fantastic selection for a product so laser-targeted on media. There’s one minor gripe although… and also you in all probability can see this one coming. OLED screens aren’t recognized for his or her efficiency in direct daylight, and the Zune HD does not massively enhance on that time — the picture under says all of it. Simply fake it is Dracula or one thing.
The participant comes with a number of equipment as properly — a set of ordinary earbuds that are unsurprisingly weak (we discovered them to be overly bassy and muffled sounding), and a USB cable for connecting the gadget to your PC.
The large modifications right here aren’t simply within the hardware that makes up the gadget, however within the completely new software program which lives inside. The Zune HD includes a utterly revamped Zune interface, one which makes use of huge textual content, huge gestures, a multi-dimensional format, and multitouch enter that will help you navigate by way of your media. Not solely does the gadget present the usual help for music and video, however it appears like Microsoft is taking a deeper dive into purposes, offering a couple of non-recreation titles out of the gate, with plans for extra strong experiences within the upcoming months. As well as, the corporate has revamped its desktop software program to really feel extra intently according to the brand new options it is offering on units, and is pushing the Zune Market out into Xbox Reside for video content material (quickly, however not but). Let’s take a better take a look at the software program aspect of the Zune HD.
The consumer interface of the Zune HD is nearly as attractive wanting because the participant itself. Microsoft continues its push in the direction of massive, huge typography right here, offering a classy, neatly designed format that is virtually as practical as it’s engaging. Like all good touchscreen units, the Zune HD offers a lock display which requires a swipe as much as clear. As soon as you’ve got pushed away the very-barely informative web page (you get the time and the battery life right here), you are greeted with a clear menu of content material choices. Scrolling by way of the record is clean as butter on the HD, however you are additionally capable of swipe to the best, mentioning an inventory of “pinned” media (primarily favorites which you choose by lengthy-urgent on an merchandise), current choices, and the most recent content material that is hit your gadget. A swipe left takes you again to the primary menu. The important thing to this type of navigation is layers and fluidity — each time you progress from one place to a different, you are being pulled into or out of a piece… dimensionally. If you click on on “music” in your record, it feels as in the event you’re zoomed down into a brand new area of the gadget, whenever you click on in your aspect menu you flutter out of 1 record and into one other. The impact is sort of totally different from the navigation on a contact or iPhone, the place you are feeling such as you’re continually managing lists.
One fashion of navigation is not essentially higher or worse than the opposite, although we should say the Zune HD takes some getting used to on this division. Earlier than you actually get a really feel for the movement of the UI, it may be just a little complicated as to the way you again out of a menu or transfer over to a different choice. Because the house button offers a constant path to your essential menu, it isn’t that jarring, nevertheless it does have a studying curve. The counterpoint to that, nevertheless, is that on a tool just like the iPod contact, a variety of your menu choices are all the time entrance and middle, which suggests you are poring via these boring lists, however you are additionally capable of monitor your location and bounce from A to B extra shortly. With the Zune HD, it is all the time a couple of additional steps this manner or that. When you get a really feel for it, nevertheless, it is fairly a pleasing expertise — zooming by means of content material on the Zune HD goes past easy navigation, and makes simply utilizing the system a type of weird alien pleasure.
Whle the UI is usually excellent news, Microsoft made what we contemplate to be a reasonably poor hardware and software program selection with using its “media” button. The place you’d anticipate a hardware quantity rocker, the corporate supplies a single click on button which brings up your media navigation menu. Right here you get choices for again / ahead and quantity adjustment. Sadly, what meaning is that each time it is advisable change the quantity, you not solely need to click on this button, however you need to be wanting on the display, and have the ability to contact the plus or minus symbols. In case you’ve ever walked down a busy road in New York and wanted to show your quantity up or down, you’d know what a backwards expertise that is. Having to make use of a two step course of and take a look at the display makes no actual sense for one thing as primary as quantity adjustment — particularly because the Zune HD offers no choice for leveling your audio. A normal rocker would have been a a lot smarter selection, or perhaps a twin-use rocker that served each functions.
Apart from these gripes, nevertheless, stepping into your content material and enjoying again media is a cinch, and most customers will take to it simply. Sometimes we felt like there one-too-many targets for us to click on on (a play button, a letter, and an artist identify multi functional part, for example), however usually the HD has its priorities straight.
Apps / Web
One of many largest points swirling across the launch of the Zune HD was the app query. Figuring out that the gadget had been supercharged with Tegra, had a multitouch capacitive display, and a totally reworked OS, it solely made sense. Since from virtually each angle the ZHD seems like an iPod contact competitor, purposes are the logical subsequent step. In fact, how do you go about creating a brand new silo for purposes if you’ve already obtained a devoted cellular ecosystem and separate video games console? The reply could be very rigorously, and really quietly. It was solely upon launch that Microsoft made its intentions clear about apps coming to the Zune HD, and now it seems to be like we will see no less than a handful of small packages headed to the gadget.
For starters, you possibly can obtain a free calculator, climate app, and a smattering of video games for the PMP. Nothing appears to be profiting from the horsepower simply but, and honestly we felt that loading and shutting occasions for even the only of purposes have been longer than they need to be. In fact, this can be a platform within the earliest levels of infancy, so we anticipate higher issues down the street. The large M has promised “3D gaming” — which we all know the Tegra is greater than able to — so it is attainable the corporate will select to purpose extra enterprise-oriented software program in the direction of the Home windows Telephone platform, maintain hardcore gaming orbiting the Xbox, and go after that informal marketplace for the ZHD (which Apple is presently cleansing up on). Regardless, the Zune HD OS appears ripe for richer content material, even when the gadget’s awkward place within the Microsoft lineup does not make that prospect as easy appropriately.
One merchandise that bears mentioning: Microsoft is sticking interstitial advertisements on the participant if you load purposes. It’s kind of jarring and a bit off-placing to see an commercial in your system once you’re making an attempt to get into an app, and we expect the corporate might need to examine another choices right here — it simply feels sleazy.
Past the appliance state of affairs, there’s additionally the small matter of the online browser which the Zune HD ships with. Constructed upon the prevailing cellular Web Explorer, however sufficiently tweaked, we discovered it to be mildly helpful, although sorely missing in key options. It is clear that Microsoft had some trepidation about placing something too strong on the market. The browser renders pages properly and makes use of pinch zooming like a champ, however there are not any tab choices, no historical past, and hardly any navigational parts in any respect. Moreover, the efficiency on web page loading and rendering wasn’t even in the identical league as most webkit-based mostly cellular choices (Android browser, iPod contact / iPhone, Pre). Overlook about YouTube or different wealthy media as nicely — it is simply not occurring right here. On the plus aspect, the included on-display keyboard is surprisingly correct, and we’re not-so-secretly hoping that we see this QWERTY pop up on future Home windows Cellular units — it is truly fairly good. However good keyboards however, on the finish of the day the browser continues to be barebones… regardless of how easily it renders pages.
Desktop software program
Microsoft has made some respectable modifications to its Zune software program, however whereas the headliners like Sensible DJ and a brand new Zune HD-type “Quickplay” residence display may seize all the eye, we’re most enthused by the overall velocity and stability enhancements. When it got here to Zune three.zero — notably when looking the Market (a continuing for Zune Move subscribers) — there have been some extremely annoying hangups and delays (and even outright failures) in populating search outcomes. We might bugged Microsoft about it, and the corporate claimed to be engaged on the problems. Nicely guess what? Zune four.zero certainly solves most of those issues. The truth is, the interface from prime to backside appears accelerated and a bit extra logically laid out, although basically Zune’s desktop software program continues to defy most conventional interface paradigms.
The brand new Quickplay display principally duplicates the performance on the system, letting you pin favorites, take a look at a “historical past” of performs (which wasn’t populating very often, to our eyes) and peep the most recent additions to your library. Under that may be a row in your favourite Sensible DJ artists. When you’re utilizing a Zune Move (and let’s be trustworthy, you ought to be) you are not getting simply a mixture of your personal tracks, however of something in the entire Market. Truthfully, we anticipated higher playlists out of the function — Jack Johnson and The Fray tracks in a MGMT combine does appear a bit odd — however maybe Zune is simply going for irony. The Mixview function nonetheless appears principally ineffective to us, and the Market “picks” nonetheless vacillate between oddball and insulting, although we’re engaged on a brisker machine with out our full play historical past, so maybe four.zero’s picks will enhance in time — three.zero solely appeared to worsen.
Syncing content material was principally painless, although we did run into a number of snags when making an attempt to dump massive stacks of information onto the system. Greater than as soon as we needed to erase our syncing gadgets and re-obtain, or give up the app and reboot to ensure that all of the bits to fall into place. We’re unsure if it is a easy communication challenge between the participant and software program, or if there is a extra difficult reply.
General, nevertheless, the software program appears principally unchanged each in interface and performance (outdoors of the odd tweak or there). Except for the appreciable velocity enhancements we’re noticing and the Quickplay choice, it is primarily the identical. When you by no means favored Zune three.zero, Zune four.zero will not do a lot to vary your thoughts, however for present customers it is a massive leap ahead in frustration-free usability.
Audio high quality
Zune gamers have all the time been recognized for his or her stellar audio, and the Zune HD is not any exception. Overlook about utilizing the included earbuds — they’re just about junk. Once we examined with respectable in-ear buds, nevertheless, we thought the standard was quite wonderful. In comparison with the contact or iPhone audio, the Zune HD appeared to have a wider stereo subject and deeper, extra resonant low finish. The place different gamers appear crunchy and muffled, the Zune HD feels expansive and open — like somebody popped the highest off of a soda can. It isn’t such an outrageous distinction that most individuals will discover, however those that pay attention intently ought to be capable of hear it, and we’re definitely not complaining about higher audio in terms of the realm of the digital.
Video high quality
Video high quality on the Zune itself is good-looking, which ought to come as little shock. You do not mix that sort of small display, tight pixel density and OLED know-how and never find yourself with some strong outcomes. HD content material we threw onto the gadget was clear and crisp, although once we used the A/V dock, we discovered the 720p content material to be a bit extra compressed than we might like. General most video was high quality, although we had some maddening points with making an attempt to get video from different sources enjoying. The Zune software program is not precisely a whiz at discovering media from outdoors the Zune ecosystem, so in the event you’re recent to the platform, you might end up scratching your head whereas searching round for the movies you downloaded in iTunes (or from Amazon, or anyplace else). When you remedy that drawback you need to be good to go… until you need to get down and soiled with any even remotely bizarre format. If that is your endgame, you are going to have to determine some extra artistic methods to get video onto your Zune HD. For all it is superior media features, it is not likely a jack of all trades. As an example, there is no DivX help right here (as different reviewers have famous), and also you’re undoubtedly out of luck with the extra trendy codecs corresponding to MKV.
Microsoft was type sufficient to ship alongside the A/V dock and distant (MSRP $89.ninety nine), which places the Zune HD in an entire new context. The dock labored superbly out of the field — we simply plugged it into the wall and into our HDMI jack and away we went. As quickly because the ZHD was slotted it introduced up a well-known wanting menu which is navigated relatively merely utilizing the included (tiny) distant. What’s intriguing concerning the dock is that it transforms the Zune HD right into a sort of mini all-in-one STB, permitting you to tug video, audio, radio (HD or in any other case), nonetheless pictures, and podcasts from an simply accessible location which requires zero setup.
Audio and video out of the dock by way of HDMI appeared greater than adequate, although as we stated beforehand, we thought some HD content material we might bought within the Market was a bit extra compressed than we might have favored. General it is a pretty compelling package deal to have, although it comes at a not-insignificant value to the top consumer, and it is clearly not going to attraction to everybody (particularly if you’ve simply shelled out for the participant). It does, nevertheless, appear to be a super setup in case you’re a scholar or somebody with restricted area, because it solves fairly a couple of issues unexpectedly. %Gallery-72771% Wrap-up
Maybe probably the most compelling purpose to purchase a Zune HD proper now is not the beautiful display or forthcoming apps, HD radio, or slick design. Make no mistake about it — this can be a superb, fantastic gadget, and nobody would fault you for purchasing one — however it’s not the gadget itself that’s the most engaging a part of this package deal. To us, it looks like the only most compelling purpose to decide on this gadget over one thing just like the iPod contact could be boiled down to at least one factor: Zune Cross.
We all know what you are considering — that is loopy fanboy speak. However take a look at these details: as of proper now there is not an enormous worth benefit to buying the ZHD over a contact (actually, $199 will get you right into a decrease capability contact, when you’re taking a look at $229 for the bottom Zune), you do not have entry to extra media (definitely within the video division) or purposes, the sound high quality is not so a lot better that we would ward you off of one other product, and there are usually main deficits within the utility of the Zune HD versus Apple’s participant (like that net browser). The Zune HD is a superb media participant, however we will not fake it is the one PMP available on the market.
However the one factor that Microsoft has that Apple does not is Zune Cross — and that is a serious “however.” We cannot bore you with the small print of this service, although you must know that for $14.ninety nine a month, you’ll be able to principally take pleasure in all of the music yow will discover within the Zune Market (and obtain ten tracks on the home each 30 days). The Move ought to attraction to each informal and obsessive listeners alike, because it supplies profit to both. Whether or not you are gobbling up music or simply snacking, having an all-you-can-eat buffet in entrance of you is useful.
So let’s fake for a second that these gamers are precisely the identical in each means besides for a way you get music on them. In that state of affairs, we expect Microsoft’s angle has some actual benefits. In fact, these gamers are totally different — you are still sacrificing quite a bit for that $15 subscription — and despite the fact that the Zune HD is an incredible media participant with a number of nice options, we nonetheless do not assume it competes 1:1 with a tool just like the contact. Nonetheless, it competes, and for Microsoft and the Zune model, that is a serious leap ahead. Notice: Within the coming days, Engadget HD editor Ben Drawbaugh will probably be taking a deeper take a look at the Zune HD’s integration into the remainder of the Microsoft ecosystem, together with Media Middle and Xbox Reside.