I’ve had a bit more time to play with that Zune HD that I unboxed yesterday, and I think I’m going to have a love/mild annoyance relationship with this media player going forward. Here’s what I’ve noticed so far after using the Zune HD for about a day:
- The user interface is incredibly slick and the animations are attractive without being particularly distracting.
- The desktop Zune Marketplace software is excellent for arranging media, downloading podcasts, and purchasing media for download. I might keep using it even if I don’t decide to stick with the Zune HD as a portable media player.
- The multitouch OLED display is bright, sharp, and vivid.
- I like the way Zune Marketplace features are integrated with the user interface so that, for example, you can find related artists to the musician you’re listening to, and download photos and biographic information on the fly over a WiFi connection.
- There are only three hardware buttons: Power, Media, and Home. None of these buttons will let you do things like pause, fast forward, or skip tracks without looking at the screen, because all of the playback controls require the touchscreen.
- There’s no support for DiVX, or MPEG-2 or a number of other formats, for that matter. The Zune HD only supports WMV, H.264, and MP4/M4V files.
- While the user interface is sleek, it’s not particularly customizable. I’ve been using a Windows Mobile PDA as a music player (among other things) for years, and while WinMo gets a lot of flak, the fact that you can choose your own media players is kind of awesome.
And while it’s awesome that the Zune HD lets you transfer your 720p videos to the device without transcoding them, the fact that it has a 3.3 inch, 480 x 272 pixel display that can’t actually display HD resolutions is a bit ironic. Since the model I’m using has only 16GB of storage space, and since my video collection is in DiVX, I’m tempted to just transcode a bunch of my 720p video files to QVGA H.264 files to save space and cram more media onto the Zune HD, which kind of defeats the purpose of having an HD-capable portable media player.
That said, if your media collection is already in the correct format and if you don’t crave hardware buttons or the ability to tinker further with the user interface, the Zune HD still packs an awful lot of wow factor. And once your media is on the device, the Zune HD really does a nice job of playback. I’m still hopeful that the App section of the Zune Marketplace will open up to include third party apps though. Right now, there are only a handful of apps including a calculator, weather forecast application and a few games.
You can check out my video overview of the Zune HD user interface after the break. It’s a little blurry because it turns out it’s kind of hard to shoot this kind of video with my digital camera. But it should give you a general idea of what the user experience is like.