I’ve been using the Zune HD that NVIDIA sent me for the last few days, and I’ve come to a few conclusions so far:
- From a hardware standpoint, this thing is (mostly) awesome. It gets excellent battery life with good audio quality and the ability to handle HD video
- The screen is too small. Sure, 16:9 videos look pretty good, but because the display has a 16:9 aspect ratio, if you try watching a 4:3 video you get black bars on the sides making the movie look postage stamp-sized.
- The fact that you can play 720p videos without downsampling them is nice, but it would be even nicer if the screen could actually show all of those pixels. DiVX support would also be nice.
- The user interface is pretty slick, but you’re pretty much stuck with the default apps because there are very, very few software downloads available in the Zune Marketplace.
Microsoft took a small step toward remedying that last point this week. First, the company rolled out new firmware for the Zune HD. The Zune 4.3 firmware lets the on-screen keyboard stretch from one end of the screen to the other in landscape mode, and adds an auto-suggest feature for text input. But the coolest thing is that it adds support for 3D games, and today Microsft added 6 new applications to the Zune Marketplace including a couple of pretty impressive 3D games such as PGR: Ferrari Edition and Vans sk8: Pol Service.
The 3D graphics acceleration is something that really makes the Zune HD shine. I just wish there were more applications available. On the bright side, all of the apps that are currently available for download are free. So there’s that.
I’m still interested in seeing how the NVIDIA Tegra platform that powers the Zune would perform in a smartbook or netbook-style device with an operating system like Linux or Windows CE that’s more open to third party development.