Microsoft got it right by borrowing from the Zune

Earlier this week I asked whether or not Windows Phone 7 Series was a game changer. At the time it had been a while since I had played with the Zune HD, so I fired up my Zune HD again, downloaded the latest Zune software, and put the interface and syncing through its paces.

Earlier this week I asked whether or not Windows Phone 7 Series was a game changer. At the time it had been a while since I had played with the Zune HD, so the interface and look and feel wasn't fresh in my mind. Since everyone I know has been asking me for my opinion on Windows Phone 7 Series, and the phone is not yet shipping, I figured the closest I could come to its look and feel was the Zune HD. So, I fired up my Zune HD again, downloaded the latest Zune software, and put the interface and syncing through its paces.

Setup

The Zune HD is definitely the closest we're going to come to the Windows Phone 7 Series experience. Given that, I downloaded the latest Zune software for my PC and then installed it. After it was complete I plugged in my Zune and then it downloaded its latest firmware. All told, from out of the box to up and running was about thirty minutes--I hope Microsoft trims some time off that one.

Impressions

Once setup was complete I connected to my NAS and dragged over some media. The Zune software was pretty easy to navigate, though it proved to be a bit finicky, sometimes refusing to add a song that I was dragging over. I also couldn't drag folders over, which is the way I prefer to get my music onto a device.

The biggest selling point of the Zune HD music experience is the Zune Pass, which lets you download an unlimited amount of music for $14.99 a month. I point this out because once the Zune software on the PC started, it immediately started playing 30 second previews of some songs by the artists I had chosen to be some of my favorites during installation. If I had a Zune Pass, I could have clicked to download the full tracks and enjoyed more than 30 seconds, just moments after getting up and running.

One of the things that was understated during the announcement of Windows Phone 7 Series was the use of the Zune software for media management instead of Windows Media Player and / or ActiveSync. Based on my latest experience, this is a HUGE bonus. Aside from some hiccups and a bit of a learning curve, this out of box experience was one of the better ones I've had with a gadget. Contrast that with the trials and tribulations I continue to encounter with ActiveSync and Windows Mobile Device Center.

User Interface

Of course, the main thing that will be most similar between the Zune HD and the new Windows Phones is the UI. I say similar because it's not identical. Where the Zune HD sports some level of Hubs, it's not nearly as embedded in the UI as it is in Windows 7 Series. However, even with the Hubs in Windows Phones, you can still swipe to the left and reveal names of applications and navigate that way. As for the Hub style, being able to "pin" a Hub or a picture of your friend, and have a start screen that's constantly updating reminds me of MOTOBLUR, which I shut off moments after using it for the first time since it was too distracting. It remains to be seen if this implementation of "status updates" will be less distracting.

Games

The Zune HD also sports a great gaming experience. So far every game is pre-empted by an advertisement, but that also means that we get the games for free, so it's a win-win. As I mentioned above, the screen is amazing, and coupled with an accelerometer and some decent games, this is a solid portable gaming platform. The only thing missing is a built-in speaker, which is a bit of a detractor for me, but something we won't have to worry about with Windows Phone 7 Series.

Overall my Zune HD experience has me looking forward to getting my hands on Windows Phone 7 Series. It's too soon to talk about whether or not it will replace my iPhone, especially since version 4.0 should be out by then, but there are definitely enough things to like that will finally make Microsoft a contender in the mobile space again.

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