3 weeks later and the Zune is better than the iPod

3 weeks later and the Zune is better than the iPod

Summary: The Zune keeps getting knocked and many people are quoting some recent sales data to show how the Zune is already falling down. However, you need to look at other circumstances surrounding when that data was captured and also give an honest look at the Zune in direct comparison to the iPod to see which is the best device for you.


As readers know I purchased a Zune about 3 weeks ago and posted some initial thoughts on my blog. Since that time there has been lots more written on the internet about the Zune, mostly some harsh feedback that sounds like the authors didn't spend too much time with the device itself. People were also blasting the Zune for not working with Vista out of the box when Vista wasn't even available to the general public. It ended up being a fairly simple tweak to get support on Vista as I link to below. Unlike many people slamming the Zune, I have been checking out the Zune and the iPod with video in direct comparison and have to say I prefer the Zune for my usage. Keep in mind a few things that help make the Zune more attractive for me that may not be applicable to others. I don't have a large music collection and want an unlimited music subscription, I also want to watch video on the device (I know many people can't understand why you someone would want to watch video on a small display, but I'm a geek and enjoy the experience during my 2+ hour bus/van/train commute), and I enjoy FM radio on a regular basis. I could have picked up something like a SanDisk Sansa device with a PlaysForSure subscription and that may be the best choice for many people. However, I wanted to try out something new and personally enjoy other devices from Microsoft, T-Mobile Dash for example, and wanted to give the Zune a try.

Zune iPod I don't like the way Microsoft paid off Universal and this alone almost made me want to return the Zune. It now looks like Universal may be putting the pressure on Apple to do something similar and I hope this doesn't start us on a slippery slope we don't want to go down.

In side-by-side comparison, I find the Zune with its directional pad much easier to navigate than sitting there spinning my thumb around in circles on the iPod wheel. I suppose if you are already an iPod user this may take some more practice than someone like me who doesn't have his own iPod (my wife has a nano I use sometimes). The Zune is taller and thicker than the iPod, but feels lighter in my hand since it isn't as dense as the iPod. While the iPod feels solid, I already have scratches on the back silver half and have only placed in on a table for a short time. I can't imagine how scratched up it will get if I actually carry it without the slip case or other case. On the other hand, I have been carrying the Zune naked for a couple weeks and there isn't a visible scratch anywhere on it. I like the feel of the Zune in my hand and personally find the brown with green highlights attractive. While the display resolution is the same, the larger landscape display on the Zune is honestly more enjoyable for movies than the iPod and the movies don't appear grainy or poor in quality like some people have speculated without even seeing a Zune in person. I like the integrated FM radio with RDS support and find that the signal strength is actually quite decent. I haven't had a chance to try the WiFi sharing yet, but I will when I attend CES in January. I just received the myvu personal media viewer to evaluate with the 30GB iPod I picked up, but think I'll be returning the iPod after I get a chance to check out video with these glasses.

I do like the easy way you can get video content and podcasts in iTunes and sincerely hope Microsoft implements these features in the Zune Marketplace sooner rather than later as they really should have launched with these features right out of the gate. However, music and photos are easy to get into the Zune and I find the Zune Marketplace much better than the Yahoo! Music interface I have been using. Until Microsoft adds video content to the Zune Marketplace, users may want to try using the excellent PQDVD software, DVD to Zune Video Converter, for getting movies on the Zune. BTW, I have the Pocket PC version of this software and it works perfectly when you select WMV as the output format. You can also use a Neuros MPEG4 Recorder 2 Plus to capture video content from virtually any video source.

I have been talking up Yahoo! Music service and think unlimited music subscription service is a great model for many people who don't have large personal music collections. I just finished listening to TWIT 79 and thought it was funny how excited Leo and a couple others were about unlimited music subscriptions. As they stated in their podcast, music subscriptions allow you listen to lots of music that you may not have purchased and I am personally expanding my music horizons and really enjoying music again. I prefer to pay US$15 a month for all the content I want rather than US$1 for each song.

The NPD Group reported data that showed Zune took 2nd place behind Apple in its first week of sales. Then yesterday I read a few posts showing the NPD Group data showed Zune falling down to 5th place after Thanksgiving week's sales. I think people need to take a closer look at what happened that week before jumping to conclusions. For example, Black Friday happened that week with the SanDisk players cut 50% in many cases. Even Apple jumped into the game with rare online Black Friday sales on its iPod devices. The Zune was never reduced in price for Black Friday sales and remained at the US$249 retail price for this period. It will be interesting to see how the Zune does over a longer span of time. I know I personally recommended the Zune to a couple people that never had an iPod and were trying to find a good device that played MP3 files they already had.

I read several sites that stated the NPD report doesn't report on sales made by Wal-Mart, Amazon.com or Apple Stores, but I could not find anything about that on the NPD Group site. I also read comments in some posts that state they do capture data from Apple retail stores, the Apple online store, and Amazon.com. It isn't clear exactly what sources NPD Group has for gathering sales data, but in the past Wal-Mart and Amazon.com were sources so I don't know if these stores were excluded in these latest sales surveys. Wal-Mart sells the Zune as well so if Wal-Mart was not counted then there could be a skewing of the numbers for the Zune as well.

There were some hacks and other findings in the last few weeks that improved the Zune experience. Some are hacks and some are features that aren't readily advertised or made simple with the current version of the software. They include:

Michael Gartenberg also reported that you may be able to listen to Zune Marketplace purchased or unlimited music subscription content on Plays For Sure devices. I just checked that out by copying ZunePass music I downloaded to my Nokia N91 using the USB mass storage mode. The music played back perfectly on this Plays For Sure device. I understand it doesn't go the other way, but I am not more apt to pay for the ZunePass monthly subscription knowing that I can get content there onto my existing Plays For Sure devices like the N91 and T-Mobile Dash. I just hope Microsoft doesn't screw this up with an update to the Zune software.

So after a couple weeks of using the Zune, it may not be perfect and it may not be the product many people were hyping it up to be upon initial release, but it is a solid device with some good features and I am pleased with my purchase. I think most of the issues are software related that can easily be updated by Microsoft. The iPod is also a nice product, but I am looking for something more durable and scratch resistant that supports an unlimited music subscription service and a larger display for video.

Topic: Apple

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  • Bypass sharing limitations?

    You seem to suggest that this method bypasses the 3 days/3 plays limit, but I can't
    believe it's that simple. If MS trusts the file extension to implement its DRM scheme,
    they are increadibly incompetent and their DRM is worthless.
    Fred Fredrickson
  • Good review but shows Zune is immature to invest in

    I am an iPOD user for years and would agree at this point that subscription is a nice option I would want. That really seems to be the only key benefit of Zune for my use,

    The rest of the "good features" you favored for the Zune were a combination of hacks and music subscription. It just seems hacking is not a feature and music subscription alone is not enough, really, to move to Zune. I do hope Apple opens up a subscription option soon.
    • I personally haven't even used the hacks

      I don't think the other "good features" have much to do with the hacks. I mentioned that the larger display and integrated FM radio with RDS were features I really liked.

      I listed the hacks for people and assume only the real geeks will use them. I personally haven't used any of the hacks since I am pleased with the Zune without even adding this functionality at this time. How many iPod owners actually even use the hard drive capability on their device, or for that matter, even know it exists. I think the hacks and hidden features I listed are for the technically inclined and just add additional functionality at this time. Some of them should have been included by Microsoft and hopefully they will with software updates.

      I recommend people listen to Leo on TWIT or MacBreak Weekly and listen to his enthusiasm regarding music subscription services and actually give them a try if they have a chance because that alone can be a compelling feature.
      palmsolo (aka Matthew Miller)
  • I think the Zune is already making larger strides

    than most anticipated. I like the controls and larger screen myself. I use webcasts as one of many means of learning on the fly and the Zune is perfect for this. Also, the iPod wheel just does not work well for me and I suspect other people. I work in IT but am outside working most of my time off the job in a northern climate. I also play guitar. My fingers are calloused and cracked and rough most of the time. The ipod wheel, which lacks a solid level of sensitivity to begin with, does not work well for all but the most silken fingertips. The Zune's controls are much more, well, controllable and that's a big plus.The ipod has peaked in sales and the "coolness" factor seems to be fading rapidly. I think the Zune will do exceptionally well and future versions will surely bring more great technology. As for size, have you seen the new horizontal iPods with the same capacity? They are pretty much the same size. Perhaps they still have a thinner profile but the gap is really inconsequential.
  • No mention of DRM it slaps on music files

    Just read this article so I do not know if this was meantioned elsewhere. Understand that if one shares music, which has been released in the public domain, that the Zune slaps DRM on the music file when it imports the file! How lovely of the MS brain trust.
    I know for one I will not be going anywhere near the Zune.

      sorry to yell, but I am tired of this. There are reasons to like or dislike the Zune, but making crap just so you can bash it is total BS.
      >>Microsoft confirmed that an unprotected MP3 file loaded onto one Zune and then sent to another remains identical to the first copy. A company representative told me: "We are not applying any 'DRM' to any files that weren't already protected. No file that has (for instance) a Creative Commons license or is unprotected will have any encryption applied to it."
      • I agree and stated this in October

        As I stated in my previous post regarding file sharing on the Zune (http://blogs.zdnet.com/mobile-gadgeteer/?p=190) no DRM is applied to any of the files you share. DRM is only a part of the files you download from the Zune Marketplace. People like to throw around the DRM title a lot because it scares away people and like the previous commenter noted let's stick to the truth.

        That being said, while DRM is not applied to the files, the 3-day, 3-play limitation is part of ANY file you share with someone. This is a bit strange and I wish they would only apply this to purchased music since that makes more sense. Then again, I am sure many people would share music they obtained illegally and Microsoft is trying to get in with the music industry so this limitation is also understandable.
        palmsolo (aka Matthew Miller)
    • Beaming doesn't add DRM...

      Zune doesn't "slam DRM on the file" technically. The file is actually on the unit and unmodified. It just limits the playback to force it's use only as a "sampler" function. It's the compromise Microsoft made. 3 days, 3 plays. Pictures are stored without restriction, though.

      Really, if you want to give your buddy content you have rights to... there are many, many ways. E-mail, Internet, USB stick, etc. This feature is more of an extention to the Zune Marketplace and the "community" experience.
  • Zune? Yawn.

    This article takes more time being a corporate apologist than providing substance. The editors at ZDNet should consider why they give this hack a column if all he does is make excuses for Microsoft.
  • You're reaching...

    "There were some hacks and other findings in the last few weeks that improved the Zune experience. Some are hacks and some are features that aren't readily advertised or made simple with the current version of the software."

    Let me get this straight - after I have purchased my Zune, I've got to waste time with hacks to improve my user experience with the product? Wow. And I'm a techie - imagine the mayhem when regular consumers are asking "why doesn't this feature work?".

    Do you really think the iPod would be so successful if they hadn't nailed the user experience?
    • Hacks are not necessary, I was just pointing them out

      As I stated in an earlier comment, I don't think the other "good features" have much to do with the hacks. I mentioned that the larger display and integrated FM radio with RDS were features I really liked. There is no reason a standard user would have to worry about any of the hacks so no, you won't have to waste any time with them. I personally haven't even used the hacks and don't find them necessary at all for my current use.

      I don't think the hacks add anything critical that a standard user will ever care about and just thought this technical audience may want to know how people are already adding functionality to the device, granted some should have been added by Microsoft first.

      I personally like the user experience on the Zune and find it easier to use than the click wheel on the iPod. iTunes is better though, but the Zune Marketplace isn't difficult or anything.
      palmsolo (aka Matthew Miller)
  • ZDNet blogger supports MS product

    Why didn't this make it to the frontpage?
    Richard Flude
  • Zune's Approach Disappointing

    I think the Zune's closed-DRM approach is a terrible idea from the consumer standpoint. It may be great for boosting the income of the Zune division, but this type of system plays on the average consumer's ignorance of the evils of DRM. It's as if Microsoft looked for reasons why the iPod is so successful and the only thing they could come up with was that iPod-compatible, DRM'd music can only be purchased from Apple. How on earth can this be viewed as a positive when every tech blogger on earth has complained about investing hundreds of dollars in iTunes purchases, which can only be used on one brand of device?

    If we have to accept DRM as a necessary evil, then I'd much rather deal with the greater selection of stores and devices offered by the PlaysForSure system than yet another 'one player - one store' system like Zune Marketplace or iTunes.

    Wake up Microsoft! There are so many great things about the iPod that you could have implemented on the Zune (like the amazing integration between player and software), why would you focus on copying one of iPod's biggest flaws?
  • Not a chance!

    When sites, such as Amazon, sell more AC adapters for Apple's IPod than units of Zune, I would call that a dismal failure in my book. I sample both, as a gift for a 13 year old, and the Zune interface was clumsy, and the display was grainy.

    Want to guess which one I bought?
    linux for me
  • MSFT

    The Zune thing, based on the most paranoid DRM scheme imaginable (payoff to the record labels) and burdened with a thousand tie-in schemes (MSFT lock-in as marketing ga-ga) is about as customer hostile as a car with no breaks that ignites randomly and runs on overpriced, watered-down gas sold by one company - which I guess is a fair analogy to Microsoft Windows.

    Sure, great, yeah, they're on track to sell a million by next summer. Microsoft can loan money to orphanages in Africa to buy Zunes and get a million 'sold' by the middle of next year.

    What does that do to the fact that most all the reviews for Zune on Amazon (not written by MSFT employees) say the device is the most calamitously malformed consumer electronics product ever assembled? How does that address the fact that every reviewer not directly employed or paid by Microsoft (there's a story to be written about MSFT's astroturfing sites) regards the Zune as a bundle of pathetic attempts to abuse the customer for every last dime and place them more in the thrall of the big media companies than even the old record labels could have ever imagined in their most diabolical dreams?

    MSFT won the operating system market by manipulating the manufacturers and getting them to agree to preferentially treat Windows - (the boot loader issue that many old technologists asked Justice to investigate as the most potent and egregious restraint-of-trade behavior exhibited by MSFT and its unindicted coconspirators) - as the default operating system on most all assembled and shippped PCs. (Justice went for the simpler tale - Netscape, the abused billionaire's toy, was supposedly locked out of the Windows desktop. Sniff. It was so horrible, Judge Jackson. . . so very howwible how they, they bwoke my bwowser, boo-hoo, boo-hoo.)

    Culturally, MSFT disdains of actual end users. They are completely beside the point in MSFT's universe. The PC ships with our stuff on it and they have to use it, end of story. Let one tell the boss they want to run Berkeley Unix. Good luck, clownface.

    What MSFT will be left doing is throwing more royalties and levy payments to the labels in order to give them the precedents they need to attack Apple for the same fees and break Apple's business model. Again, the user, the technology and the experience are completely out of the picture. MSFT figures once they can bankrupt Apple's business model, they can shovel anything into the void, absorb the losses for years and drive Apple out of the business. The dev people and lawyers in Redmond are no doubt laughing themselves sick all over their Porches for dreaming up this scheme. . .


    But Microsoft can't force the labels and consumer electronics companies to both accept a technology suite that bottlenecks the hardware and the distribution of content through MSFT technologies the way that the they managed with the operating systems they license to the manufacturers and, oh yeah, the end users.

    Consumers can and do go to a lot of different sources for music and there is little that MSFT can do to change that in the downloadable music space except by buying Apple, Real, MP3.com, Emusic, Napster, Buymusic, AudioLunchbox and eClassical. Even if Justice let them buy a new monopoly they'd still be left to deal with the consumer electronics manufacturers who (like Sony and Philips) have their feet in both hardware and content camps and, of course, the record labels, probably the only industry on earth that can claim to have more diabolically ruthless characters than MSFT.

    MSFT wins by creating chokepoints and exploiting them to control markets. The downloadable music scene is just too slippery an environment for MSFT to get a foothold and it's populated by monsters that would make the creature in the Alien movies look like Sister Bertrille.

    MSFT, however, will not be able to game the labels they way they ultimately screwed over the PC manufacturers (who now complain all profit in the PC goes to MSFT) smaller companies they 'partnered' with (Latest victims: PlaysForSure partners. PlaysForSure? Wow, the lawyers must have lost another expensive lunch after coming up with that name, knowing they'd abandon it - 'Duh! Don'tPlayNow!' - when they were ready to roll their own player) and the competitors (Digital Research, Lotus Development) that they attacked with market-distorting tactics. (The IBM case - which included Lotus products IBM acquired in the claims - was settled last year.)

    MSFT enjoys their badboy reputation because the company is chockablock with hyper-entitled, imagination-free, chair-throwing screaming child men like Ballmer but not in their most caffeine fueled, post-hoops hallucinatory fugue have they ever imagined the kind of monster they are playing with now. The labels will simply decapitate MSFT with endless demands for increasing piracy-levy payments and, finally, punitively expensive litigation if MSFT gives them the opportunity.

    After all, the media industry is really one big litigation strategy masquerading as a business model. Before it's all over, it will look like The Flying Nun meets Alien and I know who Sister Betrille is in this analogy.

    Couldn't have happened to nicer guys.
  • RE: 3 weeks later and the Zune is better than the iPod

    i think zunes are way beter than ipod i think that apple is a failuer i could go on and on on reasons why but i wont get into that i JUST got my zune and it is amazing and my friend has an iopd and the zune is by far beter and that is all i can say about that zunes are more handy. for exsample the zune pass you can get as many songs as you want for a whole month for 14 dollars you can find the zune passes at bestbuys and walmarts. i think if you are trying to decided betweena zune and a ipod i would deffently say zune.