Hands on: 32GB Zune HD walk around and first impressions

Hands on: 32GB Zune HD walk around and first impressions

Summary: The Zune HD is now available online and in retail locations throughout the US. I received the platinum one from Amazon before I saw the Zune Original with FC Sounders etching that I ordered yesterday. I will be sending back this silver model and taking a deeper look at my blue Zune Original next week if it ships as planned. I've now spent several hours with the Zune HD and took several photos of the device and software that you can check out in my image gallery, along with a video walk around the device. There will be a couple of follow-up articles looking at the web browser and apps as well. Check out some of my initial thoughts to see if I am pleased with my $300 purchase and if the Zune HD is something you might want to consider.

TOPICS: Microsoft

The Zune HD is now available online and in retail locations throughout the US. I received the platinum one from Amazon before I saw the Zune Original with FC Sounders etching that I ordered yesterday. I will be sending back this silver model and taking a deeper look at my blue Zune Original next week if it ships as planned. I've now spent several hours with the Zune HD and took several photos of the device and software that you can check out in my image gallery, along with a video walk around the device. There will be a couple of follow-up articles looking at the web browser and apps as well. Check out some of my initial thoughts to see if I am pleased with my $300 purchase and if the Zune HD is something you might want to consider.

Image Gallery:Check out some product photos and UI screenshots of the Zune HD along with a comparison with some older Zune models. Image Gallery: Zune HD in hand Image Gallery: Shot of the OLED display

Available options and box contents

You can buy the Zune HD in 16GB and 32GB capacities with the 32GB model coming in platinum and the 16GB in black. There are different colored Zune Originals (red, green, and blue) that you can choose from and customize as well.

The Zune HD comes in a very compact and sturdy box along with a pair of decent stereo headphones, USB cable, and Quick Start Guide. There is no case, cradle, or external charger.

Initial impressions

When the Zune HD arrived it was the first time I have seen the device in person and was immediately blown away by how compact and thin it actually was. It has the same thickness as the iPod touch, yet is narrower and feels better in your hand. The angles on the back make it feel even thinner in the palm of your hand.

The OLED display is beautiful, but I did expect it to have a bit higher resolution. My T-Mobile Touch Pro2 has a much higher resolution display and it is not even focused on multimedia like the Zune HD. Touch is picked up quite easily, making navigation slick and fast. This thing flies and zipping around it was a real pleasure.


Specifications of the Zune HD include the following:

  • 16:9 3.3 inch 480x272 OLED display
  • Nvidia Tegra 2600 processor. Tegra includes an 800-MHz ARM CPU, a high-definition video processor, an imaging processor, an audio processor and an ultralow-power GeForce GPU in a single package. (As reported by Wired.com)
  • 16GB or 32GB internal flash memory
  • 802.11 b/g WiFi
  • 660 mAh battery for a reported life of 33 hours music and 8.5 hours of movies with no WiFi
  • Integrated FM/HD radio receiver
  • 3.5mm headset jack

Walk around the hardware

The front is dominated by the 3.3 inch flush 480x272 OLED display. It looks great in most all lighting conditions and is viewable in full direct sunlight with the brightness turned up to the highest level (there are 3 levels). The iPhone/iPod touch is much more viewable in direct sunlight, but I rarely ever use any of my devices in such direct sunlight so this is not a concern to me personally. The display looks fine in the shade and other lighting conditions and the colors are quite vibrant. Below the display is the single home button that will get you back to the main menu screen.

I actually had to read through the Quick Start Guide because I couldn't figure out how to go back through the levels without always going back to the home screen. FYI, you simply tap the top words where the menu heading is cut off and only part of it shows. For example, only the bottom of SETT shows on the word Settings.

The display is not oleophobic like the iPhone and thus you will get fingerprints on it. It is flush and easy to wipe off, but I would have preferred to see a fingerprint resistant material used here.

Along the top you will find the power button. A single press of this turns off the display and a press and hold turns the Zune HD off or on. There is nothing on the right side and on the left side you will only find the media button up top. Pressing this media button actually activates an on-screen overlay where you can increase/decrease the volume, move forward or backwards in/between tracks, and play or pause a file. Battery level will also appear on this pop-up display. These controls can also be activated by pressing the display when something is playing. The words "Hello from Seattle" do appear towards the bottom on the left side too.

The standard Zune connection port (don't you love that it is the same through all Zune generations?) and 3.5mm headset jack are located on the bottom.

The only thing on the back is the Zune logo and four visible corner screws so it appears fairly easy to access the internals of the Zune HD, which will probably void your warranty and should not be done.

What is the new UI like?

When you are on the home screen you will see a menu partially hidden off to the left. If you slide your finger across the display from left to right you will see this menu take center stage. It shows you your pinned files, recent history, and newly added items. You can pin a file by pressing and holding on it.

Here are some basics from the Zune site that you may find helpful (I know very few people read manuals):

* On/off button. Press the on/off button to turn the player on. It will turn off by itself after a period of inactivity. To turn it off manually, press and hold the button until you see the off option. * Media button. Press the media button to open volume and playback controls, and to view battery level. * Return to home screen. Press the home button. * Go to Quickplay. Tap the background on the home screen to bring Quickplay to the fore. * Shuffle all music. Tap the play button at the immediate left of the word Music on the home screen. * Previous screen. Press the magnified text at the top of the screen or the virtual back button (when visible). * Playback options. Buttons to shuffle, repeat, and rate songs appear along the bottom of the now playing screen. * Playlists. To save a playlist of the songs you're listening to, go to Music, Playlists, Now Playing, and tap the Save button. * Jump to a letter in a list. Music lists have alphabetical headings. Tap any letter for a letter menu, then tap another letter to jump to that position in the list. * Zoom. Two short taps will enlarge your view of a picture or website. * Screen lock/unlock. To avoid accidental touch commands, turn the screen off by pressing the on/off button. To turn the screen on, press the on/off button, then move your finger across the screen to unlock it. * PIN lock/unlock. Use PIN lock to require a 4-digit code for screen access. You can enable/disable PIN lock in Settings. * HD Radio. Zune HD supports HD Radio, offering digital reception and—in many cases—additional programming from your favorite FM stations. Availability depends on station broadcasts and Zune reception. For a list of stations in your area, visit www.hdradio.com.

The Zune HD supports multi-touch so you can zoom into photos or websites by pinching and zooming just like the iPhone. It works wonderfully in the photo browser and flicking through photos is a real pleasure.

I have always found my Zune devices to sound a bit better than my iPods and the Zune HD continues to sound fantastic to me through my Ultimate Ears headphones.

There are very few apps for the Zune HD, but I honestly am not looking for a ton of them at this time since I use my smartphones for apps and not my media players. All the games have a Kia Soul ad in them that shows or plays every time, which is why I guess the games are all free (stay tuned for this post coming soon).

More initial thoughts

I didn't think much about the HD radio when I first heard about it, but after trying it out (see my video) I think it will be a feature I come to love. Here are the directions for using the HD radio found on the Zune site:

Tune your Zune HD to a radio station

1. On the Zune HD home screen, tap radio. 2. Press and hold the tuner band beneath the frequency, then swipe your finger left or right until you come to the station that you want to listen to. If the station broadcasts in multiple streams, you'll see them on the tuner labelled "HD1" and "HD2", for example. 3. Tap an HD station to select it.

Change the radio region when you travel to Europe or Japan

1. Select settings, radio. 2. Choose a radio region.

I also followed a link that lists the following features in HD radio:

* FM Multicasting – the ability to broadcast multiple program streams over a single FM frequency (e.g. 97.7-1, 97.7-2, etc.) * Static-free, crystal-clear reception * FM sounds as sensational as CDs * AM sounds as rich as analog FM stereo * A variety of “data services,” including text-based information – artist name, song title, weather alerts, school closings, etc. scrolled across your receiver display. * Digital broadcasts in the same frequencies as analog broadcasts; listeners do not need to learn a new station number and today’s stations remain at their current place on the dial * Local content * Free

I found the stations to be very clear and since there are a few stations I really enjoy I may be using this quite a bit. You can also choose to add the song to your cart for later downloading via the Zune Marketplace. Think of it as integrated Shazam.

The hardware is very impressive and the UI makes the experience very pleasant. I remember when I first picked up the iPhone and was blown away by how fluid everything was. Well, the Zune HD does the same thing, but with a much more media-focused layout. There will be comparisons with the iPod touch and iPhone, but of course the Zune HD cannot hang with all the apps in the App Store. I am not looking for the Zune HD to run lots of apps and surf the internet (you will see my thoughts on that in my next post) and want it to be my music subscription host that rocks in the portable media player category and it does that very well.

I will post a thorough review next week after I spend much more time with the Zune HD. If you have anything you want me to address, please leave a comment and I will put it in my in-depth review.

Topic: Microsoft

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  • Should the Zune HD be compared with the iPod Touch?

    I see the Zune as being a media player first and a portable computer second. The iPod Touch seems to me to be more of a portable computer and even Apple are pitching it more as a gaming and app device. The Zune HD sits in the middle between the Nano and Touch and looks to be trying to create its own product niche.
    I think if you are really into your music then the Zune looks like an excellent device to get instead of a Nano, especially once the prices have come down a bit. It will also be interesting to see how the Zune software and services develops over the coming months.
    If you want a portable computer then the Touch is the way to go.
    • If you want to believe marketing hype, then sure

      I'm not saying it's not reasonable to say iPhone is stronger in certain areas then Zune, and vice versa. And it's fair to say that there are differing features. But they both are basically the same type of device capable of the same type of tasks and are accordingly in the same price range. So yes, they ought to be compared.
      Michael Kelly
      • By that rationale...

        an iPhone must be compared to netbooks as they are "[i]the same
        type of device capable of the same type of tasks and are accordingly in
        the same price range.[/i]"
        • A netbook can make native cell phone calls?

          It can't. Plus a netbook can't fit in your pocket, which is a part of the smart phone's feature set. There are more than enough differences to consider them in separate markets.
          Michael Kelly
          • You turned it into an iPhone

            I was talking about the Touch and you started talking about an iPhone. Just a simple mix up I think.
          • Eh?

            Actually, you messed up and put iPhone. ^_^;
            Michael Alan Goff
          • It was the other guy who messed up

            But yes we messed that up. But again, form factors are a physical feature which changes how the machines are utilized. Also the capabilities of an iPod Touch are so locked down that it would be difficult to compare it to a netbook, which has a free range of software capabilities.
            Michael Kelly
          • I didn't

            The very first response to mine by Michael compared the iPhone to the Zune.
      • I am not believing any hype.

        I am just stating my personal opinion. I see Apple as pushing the Touch more for its apps and games rather than its music. The Zune seems to be a more music focused device like the Nano which, also similar to the Nano, has some apps and games so I think it is a fair comparison. If the Zune did not have a touch screen would we be even comparing it to one?
        • Again, yes we would

          because the features and capabilities are almost spot on perfect. Are there differences in the overall experience? Of course, just as there are differences between a Mercedes and a BMW. But they are still clearly in the same product class.
          Michael Kelly
          • The features are similar but...

            I am talking about where the focus of the device is. I have an iPhone which I do not use for music at all as I feel the Nanos are better suited for that task. If I get a Zune HD it will be as a music device. I understand where you are coming from but if someone was to ask me to recommend a good music device I would say get a Nano or a Zune HD. That is just how I personally see them.
    • MS misses the boat again

      Two conflicting articles came from PC World yesterday regarding the Zune HD and the iPod Touch. Ginny Miles wrote for the Zune HD, but her article was filled with many inaccuracies about the iPod Touch. The other was written as an opinion by Daniel Ionescu. Daniel states that it was a mistake for MS not to go head to head against Apple and release applications for the Zune HD.

      The Zune HD is definitely a direct competitor to the iPod Touch. Just because MS can't get its act together fast enough to release apps for the Zune HD, you can't place the Zune HD in a separate category. And the best iPod for music that Apple has is the iPod Touch. And of course, the Apple App Store now has 75,000 applications which will run on the iPod Touch.

      If you want to get a different outlook on this situation, try this link:

      • I have read that article....

        and you talk about inaccuracies about the iPod Touch!!! If I want a different outlook on the situation the last place I would go would be an Apple fan site!!

        I found it sad that they feel the need to slag off OLED screens and yet were lauding them when they thought they may be getting one in the an ipod or tablet. They even said that the screen is poor in bright lights even though there were pictures on the web showing they were ok. They also make up myths that never even existed - Mirosoft has said from the beginning that the screen isn't HD - for obvious reasons - and yet that is somehow a myth!? They also quote some outdated and misleading benchmarks about the graphics performance. What I found the most amazing thing about it was they had never even touched one!!!

        How many apps were you expecting them to release on day 1? I have no idea what their plans are going to be regarding apps and a store for this device. I honestly don't care as I would use it just for music and the odd video should I get one.

        And before you say anything I own an iPhone and 2 Nanos.
        • Master Joe Says...

          I have owned an iPod, and currently own a Zune. I plan to upgrade to the Zune HD, as soon as they release the 32 GB model in black. Honestly, the funniest part of the argument about the apps is that if you were to criticize Leopard as not being as good as Vista, back when it aws first released in January, all of the Mac fans would say "What do you expect when it first comes out?" Now, when the shoe is on the other foot, they act like if it does not have 75,000 apps available on release date, then it is somehow a major flop? Then again, Apple fans do have an amazing ability to ignore most things reality, and will often do as you said, and claim that features speculated to be in Apple products as being amazingly fantastic, only to act as though it is the most poor quality thing they have ever seen, should someone else use it, especially Microsoft. Personally, I like the Zune better than the iPod, and would never go back to an iPod. The Zune HD, with the touch screen, and enhancements offered over the Zune only help to seal the deal for me, and bring me to the Zune front permanently. Then again, the iPod touch ALMOST got a camera, so that speaks for something. =)

          --Master Joe
          • Question

            Hey Joe, if the original Zune was so great, why did Apple sell 67 iPod Touches for every Zune sold in the last year?
          • Marketing and Hype

            Apple is much better at marketing their stuff as cool and trendy, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's better stuff. That just means that they're very good at marketing.

            Most people I know who have tried both devices (iPod vs. Zune) come to the same realization: Zune is a better product. Better sound quality (as noted in this article), better interface, more capability (sync over WiFi, built in radio), better product.

            Using your inane rationale we must conclude that Windows is the most superior OS on the planet. After all, Microsoft sold like 67 zillion copies of Windows for every 1 copy of OS X, right? Just because more people bought Windows (or an iPod) doesn't necessarily mean that those are the best.

            Lots of people buy low-quality crap based on slick marketing. Welcome to America.
          • Master Joe Says...Again

            Agreed. You are evaluating the BEGINNING of the product life chain. What about the end? Do you want to tell me that everyone who purchased an iPhone actually LIKED the iPhone? Or, did they just want to be SEEN with an iPhone? Show me a single Apple product that is anything more than a status symbol. Look at any Starbucks or other coffee shop in America, and you will see a bunch of people sitting around on MacBooks, and othe rmodels, and *pretending* to write profound poetry, working in Adobe CreativeSuite making "cool" graphics, and writing every ridiculous detail of their excursion on Twitter. I ask you one question. So what? Go into the enterprise and corporate worlds. Look around. How many Macs do you see? Other than those who believe that diigital photo/video editing HAS to be done on a Mac, not many. Besides, while Apple is better at marketing, that is relative. Theya re better at telling lies. They claim their products "just work." However, look at all the installation issues users are having with Snow Leopard, and have had with the last TWO versions of iTunes. When I was in college, we had a Mac lab, and used the Adobe CreativeSuite on it. Half the computers were not able to be used because the applications just quit working, with no reason whatsoever, and could not be reinstalled, as that did not repair the problems. Then, on other ones, the programs would work, but would randomly freeze, causing you to lose all of your work. I'm sure that the Mac fans will point the finger at Adobe, but I don't have those problems on the PC version of the Adobe CS. Then, there's security. Look at the sheer number of holes patched over the last year and a half by Apple. People go nuts if Microsoft releases 12 fixes on patch Tuesday. Yet, Apple can patch 69 holes, and then another 30 a week later, and no one bats an eyebrow? I could go on and on, but I'm not here to write a book. I hope that I DO get a response though, as I am sure that someone will try and take away the validity of my claims, and prove me wrong, and I'd be happy to back up everything I have said, and add plenty more to it. Also, since I am sure it will be brought up, I have used a MacBook Pro, and owned it for about two and a half years. Why? Because I ran Windows XP on it. Apple's Bootcamp Assistant, when in beta, was awful. It was truly the most poorly constructed application I hafve ever encountered, and I've used windows ME. =P

            --Master Joe
          • @ TallTom and MasterJoe

            I have worked in Marketing and sales for over 30 years. A good marketing campaign will increase sales. The best one I have ever heard of is the VW Beetle ads played on TV 30 years ago. Those ads increased sales at VW by about 300%. VW was estatic. No marketing campaign has ever achieved the 3300% increase in sales over MS you are saying is solely responsible for Apple's success.

            MS does not require any sort of marketing because the IT world makes all the purchase decisions for them. The only way MS would be in danger of losing corporate business is if they came out with too many Vista OSes. So MS is not set up to market anything properly, especially consumers. Least of all the Zune HD.

            There are more factors than just marketing. Currently, the value proposition of an iPod Touch is much higher than the Zune HD. Why would anybody pay for just a music player, when for the same money they can get a music player that has 21,000 games, 75,000 applications, e-mail and MMS? With the exception of music, MS is not due to have most of that until the end of the year. And the MS app Store will be even more restrictive than Apple's.

            The gap will likely widen in favor of Apple over the next year. If you are a developer, who would you rather develop apps for - an installed base of over 70 Million units or an installed base of around 1 Million?

            As for Apple's products not working, well there's no way I can respond to that accurately, except to say I have gone into situations and fixed many problems where others have not. I have found many Mac computers being supported by PC people. Most PC people treat Macs as some sort of toy. And Macs require the same kind of professional support and respect that PCs do.
          • The height of arrogance

            Even if your posts were not routinely completely misinformed and
            devoid of useful information, one has to wonder why you think what
            you have to say is so important that you have to pronounce your
            authorship in such a blatantly self-important manner.

            "Honestly, the funniest part of the argument about the apps is that if
            you were to criticize Leopard as not being as good as Vista, back when
            it aws first released in January, all of the Mac fans would say 'What do
            you expect when it first comes out?'"

            First, leaving aside the quintessential straw man fallacy you present
            here, I doubt many mac fans would reply to your proposed criticism as
            you claim. They would look at you incredulously, and laugh at you for
            the absurdity of your premise.

            "Then again, Apple fans do have an amazing ability to ignore most
            things reality [sic]"

            Since you seem hell-bent on being a troll, and starting a flame war.
            care to name one?

            "Personally, I like the Zune better than the iPod"

            Again, who the heck do you think cares what you prefer?
            Besides which, clearly the market has chosen otherwise. And unlike
            other platforms you might care to cite to continue your non-stop
            trolling, your Zune's numbers are NOT headed in the right direction.
            Have fun at your social.

            Then again, a Zune social is kinda like an orgy. It doesn't work with
            only one person. It's not an orgy, is just MasturJoebation.
      • I LOVE that article!!

        First off, this response completely annihilates every point made in your FUD piece:

        I also have to make an observation. Whenever MS releases [b]anything[/b], the [b]conclusion[/b] of the entire, terrified, Apple community is that it sucks and then they frantically start looking for justification to back up their conclusion.

        When the Zune came out, it had WiFi and FM radio. Those features [b]sucked[/b] according to the Apple community. Fast forward a few years and those exact same features suddenly don't suck, only because they can both now be found on Apple's competing products.

        When Apple released their PPC Macs, PowerPC chips were [b]awesome[/b] and Intel chips [b]sucked[/b]. Fast forward a few years and suddenly, Intel chips were [b]awesome[/b], only because that is what Apple started using.

        On and on and on it goes, the pattern is the same. When MS innovates something, the Apple crowd immediately states that this feature sucks until a few years later, when Apple products finally get the exact same feature, and then that feature rocks.

        Sometimes you guys are quite happy holding 2 contradictory viewpoints at the exact same time without even bothering to hope we've all forgotten about the lame arguments you made 5 years earlier. For example, PCs have a [b]fantastic[/b] ecosystem with millions of cases, and billions of programs. The apology is always the same: who needs so many choices? Do you really need to pick from 300 cases when 1 will do just fine? Yet when the discussion jumps to iPods, suddenly having 40,000 docks is better than Zune's more limited choice. Let me ask: how many docks do you need?

        So my prediction based on years of empirical evidence? Yes, your "myths" article proclaims that OLED sucks because it can't be seen in the light (a fact proven false over and over and over again). Yet I guarantee you that Apple [b]will[/b] move to OLED where suddenly, well, it turns out that daylight viewing wasn't so important, more battery drain on lighter pixels isn't so important, a 4-5 year lifespan won't be so important, etc.

        Same with the Tegra processor. While your "myths" article is quite comfortable comparing framerates when the Apple device is doing 480*320 with no anti-aliasing while the Zune is doing 800*480 with AA and AF, just so you can "prove" how much Tegra sucks, when Apple eventually jumps onto the Tegra chip, years from now, you will all be cheering its multi-core power efficiency.

        Cue the double standards...