3 weeks later and the Zune is better than the iPod

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.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

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.

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