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Cryo Chamber

My first review of the Zune media player

I rushed over to BestBuy yesterday to get the first Zune… They hadn’t even set up the displays, so the guy had to go to the back and get me my brown one. BestBuy was nice enough to match their online-purchase offer of providing a free case for the Zune (either the leather or the arm-band version), which is normally sold for $30. 

Firstly, I would like to say this is not a comparison to an IPOD. I haven’t owned one, though I have played with several other brands of MP3 players.  Most of my media playback experience comes from using a PocketPC and 1gig memory card addons.

Packaging: I was concerned when I first pulled my brown Zune out of its VERY NICE packaging because I couldn’t find a charger or much of anything else.  After a few hesitant moments, I found cool compartments in the package that contained headphones, a little brown soft-cloth baggy and a USB connection cord.

Install: I put the included CD in and it not only set up my drivers, registered and installed an interface/media player for the laptop, but also synced my stuff and upgraded the internal Zune software right away (claiming to give me more stable and faster network sharing).  It required that I have internet access naturally for this step, but that’s cool with me.

Power: It has a lithium ion battery, which means long battery life without the ‘memory’ problems associated with earlier battery types. No charger!  The battery was showing only a partial charge right out of the box, but I happily found that it gathered its charge from the small trickle provided by the USB port.  Very nice, no more boxy power supplies!!!

Graphics: Wow. Big bright screen (compared to my Pocket PC).  Menus fade in and grow and slide around very much like those in Windows XP Media Center Edition. Synced pictures on it? Then you can use them for your background. Those get faded, resized, rotated, zoomed and all that other jazz for you depending on what you are doing.

Audio: I played with some ripped Mp3s and wma files I had on my laptop (they automatically synced to the Zune for me) and they sounded great with the provided ear buds (the ear buds are magnetically attracted to one another which prevents them from getting tangled up in your pocket). The bass response was VERY nice.  I haven’t even bothered messing with the equalizer yet, but I saw it in there.  The FM radio has scanning and presets available for you, and you can set it to which ever continent you happen to be on. No AM though. Would it have hurt to put AM on it too? Why not?

Video: The included video clips are way crisp with no lag. They are vivid on the screen and the sync even grabbed all of my TaeKwonDo belt test videos and shrank them to be viewed on the Zune.  The Settings show that you can broadcast your videos to the XBOX 360s in your home (I don’t even have one yet, but it’s the thought that counts).  One video format I would like to have seen supported by Zune is the .dvr-ms format used by Windows Media Center.  I found a plug-in to convert that format to .wmv format which syncs automatically (even if conversions are needed) and plays fine with the Zune however.

Controls: I am not so certain I like the wheel control yet; there is no tactile feedback (meaning, no little bumps to tell you which portion of the wheel you happen to be pushing on in the event you aren’t looking). Nothing on the wheel to indicate which way is scan, volume, select or what-not, but the documentation or push-to-test works well enough. I understood later as I was viewing videos in Landscape mode that the Up-Down-Left-Right was changeable, so it explains the lack of indicators, but not the lack of tactile response.

Overall: I am very pleased with my purchase. I chose the brown version because it matches (to some extent) the interior of my wood-grained Bimmer; and because to be ‘cool’ one should be different.  When I hear all of the IPOD bigots saying the Zune sux ‘cause it ain’t an IPOD, I wonder what ever happened to ‘Think Different’.

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