Microsoft’s new Zune HD is slowly becoming a solid competitor to the widely popular iPod Touch and while already in it’s 2nd generation, the Zune HD is still playing catch-up.
The weight and dimension of the Zune HD is just right. Out of the box, the Zune HD is pretty slim and light (40% lighter than the iPod Touch) with a glass front panel coupled with a single slender button at the bottom.
At the back is an aluminum plate, in brushed-metal finish, tucked with exposed screws. The construction is pretty solid and the design is more skewed to edge corners rather than curvy ones.
The navigation is really neat and fluid but needs some time to get used to. Instead of icons, the menu is composed of enlarged texts and some visualization. Playback controls appear with a single tap but you can play forward and back with a (horizontal) flick of a finger. Instead of a timeline, fast-forward control is activated with a sustained tap. Likewise, the volume can be controlled by tapping or flicking the screen up or down.
It’s got something going on with a number of pretty nice features the iPod Touch doesn’t have:
OLED Screen + HD Video-Out: Being able to output 720p resolution to your HDTV is a neat advantage. And OLEDs have better color range and viewing angle. True enough, the display doesn’t bend to a bluish haze when viewed at an angle (near the 180-degree angle).
HD Radio: Despite the very few HD radio stations here in the Philippines, the Zune’s HD Radio can pick up a wide range of FM stations at SD. Apple says they don’t want to put an FM radio tuner on the iPod Touch because they’re positioning it as a gaming device.
Wireless Sync: USB cable missing? The Zune can transfer and sync media files from your laptop or PC over WiFi. (If only it can also charge the battery wirelessly.)
Did I say the capacitive screen is multi-touch too — so the pinch, flick and other multi-gesture functions are there. Very handy when navigating the built-in web browser. The touchscreen is very responsive and snappy that it’s indistinguishable with the iPod Touch.
For those curious how the Zune HD fares against the iPod Touch in terms of specs, see comparative chart below:
As for sound quality, the Zune HD has a nice volume range while the bass is more solid and sounded fuller. The earphones that came with it is decent and though it’s not impressive, I thought it was better than iPod earphones. When used with an in-ear earphones (SoundMagic PL11), the audio quality (especially the bass) is even more prominent. What I appreciated with the basic Zune earphones is the length of the cord (about 1.5 meters).
Video playback is smooth and crisp. Jumping from video to video or forwarding clips is snappy with no noticeable lags. The display brightness needs to be put in the “high” setting in order to appreciate the video experience. I didn’t have the AV dock so I wasn’t able to test how the 720p output fares when hooked up to an HDTV.
The Zune HD is not without its shortcomings. There are a number of things I thought that needed improvements:
External Speakers: As a PMP, I thought the Zune HD needs to have some external speakers. It’s not a big deal though but I expect Microsoft to add this feature in the upcoming models.
Improved Browser Functions: While the multi-touch gesture really made the browsing experience with the Zune HD very comfortable, the lack of basic features gave the impression that the browser is crippled. No bookmark management, no tabbed browsing, not even browser options. The browser cannot even render videos from YouTube.com (no Flash plugin).
App Marketplace: There were less than 10 apps that I was able to download from the Zune Marketplace — this is the biggest disappointment so far. I was expecting a bit more — not even apps for Twitter or Facebook.
What’s most interesting with the Zune HD is that it was priced by Microsoft very competitively. At about Php10,500 (see here) for the 16GB model, it’s very near the price of a 16GB iPod Nano and cheaper than the 8GB iPod Touch. Now there’s your value for money.