Outstanding. , November 13, 2007
By L. Gonzalez "Combatpilot87" (NC) - See all my reviews
I've owned 5 different kinds of iPods, as well as the original Zune, and I must say, that this product is by far the best of the group. I spent the day trying to return my iPod Classic (80GB) so that I could get my hands on one of these---and I had to look just about everywhere in town to find one.
Is this better than the iPod Classic? Undoubtedly. I can make a fair comparison, as I have been toying with the Classic for the last two weeks. I've had iPod Nanos (first and third generations), 3 iPod Videos (5G), and an iPod Classic (80GB). The iPod is a fine product line, but I had too many bad experiences with the 5G video to want to keep them. I heard that the Z80 came out so I went and bought that one instead.
I'm going to spend most of my time here discussing how the Zune 80 compares to its predecessor, the Zune 30, as well as the iPod line--as it has set the standard for mp3 players for the last few years.
Screen- The glass screen looks much better than the original Zune's plastic one. The 320X240 resolution looks great. It looks far better than the Classic's screen. You can turn it sideways to take full advantage of it while watching videos. The iPod Classic's screen can only be viewed from one direction, and it has for the most part remained the same since the fifth generation. The video quality is great. Although this is technically the same resolution as the ipod Classic, nano, and Zune 4 and 8, it still manages to look great because of its size and clarity. You will notice that the quality on the smaller Zune appears sharper, but that's only because there are more pixels per square inch on them, due to the smaller size. Still looks awesome. This screen is slightly larger than the 1G Zune, but overall it is still smaller in both thinness and height. The glass screen is far more durable than the plastic one, and after a few months of testing it now I can say that it does not scratch easily, if at all.
Build- This thing is built to last. It feels a lot denser and sturdier than the last year's model. The first generation Zune couldn't win a beauty contest by a long shot--but I think this one's a winner. Aluminum back reminds me of the iPod line, although it's much better because it is brushed metal. (Meaning you don't have to keep it in a glass case, and bring out gloves when you want to handle it, like you did with the iPods). The paint, believe it or not, is actually very difficult to scratch. I've put it in my pocket with my keys, and the screen nor the paint scratches. I wouldn't want purposefully subject it to such tests, but it happened, and it's still in pristine condition. I scratched the back of my iPod Classic the first day I got it because of the glossy metal back. Scratching the back of your iPod is inevitable. I really don't see a need for a case.
Zunepad- The iPod's scroll wheel was a nice piece of work when it first came out. The Zunepad is better. Bold statement? Maybe. But I can now navigate via touch controls in four different directions as opposed to two with the iPod. And it is very easy to do so. I was skeptical at first, but Microsoft nailed it. You can choose if you want to flick your fingers across the "squirqle" to play your music, or you can just press the buttons to navigate. Nothing against Apple, but the scrollwheel on the Classic wasn't nearly as sensitive as the 5th generation iPod video's. Aren't you supposed to make progress when you release new hardware? I had problems with my Classic's scrollwheel's sensitivity. I can definitely see myself navigating menus much faster using the Zunepad.
A few things that I've noticed: Zunepad doesn't work with gloves of any sort (most of the time). Not that big of a problem, but I have noticed something interesting. Even the analog buttons underneath the Zunepad do not work if you are wearing gloves. It must sense that your skin is actually touching it to work correctly. I found that rather odd. I get some response out of it, but it usually doesn't respond the way you want it to. This is a big deal for me, as it is getting cold. Taking off your gloves to change a song is a burden, although I still enjoy using it more than I did the scrollwheel (which worked with gloves.) I've tried cotton, leather, and suede. This sounds crazy, but it is my biggest gripe with the Zune 80.
Firmware- Not too much different from the original, aside from aesthetics. It just looks pretty. Oversized letters are nice to look at, in addition to some decent animations. You can set your own backgrounds, as opposed to having the iPod Classic automatically flowing album art in the back (I hated that). The "twist" interface is much easier to use than that of the Ipod. I'm pretty sure I can get to a song much faster than someone with an Ipod. It works similar to a spreadsheet, as you have artist, songs, albums etc. listed at the top, with the contents of the respective categories listed below. A simple f lick to the right or left immediately changes categories. Microsoft definitely wins in this department.
Radio- You'd have to pay for this if you bought an Ipod Classic. Although I don't use it, it is still nice to have.
Zune Software- I'll be honest, I've been using itunes for a few years now, and I hate it. When I bought the original Zune, I thought that escaping itunes would be a good thing. I was wrong. The original software was abysmal. BUT, the new software is a vast improvement. It's almost too simple. And it's also easy on the eyes. I may consider using this as my default player from now on---something that I would have never done with the original software. The reason why I got rid of my original Zune in favor of the iPod classic was the software. I was tired of using it. Now I have more reason to keep my Zune.
After using it for awhile, I have noticed a few quirks with this software, mainly that it seems to sync a small group of songs over and over again. I see this being fixed by Microsoft's next update. I've been using it for awhile now, and I am not entirely as optimistic about it as when I wrote this review. It is STILL superior to itunes, and definitely the original software, but they need to fix a few issues with it. Namely the syncing options. The software recognizes some of the videos in the mpeg 4 format, but not all. I am thinking that this might have been a problem with the conversion software (Xvid->mpeg4).
The sound quality, which is probably the most important part of this review, is great. One problem is that they removed the equalizer, so what you hear is what you get. That wasn't a smart move on Microsoft's part. I think it sounds louder than an iPod, but I'm not an audiophile by any means.
Premium earbuds. These are alot nicer than most other stock headphones. They're the in-ear type, and they will take some getting used to if you've never used them. Bass response is a plus. I tried them earlier and they are comparable to my more expensive Sony's.
DRM- I don't know alot about this category, so look at the comments that people have left at the end of this review. I don't use this type of content. I do understand that anything downloaded from itunes will not work on the Zune. So if your entire library was downloaded on itunes, don't get this MP3 player. It's their way of making sure you continue to buy their products, as well as preventing piracy.
Wireless sync. I really can't use this. I hear it works nicely though. I can't really imagine using it, so take this one as you will. I really don't see the big deal about this. If I'm syncing my music, I want my Zune to charge as well. Maybe this feature is for lazy people, but I don't see it as useful.
Drive usage. You can't put anything on here that doesn't run through the Zune software. In other words--You won't be using this as a portable hard drive, even though most of us will not fill it up with music. You can do whatever you please with an iPod. There ARE hacks online that require you to alter your registry available online. Google is your friend. Try it at your own risk.
Battery life- Okay, the battery life isn't too shabby when just playing mp3's. I went a weekend with reasonable use without having to recharge it (forgot usb chord in the car). Battery life with video isn't good at all, but I don't think it was too far off from that of the Classic iPod. I'd prefer the large screen and lesser battery life over that of the Classic any day.
I'm not a Micro$oft fanboy, contrary to what this review might look like. I've owned nothing but ipods before owning the 1G Zune. I must say that this seems to be the best one I've owned, and I don't regret returning my Classic.
It's easier to use, has a nicer screen, very generous capacity, great sound and video playback, a built in radio, and sleek design.
If the iPod Classic can earn four stars, this definitely gets five, as it is the superior mp3 player---by a longshot. It's not without its shortcomings, but they are forgivable, considering we've been under "ipod control" for the last few years.
That's about all I can think of. Hope this helps.