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All posts tagged "review"

Monday, November 13, 2006

MSNBC Looks at The Zune

Posted by Jason Dunn in "Zune Talk" @ 01:30 PM


"Whether or not Apple's iPod is mortal, you can depend on Microsoft to keep trying to invent an iPod killer. To the Softies in Redmond, Wash., the thought of an Apple digital music device capturing three-quarters of the marketplace—and worse, an online store that handles over 80 percent of all legal music downloads—is more than a constant irritant. It's a threat to Microsoft's grand vision of becoming the standard platform for all media software. So while Microsoft executives privately concede the excellence of Apple's tiny white wonder, they are destined to spend sleepless nights plotting its demise."

This article by Steven Levy is a bit curious (and, oh man, clean and trim your fingernails before being a hand model). He reports the basics, and does a good job explaining how the Zune works, but his attempts to find minor things to complain about come across as trying too hard. He complains that the Zune comes with bundled music, claiming that no one will buy "a house because it comes with a few sticks of furniture". He thinks that because Microsoft is bundling music they're expecting people to being enticed into buying the Zune, which is just silly. Of course they're not! What they're doing is providing some music so people can enjoy the Zune right away out of the box, and providing exposure to some indy bands that they're working with to help promote the Zune. It's a marketing move, to be sure, but one with zero down-side to the consumer. And if the Zune is about discovering new music, I personally think it's cool to be introduced to some music by bands I haven't heard of before.

Of more serious concern, and rightfully so, are Levy's complaints about the harsh restrictions around sharing. He purchased a Rolling Stones song and tried to send it to another Zune, but it failed because the song had a type of DRM on it that prevents it from being shared at all. He points out that there's no indication of this limitation anywhere on the Zune Marketplace, which I think is a major problem - you can't tout the sharing feature of the Zune without also warning people when they're about to buy music that can't be shared at all. And I think Microsoft is missing a huge opportunity by not allowing indy bands to give away their music to other Zune owners to keep - they could have established something very unique with the Zune sharing, but instead it's kept from its full potential by DRM. I hope that's something they change in the future.

Tags: review, msnbc

Friday, November 10, 2006

Pogue and Mossberg Review the Zune

Posted by Darius Wey in "Zune Talk" @ 09:00 AM

"Next week, Microsoft Corp. will launch the most serious challenge ever mounted to Apple Computer's iPod and iTunes juggernaut in digital music. The software giant is introducing a portable player called the Zune, an online music store called Zune Marketplace and a new music software program called Zune that links the two. It plans to put plenty of marketing muscle behind Zune, and promises to expand and refine this new product line in coming years."

Blind iPod comparisons aside, NYT's Pogue and WSJ's Mossberg have put together two (mostly) unbiased reviews of the Zune. Both have their fair share of criticisms (and I'm going to do my best here to highlight the least discussed ones, since re-hashing isn't fun). ;-) Mossberg twice claims that album art on the Zune looks shabby (the first without reason; the second blaming it on PPI), though I'm willing to question the quality of his album art. All of my tracks have album art in at least 320 x 320, and they're a source of ocular pleasure on a standard sub-3" QVGA display. Mossberg goes on to argue that the Microsoft Points pricing mechanism is an annoyance. I don't really disagree with him here, at least as far as the Zune Marketplace is concerned. It's been largely successful on the Xbox Live Marketplace, simply because game content is typically worth a few hundred Points, not 79 Points (the cost of a single track on the Zune Marketplace). 79 Points translates to around 99 US cents, yet it's not as simple as taking out your credit card and purchasing 79 Points. They come in blocks of at least $5, so if you only want to purchase one track, you still have to spend an extra $4.01 on Points and leave it aside for a rainy day. I do hope Microsoft finds a way around this. I don't mind their implementation of Points, but they should at least allow single Point purchasing to keep the crowd happy.

Those aren't all of the negative points that Pogue and Mossberg raise, though I hate to spoil a good (at times, good for a laugh) read, so I'll leave it to you to discover the rest. However, at the risk of having their reviews sound like pages of Zune bashing, it is worth pointing out that there are plenty of positive things said about the Zune: the large screen, the UI, the FM tuner, and even guest sync support. Both think it'll take a while before it poses a significant threat to Apple's dominance, and this is something I largely agree with. As we've seen with the Xbox/Xbox 360, it usually takes Microsoft at least one generation of hardware revisions, firmware updates, and introduction of new services before the magic starts happening. By the time the second-generation Zune arrives, I'm convinced that a higher percentage of the population will be taking the Zune a lot more seriously.

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Wired Talks About the Zune

Posted by Darius Wey in "Zune Talk" @ 10:30 AM


"I got my hands on a Microsoft Zune portable media player for the first time today at a press event in an industrial part of Manhattan's Chelsea district (the same location where the Zune launch party will be tonight). I'm not going summarize what's already been said, having already posted about the Zune (the summary of another hands-on test, how it doesn't support PlaysforSure, MSN Music's 11/14-starting redirection of sales to the Zune store, speculation about a referral bonus [still unconfirmed although strongly hinted at today], and even a reference to the alleged similarity of the word Zune to a Hebrew swear word). Instead, the focus here is on new aspects of the service, device, and accessories that I noticed today while seeing them in action."

has joined the fortunate few who have managed to get some hands-on time with the Zune. Thankfully, most of their post isn't a re-hash of the points we've heard over and over again. They talk a bit about privacy settings (which is a nice touch for those of you who prefer not to let others know what you're listening to / watching), the time it takes for a transfer (10-15 seconds), streaming content from the Zune software to an Xbox 360 (something we'll definitely be showing the moment we get our hands on a Zune), and what's on the Zune Marketplace (over two million tracks and editorially-featured content). Overall, they were pretty impressed with what they saw, and think that given enough time, iPod sales will suffer.

Saturday, November 4, 2006

Gizmodo Looks at the Zune

Posted by Jason Dunn in "Zune Talk" @ 01:38 PM


"The UI is snappy and has lots of zooming, sliding and various cool effects when you're navigating. Luckily, the eye candy doesn't get in the way of usability. The click-pad isn't too bad to use, but it's not touch sensitive like the iPod wheels. The community menu options like sending files and pictures are all over the place. If you hit the middle button to get the context menu, you'll most likely notice an entry called "send", where you can send what you're currently listening to to nearby Zunes. Overall the UI is pretty well designed, and iPod users shouldn't be lost if they decide to migrate."

When it rains, it pours: Gizmodo has published their detailed look at the Zune. Not much new can be said here: they cover all the basics, and point out how great it is that it's upgradeable. This is something I've talked about before, but I think the Zune team is quick to point this out to every reviewer because they have some great stuff planned, but can't be specific about features or time frames. This much is certain: the WiFi on-board gives Microsoft tremendous potential for innovation, and I for one am confident that they'll do exactly that!

Tags: review, gizmodo

CNET's First Look at the Zune

Posted by Darius Wey in "Zune Talk" @ 05:18 AM


"Overall, the Zune is a well-designed portable media device with good playback performance, a snappy processor, and an excellent interface. Wi-Fi sharing worked well, but prospective owners should know that its format support, especially for videos, is limited. The Zune looks like a good fit for MP3 player novices."

CNET's James Kim got some hands-on time with the Zune and whipped up a short video preview and a reasonably-sized article. Unlike Engadget's video which has a greater emphasis on the software layer of the Zune device, CNET's video pokes around some of the hardware components, so do check it out. The article covers a lot of points, though one worth highlighting is the issue of file support. By now, you're probably aware that the Zune is not PlaysForSure-compatible, so all of your existing DRM'ed WMA tracks won't work. Native WAV and WMA Lossless are apparently out the door as well, so that leaves you with MP3, unprotected AAC, and Zune's WMA (tracks you'll end up pulling from the Marketplace). Video support is weaker, with the Zune supporting WMV only. There's no love for DivX or XviD. MPEG-4 and H.264 aren't supported natively, though the Zune software on the PC will convert these to WMV. On the topic of video, you can't share them wirelessly, unlike music and pictures, which is understandable considering movie-length videos would take an eternity to send over Wi-Fi (either the battery or user's patience would suffer a miserable death). Pictures are limited to JPEG, and unfortunately, the Zune software won't convert other picture formats to JPEG, so this is something you'll have to perform manually (boo!). Otherwise, the Zune appears to be a smashing device. I certainly hope that Microsoft will solve some of these file support issues with an upcoming firmware update. The Xbox 360 team have done an excellent job at adding new features, so fingers-crossed, the Zune team will follow in their footsteps.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

C|NET Looks At The Zune

Posted by Jason Dunn in "Zune Talk" @ 04:15 PM


"Earlier this year, the idea of a Microsoft-branded MP3 player was foreign to most consumers. After all, what could the software giant do to the iPod dynasty that Windows Media hardware partners such as Creative, iRiver, and Samsung had been unable to do? Well, we all knew that after Microsoft's September 14 announcement, the Zune would be a different kind of portable media player, one that integrates wireless technology for Zune-to-Zune sharing of files, and one that works within a closed Zune Marketplace ecosystem. The 30GB device, which comes in black, white, or the love-it/hate-it brown, will enter the real world on November 14. I was lucky enough to test-drive the device today, and here are my first impressions."

James Kim from C|NET had the opportunity to take the Zune for a spin, and while it's a "first look" type report that doesn't have any hard details on battery life tests, etc., it does have a great overview of what the device is and does. You go read it while I mutter to myself about not having a Zune to review. ;-)

Tags: review, cnet

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Ultimate Ears super.fi Headphones Review

Posted by Darius Wey in "Zune Accessories" @ 06:32 PM


"Headphones are one of the most important parts of any music listening experience – together with the audio player itself and the quality of the encoded music – but most digital audio players come with extremely cheap headphones. Perhaps it's because the manufacturers know the first thing many people do is discard included headphones, and thus they don't want to invest any significant money in the bundled headphones. Or, perhaps it's because quality headphones cost money (which would raise the cost of the overall product), and a good portion of the public doesn't know how good music can really sound with great headphones. Regardless of the reason why bundled headphones are usually of poor quality, if you're still using the standard headphones that came with your Windows Mobile Pocket PC or Smartphone, your music isn't sounding as good as it should."

Our own Jason Dunn has put together a great review of the Ultimate Ears super.fi headphones over at The Two Inch View. As an audio junkie, I strongly believe that a good set of in-ears or cans is important for enhancing the music listening experience. These Ultimate Ears products seem to do just that.

Monday, October 23, 2006

2Old2Play's Hands-On Time with the Zune

Posted by Darius Wey in "Zune Talk" @ 03:29 AM


"The top of the Zune had a clear glass layer while the exterior had a tactile feel to it, nothing like the hard metal and plastic of the iPod devices. The ‘skin’ of the Zune was a ‘rubberized’ material that had a smooth seductive feel to it. I found myself unable to stop stroking the device, so much that the demo assistant asked me to put it down."

2Old2Play is the latest site to join those that were lucky enough to score some hands-on time with the Zune. Their article covers a couple of new points on Zunetags and the software component of the Zune product. Head over there and give it a read.

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