So after I received the Zune from Ms. Danielle I decided to take a few days to play around with it and get familiar with its functions. I would have done the review earlier but I wanted to be completely prepared for it. Just to show you how much preparation it takes, I took 204 pictures for this review out of which 46 were hand picked to represent this product. Now thats called being a “perfectionist.” Anyway, for those of you who wonder what one of my ReviewMe reviews will look like, I would say that something like this review would be a great example. Remember that all the thumbnails can be clicked on so you can see an enlarged version. So lets start off with the packaging of the product.

Product Packaging

Zune      Zune

As you can see, the box is well designed. Inside, it is a very similar setup to that of the iPod because the Zune is located at the center and besides it are the USB cable and a pair of headphones. When you turn the box around you find another compartment that holds the CD, manuals, paperwork and the soft case. The box seems sturdy and is very appealing to look at. Everything inside the box was well organized and the compact design of the box is well made. The Zune also comes with a case in the box which can be seen below:

Zune

Product Design
Getting back to the star of the show, The Zune, you will notice that the color is highly unique. This is the brown one and you will notice a green rim that borders the design. Its a very cool touch because some certain angles the green seems to bleed into the brown and creates a great illusion. The exterior look and feel of the Zune is very nice and doesn’t show fingerprint marks at all. I have taken quite a few detailed pictures of the Zune so that you can see how nice it actually looks.

Zune      Zune      Zune

The Zune doesn’t feel too heavy in the hand and the form factor of it makes it easier to carry around with you. I haven’t spent too much time around an iPod but I would say that the iPod seems slimmer and lighter than the Zune but you have to note that a Zune has a larger screen and when you first look at the Zune, the larger screen is easily noticeable. The simplicity is where the Zune really wins. When you look at the Top of the Zune (as shown below) you notice that all you have is a hold button and the headphone jack. On either side of the Zune there are no buttons and on the bottom of the Zune the only thing seen is the USB connector. Here are a few pictures of the side and the top

Zune      Zune

Navigation, Menus & Features
Navigation on the Zune is quite simple. There is a directional button in the center which helps you move up, down, right and left and then there is a play/pause button along with a back button that takes you back to the previous screen when pressed. The simplicity in using only 3 keys on the front creates a visual appeal that is quite impressive. The menus are also very well designed and the fact that everything is accessible using the directional center button makes it that much easier to operate. To be honest, I didn’t need the manual at all to figure my way around the Zune. Here are a few pictures of the menus as well as the buttons on the front of the Zune.

Zune      Zune      Zune

Feature: Music
Surprisingly the Zune transfers Music from the provided Software very quickly with the provided USB cable. Album art is also provided however I did notice that with some CD’s it would create two options with the same name on the Zune which was a little disappointing but you can always “cut & paste” the files from one folder to the other using the Zune software. I have only transfered 8 albums so maybe this wasn’t a big problem for me but for those who have several more, this could get a little frustrating to have to do all the time. The audio quality is great and the volume rocker goes all the way from 0 to 20. The best level for me seemed to be at 8 however, even if you raised the volume there was minimal distortion. There is a visualization effect that is seen when music is playing which is similar to the Windows Media Player visualizations. You have the option of creating play lists from songs as well as sending them to a nearby Zune. The idea of sending music seems cool however, music that is sent can only be held for 3 days or played for a maximum of 3 days before it is deleted. The Zune does keep a track of music that was received and gives you the option of purchasing the song after it has been deleted. Interesting concept! Lets take a look at some pictures of the Zune’s music playing mode in action. For some of the pictures below, I made it dimmer so that the screen could be seen more clearly.

Zune      Zune
Zune      Zune

Feature: Video Playback
The Zune plays videos too but it is limited to wmv, asf, mp4 and mpeg-4 video formats. If you have different formats such as xvid or divx you would probably need to convert them. Some of the videos such as the .hdmov video I had, was converted by the Zune software itself. The video playback is excellent. I have seen video playback on the iPod but the larger screen makes it even that much better. The screen doesn’t reflect easily and the navigation of the video is easy to use. The quality of the converted video is made perfect for the Zune and that can be seen when the video is played because there is no stuttering in the video or pixelation for that matter. Full screen videos are perfect but widescreen movies are not bad either. In fact, there have been rumors about a widescreen version that should be available end of this year. Not sure how far that is true but it would be a plus. No complaints here though because the video playback was smooth and crisp. Colors were bright and vibrant. Some video playback images are below, once again some images may appear darker but thats because flash was turned off to get a better focus on the screen.

Zune      Zune      Zune
Zune      Zune      Zune

Feature: Picture Viewer
The picture viewer is a great feature. I think it works really well and the slideshow also does the job its supposed to. The timer on the slideshow can be changed so you can keep a picture on the screen longer. I would assume that Microsoft would consider other file formats for picture viewing but so far JPEG is the standard and rightfully so. Most of the digital cameras today take pictures in JPEG format and I found that 96% of the pictures I had were in JPEG format and didn’t need any converting. The other 4% were either gif or bmp and we all know that BMP isn’t the most effective at producing hard disk space efficient pictures. The quality of the pictures was excellent. I did take several pictures of the menu and of an actual picture being run on the slideshow feature and here they are below. For the curious crowd, the picture you see is a picture of my uncle and myself.

Zune      Zune      Zune

Feature: Radio
The radio is a great addition to the Zune and the fact that you can save your favorite stations as presets is a big plus. The design of the radio is simple but it really helps in terms of usability. It couldn’t be easier to use this particular function and you will probably say the same once you see the images. There are three options for the FM radio available and that depends on your location: Europe, Japan and of course the US. Here are some images below however, due to the brightness of the white glow on the screen it may look slightly blurry but that is only because I am using a standard digital camera.

Zune      Zune

Feature: Community
Community means the wifi option. The Zune is equipped with 802.11 b/g wireless however that wireless is only useful for finding nearby Zune users and share files with them. It would have been a real winner if there were other uses for the built-in wifi. The songs or videos sent from one Zune to the other only have a life of 3 days or are capable of being played 3 times, whichever comes first. The same isn’t true of Pictures that are transmitted. The “community” setup is nicely done where you actually have an Inbox, sort of like an email inbox where you can receive files. The wireless option does eat into the battery life quite a bit and after leaving it on for 30 minutes, I did see my battery icon slide down a few notches. Other than that, this is a great feature but only if Microsoft would have done a little more with the built in wifi then this would have really taken over the iPod craze. Here is an image of the community menu; as you can see, I had wifi turned off at this time.

Zune

Features: Settings
This is where you can change settings such as turning the wireless on, setting TV output on, using presets for music and outputting your video through the TV out capability. I did have the pleasure of using the TV out feature by purchasing a separate universal A/V cable and that worked out well. Pictures can be viewed at great quality however video output was a little pixelated mainly because of the conversion process the videos go through when you sync the files. I will be encoding my videos using a separate software to achieve better video playback quality using the tv out feature. The TV out feature is definitely a big plus. Other than those basic functions, there isn’t much to talk about in the settings function. Here is an image of the possible options though:

Zune

The Case
Although I already mentioned what is available in the box, I want to take a moment to talk about the case that is provided with the Zune. The quality of the case is beyond good however I have seen some people complain about how difficult it can be to get the Zune into its case. I didn’t believe how much of a tight fit it could be until I tried it for myself. The case fits really snug and that is a good thing and a bad thing. Either way, the case is really nice and I like using it but for those with butterfingers, a hard case is recommended. Here are some pictures of how snug the case fits.

Zune      Zune      Zune

Conclusion
The Zune is a great device for those looking to an iPod alternative. It is simple to use and for the money, the features list is quite long. Although, there were some disappointments, there was nothing major from me to not recommend this device. The iPod is a common favorite around town but the Zune will surely be a great competitor for it by the time the new Zune comes out. Lets discuss Pros & Cons.

Pros
+ Large 3.0″ QVGA screen
+ Excellent Video Playback quality
+ Output sound is commendable
+ Wifi File Sharing Capability
+ TV Out Capability
+ Ease of Use

Cons
– Lack of Wifi Connectivity options
– Provided case can be too snug
– No A/C Adapter (USB is for charging)
– Slightly thicker & larger than competitors
– Can’t be used as a file storage device

Here are some more pictures that I had taken but wasn’t able to feature mainly because it wasn’t needed.

Zune      Zune      Zune