Portable Media Players Guide

Microsoft Zune HD review

Tuning in to the Microsoft Zune HD

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The Zune HD Ecosystem

The Zune HD Ecosystem

Those looking for a feature-packed PMP have come to the right place. The Zune HD offers a very simple and user-friendly navigation menu that's also found in Microsoft's Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system. We couldn't be happier as we loved its ease of use and highly intuitive menu.

The home screen of the Zune HD is categorized into the various sections such as music, videos and pictures. For those who have tried Windows Mobile 6.5, you would recognize the structure of the menus instantly.

In the connectivity department, while Bluetooth stereo is missing from the line-up, the Zune HD makes up by having Wi-Fi onboard which means that getting online is but a click away. This comes in handy when logging onto the Zune Marketplace to get apps and games or just browsing the Web.

The claimed battery life of the Zune HD stands at up to 33 hours for music and 8.5 hours for video playback. From our tests, Microsoft's claims seem close as we managed to get around four days of daily video and music playback by commuting to and from work without charging. That's about two hours per day, thus chalking up a total of around eight hours before needing a charge in our real-life usage. These results prove that the Zune HD portable media player is a worthy companion for your long interstate travels or for short overseas trips.

Powered by the NVIDIA Tegra APX 2600 chip, the Zune HD is one of the first consumer products to harness its power. This little chip is made of eight discrete processing unit that handle a variety of processing tasks. Thanks to this highly integrated chip, the Zune HD handles HD video playback with ease and is very responsive while navigating its graphical user interface. Furthermore, it has hardware accelerated Flash support, acceleration for Web 2.0 apps and wireless connectivity, making the Zune HD an ideal mobile internet device (MID), albeit a small one. To further augment its functions, the Zune HD incorporates an accelerometer, which is sort-of an industry standard for mid to high-end mobile phones and PMPs. The accelerometer comes in most handy in reorienting the screen when tilting the unit from portrait to landscape modes, among other applications.

The optional Zune HD AV Dock further extends this PMP's capabilities to output 720p HD video to your TV and enjoy your videos in fullscreen glory. This package comes with a wireless remote, power adapter, HDMI and other AV cables to enable this HD experience as shown in our video on the first page.

Zune Software and Marketplace

Just like how the Apple has the iTunes and the App Store, the Zune HD is accompanied with its own share of music management software and applications download site. Labeled the Zune software and Zune Marketplace respectively, these services promise to add more value to the usability factor of the device.

Now if you do intend to purchase the Zune HD, then you have to download and install the free software (available at www.zune.net) before you start transferring music, videos and images onto your player. The 4.0 version of the software package is about 53MB, considerably lesser than Apple's iTunes 9 which stands at about 88.3MB. While iTunes is available on both PCs and Mac, the Zune software is only applicable for Windows machines, which is fine in our books as Mac owners would probably own an iPod for obvious reasons.

Checking out the Zune software alongside iTunes, there is a vast cosmetic difference. The Zune software is significantly friendlier than the iTunes's plain exterior. Aesthetics aside, both work swell as software navigation and media accessibility are user-friendly. You can drag and drop your selected media files from the Zune software onto the player and start syncing. Or you can choose to simply sync all files.

When it comes to the Zune Marketplace, it pales in comparison to the Apple App Store which has application numbers hitting 100,000 and downloads of over 2 billion and counting. Nonetheless, there are a handful of games and apps available in the Zune Marketplace and lo and behold, they are free!

Here are some of the more exciting finds:

  • Applications - MSN Weather, Calculator
  • Games - PGR: Ferrari Edition, Lucky Lanes Bowling, Van Sk8: Pool Service, Checkers, Piano

We would love to list down more games and applications but really, these are the only ones worth mentioning in our opinion. Like the iTunes Store, the Zune Marketplace allows you to buy movies, TV shows and subscribe to audio and video podcasts. Sadly though, the Zune Marketplace is only available in US and Puerto Rico only so we doubt you will be logging onto the Marketplace anytime soon.