World of Zune

Zune HD Review

Here is World of Zune's very own Zune HD review. To read other visitors reviews or to add your own review visit our Zune HD reviews page.

The Zune HD is the latest offering from Microsoft, continuing the evolution of the Zune portable media player.

And boy, has it evolved! It's got the critics uniformly raving — a first for a Microsoft product, at least in recent memory.

Here's what they have to say...
"The Zune HD delivers one of the best portable music and video experiences money can buy." — CNET
"The Zune HD is the best touchscreen PMP on the market. It's got the most unique vision, the most impressive hardware and the most stylish software." — Gizmodo
"The first thing you'll notice — the first thing everyone notices — is just how incredibly sexy the Zune HD is." — Engadget
So, is it really that good?

Let's take a closer look at what's got them so excited...

Zune HD Review — The Body

This statement says it all...
"The most important aspect of the Zune HD's design to recognize is that there's something missing: the ugly." — CNET

The first thing I noticed when I took it out of the box was just how small it really is. It's sleek and compact. It's smaller than the iPod Touch.

In fact, it felt almost the same size as my Zune 8. Long gone are the days when the Zune was (not so) lovingly referred to as "The Brick".

Zune HD comparison
Zune HD Review: My Zune HD side-by-side with my Zune 8. You can see the Zune HD is only a little bigger. How did they pack so much into such a small package?
It has a nice and expensive feel in my hand. Yet it's still something I'd want to guard with my life. I'm terrified of dropping this thing. A Zune HD case is pretty much going to become a must-have accessory.

The front of the device is pretty much a screen (more on the screen below).

There are only three buttons and they are fairly well hidden. There is a power button on the top, a "media" button on the side and a "home" button just under the screen that is flush with the front.

The home button takes you to the main menu. The Zune pad is absent. Instead the media button surfaces the common navigation options like play/pause, forward, reverse and volume. All the things you used to do using the Zune pad are now performed using the touch screen.

The Zune HD boasts very impressive battery life, beating the iPod Touch. It's rated for 33 hours of audio and 8.5 hours of video (with WI-FI off).

It's available in 5 different colors — black, platinum, blue, lime green and maroon and 2 sizes — 16 GB and 32 GB. (Update: The number of colors has been expanded since this review was written. Visit the Zune HD colors page for more details.)

You can also customize it with designs from Zune originals. Expanded options are now available — choose from artist designs, major league soccer logos and Xbox game titles.

One of the drawbacks of this design is that changing the volume is now a two-step process. You first have to press the media button and then use the screen to change the volume.

However, it's nicely done overall. You can no longer say Apple has the coolest looking products.

Zune HD Review — The Screen

The screen received a major overhaul from prior Zune models. The Zune HD is equipped with an OLED touch screen. At 3.3 inches, the screen is larger than what you get with the Zune 120 GB.

An OLED screen provides a much better picture quality than the standard color LCD that you get with most PMP devices, including the iPod Touch.

Is it really that much better?

The critics weigh in...
"The color saturation and deepness of blacks is unmatched by almost any handheld device we've used. It's a gorgeous screen..." — Engadget

My own observation is the same. I was really "wowed" with the picture quality. My player came with some images and a video meant to really showcase the picture quality. And does it ever!

It will remind you of one of those really sharp HDTV screens you see when you go shopping in the electronics section of any store.

OLED screens also consume less power than a traditional LCD screen, which is one of the reasons this device has such good battery life.

And an OLED screen is viewable from the most extreme angle. This is another advantage over an LCD screen.

But there is a drawback...

The screen looks pretty bad in bright sunlight. I compared it with my Zune 8 GB and found my older Zune easier to see outside in the sun.

The color choice of the user interface doesn't help. The text is white on a black background which is difficult to read in the sun.

This quote pretty much describes the experience...
"The Zune HD's black background acts as a mirror, making it difficult to see anything but your own annoyed face." — Gizmodo
Also, since it's a touch screen, it gets easily smudged and will require regular cleaning.

Still I just love the screen. It's beautiful indoors! It renders video in 16:9 widescreen format at 480 x 272 resolution. (Note that the screen itself is not capable of displaying video in HD. More on the HD capabilities below.)

Zune HD Review — Internet Browsing & WI-FI

The Zune HD introduces internet browsing to the Zune platform, iPhone style!

Before we dig into the more details about the browser, I'd like to quickly touch upon the WI-FI capabilities.

The Zune always had WI-FI. However, it was of limited use since there was no keyboard to input any pin. You could connect to only unsecured networks, and there aren't too many of those.

Well, the Zune HD comes equipped with a full QWERTY keyboard. It's very nice. As you move over a key, it enlarges making it easier to hit. I made some mistakes until I got the hang of it. But after just a short time I had no problem using it.

Connecting to my home network was a breeze. I just typed in the pin and voila!. I was connected to the internet! Don't you just love it when something just works?

Ok, back to the browser...

The browser is a version of Internet Explorer for Windows Mobile, only with a prettier UI.

Just how good is it? I guess this quote from CNET sums it up...
"Not since first using the iPhone have I been this impressed with a mobile Web browser." — CNET
They're not exaggerating. It's very snappy. Browsing the internet was very fast over my home network. The transitions are very smooth. It feels like it's floating on water.

The browser employs touch gestures. You move your finger to pan and "pinch" to zoom. The performance is great!

Navigation is kept simple. You have only 3 button toolbar at the bottom — supporting back, favorites and search (which uses Bing!, of course).

This took me a while to figure out but you can access the URL input but pressing the "three small dots" in the middle of the navigation bar.

I found the favorites feature difficult to use. I accidently added a couple of sites to my favorites list while I was trying out this feature. But, for the life of me, I could not figure out how to get rid of them from the list. Arrrgh! It's so annoying! You have no idea how much it bothers an obsessive, compulsive person like myself to have items in my favorites that are not my favorite! If someone knows how to do this, please let me know. I will be eternally grateful.

The accelerometer detects when you've changed the orientation of the browser and immediately flips it from portrait to landscape and vice versa. It's very fast! The text is much larger in landscape as compared to portrait.

And while the browser still lacks behind Apple's Safari in terms of functionality (no autocomplete or cut-paste), it's got all the basics covered. It's a real welcome addition to the Zune!

Zune HD Review — HD Capabilities

Let's talk about the "HD" in the Zune HD. The two HD additions are HD video and HD radio.

First up, HD video. This Zune is able to render HD video on it's screen. But NOT in HD quality. It will scale it down to 480 x 272. To watch any HD videos in true HD you need to connect your Zune to an HDTV via an optional $89 Zune HD A/V dock accessory.

Second, the FM radio tuner has been upgraded to an HD radio tuner.

Just in case you don't know what HD radio is, here's what has to say about it...
"It's the most significant advancement in radio broadcasting since the introduction of FM stereo more than 50 years ago. HD Radio technology enables AM and FM radio stations to broadcast their programs digitally — a tremendous technological leap from the analog broadcasts of the past." —
My own testing of it gave mixed results. I live in the Los Angeles metro area which has tons of HD radio stations. (You can find a full list of stations in your area at

I did catch a couple of stations where I really felt like I was listening to CD quality music. For the rest it pretty much sounded the same to my ear. I even did a side by side test with my Zune 8 and couldn't tell the difference.

Performance was certainly no worse than the FM radio in my older Zune. But I was still getting static when I was expecting "crystal clear" music.

The HD radio is nice, but by itself it's certainly no reason to purchase the Zune HD.

Zune HD Review — User Interface

When it comes to user interface, Apple sets the gold standard. The Zune HD user experience has a very high bar to meet, if it's to impress.

So critics, how does it stack up to the iPod Touch's interface?
"The user interface of the Zune HD is just about as sexy looking as the player itself." — Engadget
"When it comes to designing a user interface, creating something that's comparable to Apple but still maintains its individual spirit is about as high a compliment as you can get." — CNET
The user interface has received a massive overhaul, and it's beautiful! However, there is a short learning curve. It's not highly intuitive like with the iPod Touch.

When you first power on the device, you have a lock screen that displays a phychedelic image, the clock and a battery indicator. A quick flick of your finger upwards uncovers the main menu.

The main menu is very similar to the older Zune, with the addition of some extra options like "internet". You can move the menu up or down with your finger. It feels like it's floating on water.

Under the "water", as if at the bottom of the pool, you'll see some images. What are they? Touch them and you'll find the new "Quickplay" screen float while the menu sinks to the bottom.

(The transitions are real eye candy!)

This screen is the same as the quickplay screen in the new Zune software. It has four sections.

Pins, which are like your favorites list in a web browser.

History, which resembles the top of a messy desk where you've dumped everything you've recently come across including music, video, radio stations, web sites and images.

New, which is a list of all new content synced to your device. This is very cool since with a Zune pass you end up syncing so much stuff that you forget what you synced.

Finally, you have a now playing section.

The now playing screen has been significantly updated as well.
"The Now Playing screen cleverly finds a photo of the artist and uses that as the wallpaper, and I love the screensaver that slowly scrolls the artist, track name, album name, length and album art." — Gizmodo
Looks like Microsoft might have finally beat Apple at their own game. Well done!

(Oh, before I forget, the equalizer from the Zune v1 is back!)

Zune HD Review — Zune Marketplace

There are two additions to the Zune marketplace that tie in with the Zune HD experience.

First, it has been enhanced to allow you to rent or buy HD movies, at a competitive price.

You can watch these movies on either your PC or on your Zune HD. Movies expire within 14 days or within 24 hours after first play.

Second, you now have applications similar to Apple's app store. This is still a work in progress. There are currently very few applications available for the Zune HD. But whatever's currently there is free!

You have a weather application and a calculator, as well as some new games like chess and goo splat.

I downloaded goo splat and it's a significant enhancement from the older Zune games. It has better graphics and the screen with touch support adds a new dimension to the game play.

Consider this a preview of the application and gaming capabilities on this platform. With facebook and twitter apps expected in a couple of months, I expect many more apps to be added as time goes by.

(Update: Since this review was written some more games as well as the Twitter and Facebook apps have been released.)

Zune HD Review — Zune HD Accessories

The Zune HD arrives with four additional optional accessories — Zune HD A/V Dock, Zune HD Premium Car Pack, Zune HD Charge Pack and Zune HD Sync Cable.

However, it's good to note that all the older accessories still work with the new device. I was able to successfully use my v1 sync cable and charger and my v2 car pack with my Zune HD.

The A/V dock is required if you really want to watch HD content in true HD on your HDTV. The rest are nice to have if you don't already own older versions of those accessories.

One more accessory I highly recommend is a case. Since I received my device I've been carrying it around in the box that it came with. This is quickly becoming highly inconvenient.

But I can't just dump it in my bag without any protection. Especially when I shelled out over $200 for it! Once you see it, you'll know what I mean.

(Update: Visit the Zune HD cases page a great selection of cases from Incipio, DLO and Speck.)

Zune HD Review — Final Thoughts...

With the Zune HD and the new Zune software and services, Microsoft has moved beyond head-to-head competition with Apple's iPod brand. Microsoft has stopped trying to play catch up and is actually innovating!

You can compare the Zune HD and iPod Touch all you like. When it comes to just the hardware, both devices are very competitive. And Apple has a mature app store which beats the pants off of what's currently available in the Zune marketplace.

But there's one thing Apple just doesn't have currently. There is no equivalent of the Zune pass. The Zune HD coupled with a Zune pass gives you a music experience light years ahead of what you get with an iPod Touch. Music subscription services are the future of music. And Apple is still living in the past.

Zune shows us the future of the digital media experience. Using the power of cloud computing, Microsoft has taken us beyond any one device, allowing us to enjoy media our way, any place.

Now it's Apple's turn to play catch up. I LOVE it!

I'll end my Zune HD review with this final comment which truly sums up the Zune HD experience...
"The Microsoft Zune HD is a beautiful device--inside and out--that presents one of the first appealing and affordable alternatives to the Apple iPod Touch. Microsoft deserves praise for taking the Zune's music and video experience beyond the standard set by Apple. — CNET
I hope you enjoyed my Zune HD review. You can find more information on where to buy Zune HD players online here.

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