New model, Zune HD media player, came from Microsoft and it is obvious in which direction it was developed: good video media reproduction with lot of improvements in all other areas (battery, sound and additional software). Box is rather small and still, someone managed to pack inside of it player itself, headphones, USB cable and manual (last item can be very useful if this will be your first contact with Zune player). Device that we got is made, predominately, in grey color, although there is also black variant. Capacity can be either 16 or 32BG, which is more than enough, even for very demanding users.
The moment we took the player out of the box, it was clear that this device is not made in a hurry, while huge 3.3-inch display with 480x272-pixel resolution really looks impressive. Of course, there are no squeaky plastic parts here. Backside is made out of brushed aluminum, which gives this device kind of an urban look while at the same time, makes it resistible to finger prints and scratches.
Front side is dominated completely by already mentioned display with exception of only one button. On the upper side is located power button, on left side volume control (about that little bit later) while on the bottom side are located, traditionally, 3.5mm audio output for headphones and USB connector.
As we already mentioned, this media player really has a lot of advanced features. Most of them are already seen on iPod Touch, but Zune HD is significantly smaller than direct competitor is, but at the same time, it has smaller display. Despite its relatively small size of 3.3-inches, display is really great and absolutely enough for day-to-day exploitation. Zune HD is based on Tegra APX2600 chipset with HD encoders and decoders, ARM11 CPU at 600MHz and support for 3D acceleration. Tegra platform had long and pompous announcements from NVIDIA, and finally we have a chance to play with it in Zune HD. Microsoft claims that this hardware combination can even play 720p videos. Why is this important when display does not support that resolution? There is one very interesting additional gadget for Zune HD, called HD-AV Dock that can put to good use that feature. With this dock station, you will get all cables, remote control and radio antenna, which can transform Zune HD into Home Media Center system.
However, can you really play 720p video on Zune HD? Well, yes, you can, and it looks really impressive, especially since this is an OLED display. Viewing angles, colors, sharpness and response are just right and as it should be. Display is touch sensitive with great response times and with no lag. Since display is OLED, users can have problems with watching videos on a bright and sunny day. Of course, touch display means that, sooner or later, it will look greasy and rather messy, and only thing that is missing from original package is one cleaning cloth. Thanks to integrated accelerometer, Zune HD will automatically rotate picture on display according to its position.
We should mention that Microsoft announced tons of applications and games for Zune HD, but the cruel reality is that there are just few applications like calculator and weather-forecast applications at the moment.
Zune HD is also an audio player, where everything, also, functions perfectly with only weak link being the headphones. Original headphones that came with Zune HD are good up to 60% of maximum volume after which low frequency sounds are fading and a lot of sound distortion is noticeable. Obviously, good headphones are necessary with a player of this caliber. We mentioned that Zune HD has volume control but we didn’t mention rocker button in same context. Unfortunately, or expectedly, Microsoft decided that volume control should be also controlled by software, so after a pressure is applied on volume control button, volume control application is started on Zune HD that will present you with plus and minus “buttons” which user can use to control volume. This is unnecessary complicated solution, which resulted in necessity to use both hands to control volume because single-handed volume control procedure must be practiced.
Besides its basic functions like multi media player, Zune HD can be also used as portable Internet browser. Unfortunately, this is one segment where Zune HD really does not shine. After we typed in web addresses from our bookmarks, in most cases we needed to wait for 5-7 seconds until something would be displayed in browser. Since we used supported Wi-Fi connection, we knew that this should be done much faster. Surfing on Zune HD, for now, resembles very much on times when we used Dial-Up for connecting to Internet. Browser does not support Tab browsing which resulted in not so great impressions about Zune HD when it comes to its browsing capabilities. Final impressions were improved after realization that included accelerator is used to rotate browser page automatically, and that multi touch technology can be used to zoom in and out the displayed page. Radio tuner also worked nicely, with great reception of all radio frequencies, but headphones should be plugged in since those are actually used as antenna.
Compared to previous Zune, improvements are obvious, especially in user interface area. Everything is animated and all options can be found where they should be, with exceptions of one or two options (volume control). Great display in combination with good software resulted in rely pleasant and smooth experience. Obviously, Tegra can be very good solutions for this kind of devices, so some hints on what we can expect in near future are obvious. Since Microsoft has its Marketplace (similar to Apple iTunes) you can purchase and listen music, download additional information, applications etc.
We should also mention that before you can start using your new Zune HD player, you need to update it with new software. Process is swift and easy, so you shouldn’t have problems with that. Of course, application used to synchronize Zune HD with PC isn’t that much user friendly and you can’t use Zune HD as portable storage, but these problems can be “ironed out” in some of future updates. In addition, there is no support for DivX, Xvid or MKV formats, but those problems along with problematic browser can be fixed via updates. Until initial teething problems are eliminated, Zune HD will be very good “alternative device”. With very acceptable price tag of around 230$ for model with 16GB, Zune HD can be very interesting solution for your portable multimedia appetites.