I feel it is nothing less than my duty to offer my thoughts about the lastest MP3 player to pop up on the market. With the Christmas season in full swing, some of you may be considering what MP3 player to buy for your mom, or brother, or dog this year, so you can consider this insight. Being that it is my job to work with the digital music accounts on behalf of my company, I guess I have some sense of authority on the subject… or something…. I doubt it’s worth too much…


Anyways, good ol’ Microsoft. I almost feel guilty dedicating a blog to them, but since they have burst into the market this year with the self proclaimed “iPod Killer”… well, they’ve brought this upon themselves.

So the brains in Redmond, WA all sat around a table one afternoon and said to themselves, gosh, we need to get into this digital music business. Forget the fact that they already had a digital music store called MSN Music that failed miserably… it pretty much sucked.

The brains of Redmond decided to call their new invention Zune. It rhymes with “tune” I guess, which is kinda like iTunes. So, Zune it is. They spent months upon months planning the great “iPod Killer”. Throughout the whole thing I wanted to keep an open mind, because you know competition is good and I wished for them the best. So the Zune was created in top secrecy, utilizing I’m sure absurd amounts of money that has been collecting dust in an aircraft carrier parked in the Pudget Sound.

At first glance, the Zune looks decently cool – it’s got a nice big, color video screen, it’s about the same size as an iPod, yet it has some sense of character that places it on it’s own. It comes with a built in FM radio and has a wireless sharing function.

Then you pick it up.

When I first held the Zune about three months ago, my initial thought was, “my gosh, it feels like a toy.” One of the other guys at my label joked, “yeah, they should just stick a Fisher Price sticker on it”… ouch. But there’s truth in that. I pick it up and it just has this clunky feel to it. I shake it… dear heavens, there’s things rattling in there. Yikes.

I turn it on.

Now here’s one of their biggest mistakes. Obviously they didn’t want to remove themselves to far from the iPod design, so they included a scroll wheel… except the scroll wheel doesn’t scroll. It’s a four directional button in the shape of a circle! They would have been better off putting an old four-arrow Nintendo controller on it.

The big video screen is cool I guess, but the resolution is about the same as the video iPod, which means in terms of quality, the iPod has the better screen. The buttons are so small, spaced so awkwardly at the bottom of the device that it almost forces it to be a two handed player… unlike my iPod which I can simply hold in one hand and operate with my thumb while I drive down the road. On top of the buttons being small, they don’t light up so you can’t see them in the dark, and they’re also difficult to press, so after a while your fingers just get tired.

The thing is really hard to balance – in fact, I would say it is off balance, which means that when holding it in your hands it feels awkward, and you’re more prone to dropping it. At this point, a drop may do it some good. There’s already stuff rattling around inside so it probably won’t hurt anything.

The Zune comes in three colors: white, black, and poop. It comes with a little bag that is so tight at the opening you can hardly get the thing back in there. The wireless sharing function… leaves a lot to be desired. If you want to simply send a song to someone, it stops the music you’re currently playing. Same when you receive a song. And all the potential the wireless function has to be cool is lost because you can’t “request” a neighboring Zune for a song… you have to go physically ask the person for them to send the song, and then you can receive it… that would be like me having to call you on the phone to ask you to send an email.

As I was discussing with my friend the other day – the difference between an iPod and a Zune is this: Apple designed the iPod… Microsoft engineered the Zune. And you can tell. It’s all function OVER form, and I think that’s a mistake when it comes to “social electronics”.

MP3 players are more than just a functional device – the lend insight to your way of life and they are a fashion accessory. They are interwoven into the way you live your life and become integral to the way you experience entertainment. For as much as Zune is promoting the “social” aspect of their new device, I feel they’ve really fallen short on making it something people want to engage in a social setting.

If the Zune is the “iPod killer”, then they’ve gone into battle with nerf guns.

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