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Zune HD -- The Other Microsoft Mobile, and More

While Microsoft is making a major push with its Windows Mobile (now Windows Phone) platform to make it more "finger-friendly" (see previous post), it also has been developing a second and different mobile device platform -- the Zune portable media player. Oddly, these are totally separate platforms, with different interfaces for playing digital media, different PC interfaces to synch files, and even different online stores for loading new content.

In comparison, the Apple iPhone is a clear extension of the iPod family and interface, sharing the common iTunes library and online store, and even with the iPod touch as a bridge device spanning the media player and smartphone markets.

The new Windows Mobile 6.5 interface did adapt a Zune-like design for its Home screen, but the underlying applications and dialogs are still based on Windows-like small menus and buttons.

Meanwhile, the evolution of the Zune line has lead to the recent introduction of the Zune HD, with an impressively attractive and smooth interface that flows cleanly through the entire product. (However, the Zune platform and Zune Marketplace online store are themselves incompatible with Microsoft's previous "Plays for Sure" platform for purchased music and associated players from companies like Creative and SanDisk.)

Microsoft also is playing catch-up in integrating portable and living room devices (as compared to Sony with the PlayStation Portable and PlayStation 3 -- see previous post). It will be extending the Zune service on the Xbox 360, with unified video catalogs on the Zune Marketplace and Xbox LIVE stores, so you can play purchased movies and TV shows across the PC, Zune HD, and Xbox.

So you may have thought that the Zune brand was for portable media players, but it's extending across Microsoft platforms to the desktop and set-top, just not yet to other mobile devices.

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for more on media players

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on smartphones.

Find the Microsoft Zune HD on Amazon.com

More on the Zune HD and Interface ...

The Zune HD is pocket-sized and light (4 x 2 in., 2 1/2 oz.), available with 16 or 32 GB of flash memory for $219 or $289. (The previous models are still available: Zune 4, 8, or 16 GB flash for around $90, $130, and $220, and 80 or 12 GB for $200 or $230 -- see previous post)

The Zune HD has a bright 3.3 in. OLED display (widescreen 480 x 272). It supports multi-touch navigation (pinching), and automatically flips from portrait to landscape. It includes a Web browser (which makes the WiFi support much more interesting), and supports digital HD Radio. But the "HD" in the name is for the new support for downloading HD video at 720p resolution. However, viewing the video requires a separate Zune HD AV Dock with HDMI connector to a HDTV ($89) -- so otherwise it's better to just download smaller standard-def video clips for viewing only on the Zune.

The Zune interface uses only one physical button, to display the main screen with a scrollable list of the main functions, or swap with a new Quickplay screen for direct access to recent, new, and favorite clips. The interface transitions into and back from new screens with a nice smooth zoom effect.

The text of title of each screen (Music, Settings) is zoomed and cropped off the top of the screen -- and also serve as the back button to exit the screen. With no other dedicated buttons, you typically just tap to display options as overlays, including playback controls, volume, and zooming.

The Zune Desktop Software (no sexy name, but a free download) provides a nice-looking interface for organizing your media collection, augmented with new technology including Smart DJ playlists of suggested music and a Mixview display of a mosaic of connections to music. It also accesses the Zune Marketplace to purchase music and video for the PC and Zune player.

Manifest Tech Site


This entry posted on November 3, 2009.

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