Zune Thoughts: Zune 4GB Digital Media Player with Zune Pass Subscription Reviewed

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Zune 4GB Digital Media Player with Zune Pass Subscription Reviewed

Posted by Ron Hostetter in "Zune Hardware" @ 08:00 AM

Product Category: Digital Media Player
Manufacturer: Microsoft
Where to Buy: ***NEED AFFILIATE LINK HERE***
Price: $149 USD
In the Box: 4GB Zune Player, earphones with three earpiece covers, Zune sync cable.
Specifications: 4GB flash memory, 1.8 inch color LCD screen, 320 x 240 screen resolution, 802.11b/g wireless connectivity, FM radio with RDS, dimensions 41.4 x 91.5 x 8.5 millimeters (1.62 x 3.60 x 0.334 inches), 48.2 grams (1.7 ounces).

Pros:

  • Small, light, fully functional media player;
  • High resolution LCD screen with beautiful colors;
  • Zune Pass subscription allows for unlimited music downloads.

Cons:

  • Large border around screen seems to make the screen smaller than it needs to be;
  • Very few accessories available;
  • Difficult to limit access to explicit content using Zune Pass.

Summary:

Microsoft's family of Zune players now includes smaller flash memory players with the full functionality of the larger, hard-drive players. The smallest of the bunch is the 4GB model. These small devices include wireless networking, video playback, and FM radio, just like their bigger brothers. The sound quality is good, even through the cheap earbuds included in the box. The Zune Pass subscription is a great value, allowing subscribers to download unlimited music for only $14.99 per month. The Zune Pass can be shared with three Zunes, allowing a family to enjoy as music as they like. The small 4GB Zune's screen has fantastic resolution, but the screen is too small to really enjoy watching videos.

A Zune in Every Pocket

I have to admit, I've been rooting for the underdog Zune since its release in 2006. The Zune has battled through ridicule and the mighty iPod for almost 3 years, and is finally beginning to get some traction. Ours is a family of Zune users, and the latest addition to our arsenal is the 4GB flash model, in black. My 12 year old daughter, Carly, is using this tiny player as her music machine. As a hardware device, the 4GB Zune does its job nicely. It's small and light enough to slip into a pocket or backpack without too much heft, and has the capacity to carry along about 975 songs.

Microsoft is trying to win the music player battle with software and services as much as hardware, and to that end, is offering subscription music to Zune users. For only $14.99 per month, Zune Pass subscribers can download unlimited music. The subscription can be shared with up to three Zunes which allows our family to all have as much music as we want while spending much less than what we had been paying while using iTunes. Of course, the subscription is like renting music, so we have to keep paying in order to keep the music playing. Since we aren't actually buying the tracks, we can delete songs we don't like without feeling guilty about throwing our money away.

The Player

The smaller, flash based Zunes (available in 4GB, 8GB, and 16GB) have the full functionality of the larger hard-drive based Zunes. The player is dominated by the 1.8 inch LCD screen, has a "squircle" navigation pad and two buttons: play/pause and back. The "squircle" is a hybrid navigation device. It works as a touch pad like the one on your laptop, but it also is a tactile button that can be pressed in four directions as well as in the center. For those who prefer pushing buttons over rubbing them, the touch pad can be turned off, although the touch pad is very effective for browsing through large lists of songs. Simply brush the pad up or down, and the list scrolls smoothly. Brush multiple times to scroll faster.

The Zune 4GB has a headphone jack on the bottom next to the interface jack, and has a lock button on top. While it is small and light, it still feels sturdy enough to survive living in a sixth grader's backpack. The screen is tough and resists scratching, and unlike iPods, the back of the device resists fingerprints and scratching as well. Even after my daughter has been using the Zune several months, it still looks brand new.

Using the Zune is a very pleasant experience. The home screen background can be customized using any photo you like. Large menu items dominate the home screen. From here you can select Music, Videos, Pictures, Social, Radio, Podcasts, Audiobooks, Marketplace, Games and Settings. Selecting an item engages the Zune's "twist" interface. In Music, navigate left and right to choose between Artists, Albums, Songs, Genres and Playlists. Navigate up and down to scroll through the list of items. The Zune's interface is much more intuitive than the iPod, and the animations are gorgeous.

The Zune includes a fairly cheap pair of earbuds, but the sound quality is good, even though the player lacks EQ.

Though the Zune 4GB can play videos, the screen is too small to really enjoy them. However, with the smaller screen and resolution of 320 x 240, video and photo quality is great. Images seem to jump out of the screen.

A few simple games are included with the Zune, and presumably more are on the way.

One differentiator of the Zune is the wireless networking. The Zune can wirelessly connect to other Zunes in order to share songs. It can also connect to the Zune Marketplace, allowing the user to search for and download songs via WiFi. The Zune can also sync to its host computer wirelessly. It can search for and connect to wireless networks, but only if the network does not require a browser to connect.


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