"Next week, Microsoft Corp. will launch the most serious challenge ever mounted to Apple Computer's iPod and iTunes juggernaut in digital music. The software giant is introducing a portable player called the Zune, an online music store called Zune Marketplace and a new music software program called Zune that links the two. It plans to put plenty of marketing muscle behind Zune, and promises to expand and refine this new product line in coming years."
Blind iPod comparisons aside, NYT's Pogue
and WSJ's Mossberg
have put together two (mostly) unbiased reviews of the Zune. Both have their fair share of criticisms (and I'm going to do my best here to highlight the least discussed ones, since re-hashing isn't fun). ;-) Mossberg twice claims that album art on the Zune looks shabby (the first without reason; the second blaming it on PPI), though I'm willing to question the quality of his album art. All of my tracks have album art in at least 320 x 320, and they're a source of ocular pleasure on a standard sub-3" QVGA display. Mossberg goes on to argue that the Microsoft Points pricing mechanism is an annoyance. I don't really disagree with him here, at least as far as the Zune Marketplace is concerned. It's been largely successful on the Xbox Live Marketplace, simply because game content is typically worth a few hundred Points, not 79 Points (the cost of a single track on the Zune Marketplace). 79 Points translates to around 99 US cents, yet it's not as simple as taking out your credit card and purchasing 79 Points. They come in blocks of at least $5, so if you only want to purchase one track, you still have to spend an extra $4.01 on Points and leave it aside for a rainy day. I do hope Microsoft finds a way around this. I don't mind their implementation of Points, but they should at least allow single Point purchasing to keep the crowd happy.
Those aren't all of the negative points that Pogue and Mossberg raise, though I hate to spoil a good (at times, good
for a laugh) read, so I'll leave it to you to discover the rest. However, at the risk of having their reviews sound like pages of Zune bashing, it is worth pointing out that there are plenty of positive things said about the Zune: the large screen, the UI, the FM tuner, and even guest sync support. Both think it'll take a while before it poses a significant threat to Apple's dominance, and this is something I largely agree with. As we've seen with the Xbox/Xbox 360, it usually takes Microsoft at least one generation of hardware revisions, firmware updates, and introduction of new services before the magic starts happening. By the time the second-generation Zune arrives, I'm convinced that a higher percentage of the population will be taking the Zune a lot more seriously.