Nearly a month and a half after formally launching its second-generation Zune portable media players, Microsoft has finally released the devices into the retail market. The new Zunes are out in three flavors: the $149.99 Zune 4GB, the $199.99 Zune 8GB, and the $249.99 Zune 80GB. The first two are flash-based and feature a compact and lean form factor, while the latter is hard drive-based and hence bulkier, although it's still thinner and leaner than the original 30GB Zune. All three devices have a new control system known as the Zune Pad, which works as both a button (with four clickable sides) and a touch-sensitive area that allows up-and-down scrolling.
An equally interesting aspect of the new Zunes is the software. Microsoft has added a more full-featured Wi-Fi mode to the new devices, finally enabling users to synchronize music through their home wireless networks. Better yet, Microsoft has back-ported this new functionality (along with the rest of the new Zune software) to the first-gen, 30GB Zune. Update instructions are available here.
Last, but certainly not least, Microsoft has updated the Zune Marketplace to include music in MP3 format with no digital rights management restrictions. There are "more than 1 million" DRM-free tracks available, according to Microsoft.
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