Apple’s iPod and Microsoft’s Zune face off

LAUNCHED BACK IN 2001, Apple’s iPod has arguably become the most iconic electronic device of the 21st century. With sales of over 100 million units, the iPod has dominated the market for portable audio—and now video—players. What’s more, it’s become a cultural phenomenon, and it may have ultimately saved Apple from the clutches of obscurity and irrelevance. That’s not bad for an MP3 player that looks like it belongs in a dental office.

Of course, Apple’s command of the portable audio market hasn’t gone unchallenged. Just about everyone has taken a shot at the iPod, from consumer electronics heavyweights like Sony and Toshiba to PC alum like Creative and Dell. However, none have managed more than a shallow dent in Apple’s grip on the hearts and minds of consumers.

During the iPod’s ascension, Microsoft worked with various hardware partners on all sorts of would be iPod killers, with little success. Then Redmond took matters into its own hands, creating the Zune media player to directly challenge Apple’s iMonopoly. On paper, the Zune looks like a competent challenger, too; it has a much larger screen than the iPod, integrated wireless capabilities, and support for subscription-based music services. But is it any better than Apple’s status quo? I’ve spent three months with an iPod and a Zune to find out, and the answer might surprise you.

Stacking them up
Although flash-based nano and shuffle models make up the bulk of Apple’s iPod lineup, Microsoft is going after the original hard drive-based iPod with its first Zune offering. The Zune is positioned directly opposite the 30GB iPod, offering the same capacity and $249 suggested retail price. However, the Zune is only available in that 30GB capacity, leaving it rather ill-equipped to compete with the iPod’s 80GB sibling. The 80GB iPod only commands a $100 price premium over the 30GB model—an entirely reasonable margin given the 50GB boost in capacity—so it, too, is a reasonable alternative to the Zune. Here’s how all three models stack up.

  iPod 30GB iPod 80GB Zune
Dimensions 4.1″ x 2.4″ x 0.43″ 4.1″x 2.4″ x 0.55″ 4.4″ x 2.4″ x 0.6″
Weight 4.8 oz 5.5 oz 5.6 oz
Display size 2.5″ 2.5″ 3″
Display resolution 320×240 320×240 240×320
Capacity 30GB 80GB 30GB
Wireless NA NA 802.11b/g
Radio NA NA FM
Battery life (audio) 14 hours 20 hours 14 hours (wireless off)
13 hours (wireless on)
Battery life (video) 3.5 hours 6.5 hours 4 hours
Street price

Despite packing only 30GB, the Zune is larger and heavier than either iPod model. The weight actually isn’t that noticeable, but the size definitely is. Take the 30GB iPod, for example. It’s 33% smaller by volume than the Zune, and more than 28% thinner. Even the relatively portly 80GB iPod is slimmer than the Zune, which is also a third of an inch longer.


Even the 80GB iPod is thinner than the Zune

Now in absolute terms, we’re not talking about huge differences in size. However, these devices are meant to be carried around in your pocket, so the fact that the Zune is so much larger than the 30GB iPod is something to consider. To me, even the difference between the Zune and the 80GB iPod was easy to distinguish in the front or back pockets of my jeans, although not so much in jacket or cargo pockets.

While the Zune’s larger form factor makes it more cumbersome to carry around than an iPod, you do get a bigger screen by half an inch. That doesn’t sound like much, but it translates to close to 50% more screen area, which makes quite an impact when you look at the face of each device.


The Zune’s longer, too, but it has a much larger screen

The Zune may have a much larger screen, but you don’t actually get more pixels. Both offer a resolution of 320×240 (240×320 for the Zune, if you want to be nit-picky), so while images and video are certainly larger on the Zune’s screen, they’re no more detailed than what you get on the iPod. In fact, the brightness of the iPod’s screen can actually be cranked up higher than that of the Zune. You might not want to bother, though; both displays are more than acceptable with their medium brightness setting, and cranking the display will reduce battery life.

How’s that for a segue?

Battery life looks pretty even if we just compare the Zune with the 30GB iPod; both weigh in at 14 hours of audio playback and close to four hours of video. The 80GB iPod has a bigger battery than the 30GB model, though, and Apple says you can squeeze a whopping 20 hours of audio playback and more than six hours of video from the device. We’ll actually test battery life in a moment, so you won’t have to go on manufacturer claims alone.

Microsoft is quick to point out that the Zune’s battery will last longer if you disable the device’s wireless component, and that’s just fine by us. Wireless functionality is currently limited to transferring songs between Zune devices, so unless you actually run into someone else with a Zune, the W-Fi isn’t going to do you any good. You might find the device’s FM radio useful, though. The radio is just a tuner, so you can’t actually transmit playback to your car stereo, but it’s one more feature the iPod doesn’t have.

 

Aesthetic options and other bits
There are plenty of elements of the iPod and Zune that we can easily compare with a spec sheet, but other less tangible attributes also govern the appeal of these devices. Aesthetics matter for electronics accessories like personal media players, and in that realm, few are as striking as the iPod. Just look at it.

The iPod is sleek, stylish, and with a metal back plate polished to a mirror finish, it’s even beautiful. Color options are limited to black and white, and while that’s not terribly exciting, it does enforce a level of stylistic conformity. This is classy by careful design.

Almost too careful design.

I’m surely in the minority here, but the iPod’s aesthetic has always struck me as something more befitting of dental equipment than a personal media player. The whole look is very clinical, sterile, and almost completely without soul. And that’s not the worst of it. The iPod’s polished, shiny finish might look great in product shots and fresh out of the box, but carry it around in your pocket for a few weeks and you’ll find the finish marred by countless scratches, smudges, and fingerprints. Some of those aren’t going to buff out, either.

The idea of buffing an MP3 player seems ludicrous, but that’s what it takes to preserve the iPod’s shiny finish. That is, unless you’re going to forever shield the device with a protective case, but then what’s the point of having a fancy finish you’ll never see?

Clearly, the iPod was designed to look good on the shelf with little concern for how it will look after a few months of even casual use. That’s apparently quite different than the approach Microsoft took with the Zune, which doesn’t appear to have been designed to look good even fresh out of the box.

Many were excited when it was learned that the Zune would initially be available not only in black and white shades to match the iPod, but also in a third color. Microsoft could have gone with a flashy fire engine red, a more reserved British racing green, a generic sky blue, or even an eye-searing fluorescent chartreuse, but they settled on brown. Mind you, it’s a deep, chocolate brown, but one whose color just about perfectly matches that of my morning bowel movement.

I’m not sure who decided brown was a good idea, but I’ve yet to encounter a single person who finds the brown Zune attractive. Perhaps, if you wear a lot of corduroy and tweed, it’ll match your outfit. But for the rest of us, it just sort of looks like, well, poo. Microsoft appears to have taken notice, as well. Redmond has already rolled out a special edition Zune in pink, and red and orange models have been spotted making the rounds in the wild.

Microsoft might have botched the Zune’s third color option, but they didn’t get the design’s look completely wrong. In truth, there’s nothing really flashy or impressive about the plastic body and dull finish, but also nothing to get scratched, scuffed, or marked up with fingerprints. You still have to worry about protecting the screen, but that’s it; the rest of the finish holds up remarkably well to abuse.

So the Zune doesn’t even come close to looking as good as the iPod out of the box, but a few months down the road, it doesn’t look so bad in comparison. As long as you don’t get it in brown.

Screen scratches are a problem for both devices, though, so you’ll want to use the included cloth cases if you’re going to throw either into a bag with a bunch of other toys. I actually thought the cloth cases were a little silly at first; I’ve had MP3 players for years, but never once have I cared about a scratch or two on the screen. Those were old MP3 players where the screen was little more than a gateway to a series of black and white menus. The iPod and Zune both feature color screens that can display pictures and play back video, so scratches not only blemish the device’s interface, but its content as well.

Speaking of blemishing content, I would be remiss not to address the headphones that come with each device. Bundled headphones are rarely of high quality, so the ones Microsoft includes with the Zune were a pleasant surprise. They don’t sound fantastic, but they’re reasonably comfortable, discrete, and don’t actually look half bad. Those metal bits aren’t just for show, either; they’re magnetic, allowing you to stick the left and right buds together. That reduces their tendency to tangle, which is a nice little attention to detail on Microsoft’s part.


Earbuds for the iPod and Zune: Can you guess which is which?

The earbuds included with the iPod are another story, though. I’ve owned a number of personal audio players over the years, from walkmen to discmen and MiniDisc to MP3 players, but none have come with headphones as flimsy or cheap as those that come with the iPod. The iPod earbuds absolutely refuse to stay in my ears, as well, and sound noticeably worse—more tinny, less bass—than the Zune’s buds.

What bothers me even more about the iPod’s earbuds is that they’re white, regardless of the color of your iPod. Now if you buy a black iPod, it’s probably safe to say that you did so because you didn’t want one in white. Why, then, must Apple stick you with white earbuds? It’s not like they aren’t moving sufficient volume of black iPods to justify carrying a second earbud color.

 

Actual use
In terms of day to day use, there’s actually quite a bit of difference between the iPod and Zune—more than I was expecting. The main difference here is the user interface, which for something as simple as a personal media player, should be easy to get right. Simplicity oozes from the iPod’s stark white menus, but navigating through them with the touch-sensitive click wheel is more than just a little cumbersome. First, the wheel itself doesn’t click, so you actually have to take your thumb or finger off it to press the center button. That wouldn’t be a huge problem in itself, but when combined with the wheel’s high touch-sensitivity, merely moving your finger off it can change your selection. This takes some getting used to, and even after several months of use, it’s still too cumbersome for my tastes.

By comparison, the Zune’s standard array of navigation buttons looks a little bland. But the buttons work better. They really do. There’s no learning curve to worry about, no sensitivity to adjust to, and little chance that you’ll accidentally hit one of the buttons and inadvertently change your selection. Holding down the navigation buttons for a few seconds invokes a fast scrolling mode similar to that of the iPod, but you don’t have to keep spinning your thumb or finger around to keep it going.


Touch-sensitive wheels are fancier than buttons, but not necessarily better

Scrolling is much smoother on the Zune, as well. In fact, the whole interface feels much lighter and more responsive than that of the iPod, despite the fact that Microsoft makes use of several fancy visual effects to smooth menu transitions. You don’t get visual effects with the iPod, and that’s probably a good thing, because it feels like Apple has pushed the iPod’s hardware to its limits with the current UI. The interface just doesn’t feel as, well, agile as the Zune’s. And it gets worse when you’re playing music in the background. That doesn’t seem to slow the Zune down at all, but the iPod’s interface gets noticeably choppy, especially when fast scrolling.

So despite its clean looks and fancy touch-sensitive wheel, the iPod’s interface feels like a slightly uncoordinated fat kid trying to outmaneuver a considerably more energetic and athletic Zune. But then I’ve been using MP3 players for years, and maybe the click wheel was too much of a change for me, so I sat down with an impartial subject: my mom. Like most moms, mine’s never owned an MP3 player, owes no allegiance to either Apple or Microsoft, and is just savvy enough to get her email, web surfing, and word processing done.

Watching my mother play with the iPod confirmed my reservations about the touch-sensitive wheel. She wasn’t comfortable spinning it around fast enough to accelerate scrolling, and would often scroll right past what she was looking for. Additionally, she found that menu selections changed when she took her thumb or finger off the wheel to hit the center button, calling this behavior “very annoying.” She didn’t seem to care that the interface slowed down when music was playing in the background, though.

The Zune’s simple button-based interface fared better with mom, who immediately figured out fast scrolling and seemed to have no problems with navigation. She even commented that the Zune’s interface was “prettier” than the iPod’s stark white menus, but that the device itself was a little dull, and “more plastic, you know.” The overall feel of the iPod did appeal to her, though; she called the design sleek and “almost sensual,” and that’s where our impromptu test session ended. Sensual is not a word I need to be hearing in conversation with my mother.

Playback explored
Once you actually get some music queued up, the iPod and Zune offer nearly identical playback quality, provided you use the same set of headphones with both. I listened to scores of 320kbps MP3s back to back on each device, and would be hard pressed to rank one over the other. If anything, the Zune’s bass response sounds ever so slightly sharper to my ears, but that’s about it. Of course, if you swap in the stock headphones that come with each device, playback definitely favors the Zune.


The Zune’s screen is much bigger, but not really much better

Moving to video, there’s even less difference in playback quality. Video playback is smooth, screen brightness and color reproduction are comparable, and even the resolutions are the same. The big difference here is screen size and orientation. Watching video on the Zune is done at 90 degrees, so you actually have to rotate the device. It’s worth it, though, because the difference in screen size is definitely apparent. There’s simply more to watch on the Zune.

With both screens offering the same number of pixels, I expected the Zune’s larger display area to highlight flaws inherent to lower resolution compressed video, such as jagged edges and overall blockiness. That wasn’t really an issue, though. Sure the jaggies are bigger on the Zune, but they’re no less annoying on the iPod, if your eyes tend to notice that sort of thing.

Of course, if you are picky about quality, you’ll likely be dissatisfied with video playback on both devices. It’s not so much that the resolution is inadequate (which it is) but that even the Zune’s 3″ screen is woefully tiny. Cartoons were about the only things I could stand to watch on either device, since so much detail is necessarily lost with other content. So the Zune may be technically superior here, but in the same way that the GeForce 8400 GS is superior to the 8300 GS—you wouldn’t want to play games on either. Personally, I’d sooner listen to music than watch video on either the iPod or the Zune.

 

Battery life
Battery life is an important consideration for portable devices, so I ran the iPod and Zune through a couple of tests so see how they fared. The screen brightness, volume, and backlight timers were set at the same levels on each device, and each had a fresh charge after draining the batteries completely. Audio playback was tested with a random playlist, while video cycled through an episode of Top Gear compressed in MPEG4 format.

We’re comparing the Zune to an 80GB iPod here, so Apple does have the advantage. The 80GB iPod’s battery is bigger than what you get on the 30GB model, and Apple claims significantly longer playback time.

With audio, the 80GB iPod manages nearly 20 hours of battery life, beating the Zune by more than six hours. Note that disabling the Zune’s wireless capability gets you nearly an extra hour and a half of battery life, too—a gain of close to 13%.

The Zune’s wireless capability has less of an impact on battery life with video playback, perhaps in part because the wireless component is only powered for about four hours. Predictably, the iPod is way out ahead again, but what’s striking here is that it also lays waste to Apple’s claimed 6.5-hour battery life for video playback. Apple only claims 3.5 hours of video playback for its 30GB iPod, but if its estimates for that device are off by the same margin, you could be looking at more than five hours of battery life.

Software and supported formats
I could go on and on about the apps associated with the iPod and Zune, but I won’t—software really isn’t our thing. Suffice to say that both suites work, but they do have their issues, and they’re both incredibly bloated. Sadly, it appears that neither Apple nor Microsoft is willing to simply let users copy music to their portable media players without the intervention of intrusive software. It’s as if they think granting users that kind of freedom will make it too easy to pirate music.

And just look how effective that’s been thus far.

Amusingly, the iPod comes covered with a sticker urging users not to steal music. The Zune, however, makes no such plea; it just wants to get started. And getting started with either device is pretty easy. Installation was a snap with both the iPod and the Zune.

I should note that while Apple and Microsoft would like you to use their software to interface with the iPod and Zune, respectively, you do have options, at least on the iPod front. Recent versions of Winamp, for example, can easily transfer DRM-free audio and video to the iPod without having to mess around with—or even install—iTunes. Winamp doesn’t yet work with the Zune, although it’s conceivable that someone will create a plug-in if official support isn’t forthcoming.

Speaking of lacking support, it’s disheartening to note that the Zune isn’t compatible with Microsoft’s previous PlaysForSure DRM scheme. You can still get access to a subscription-based music service through what Microsoft calls the Zune Pass. This Zune Pass gives users unlimited access to most of Microsoft’s online music store for $15/month, with the option to burn tracks to CD for an additional fee.

Subscription-based music services aren’t for everyone, but since the Zune still supports a la carte purchases, the Zune pass simply gives users more options. You won’t find any subscription services compatible with the iPod, though. Apple has never shown interest in offering music on a subscription basis, so you’re left with individual downloads, or whatever MP3s you can rip from CD or otherwise obtain. The iPod at least gives you extra options when ripping your own music. Unlike the Zune, which only supports lossy audio file formats, the iPod can handle the Apple Lossless format to preserve as much of an original recording as possible.

Of course, our biggest issue with file format support on the iPod and Zune has nothing to do with lossless audio or subscription services, it’s that the DRM schemes from Apple and Microsoft are incompatible with each others’ players. This kind of lock-in is particularly disturbing given Apple’s effective monopoly in the MP3 player market, but with both companies looking increasingly willing to offer DRM-free music in MP3 format, it may become less of an issue over time.

All the little things
When Microsoft launched the Zune, it played up the device’s wireless capabilities. Unfortunately, those capabilities are limited to sharing songs between Zune devices. That’s a novel feature, but since next to no one actually has a Zune, being able to wirelessly transfer songs between them is like walking around with a giant Laser Disc collection looking to swap movies. You’re not going to find many takers. I have Lou Reed’s This Magic Moment queued up just in case I encounter Scarlette Johannson rocking a Zune, though. But then, she’d probably have the wireless disabled to save battery life. Yeah, that’s why she won’t talk to me.

More disappointing than the lack of Zune-sporting celebrities with which to share songs is the fact that Microsoft hasn’t extended the device’s wireless capabilities to syncing or tapping songs shared over Wi-Fi networks. If you’re going to bother putting a Wi-Fi chip into a portable media player, you might as well make the most of it being there. Instead, it feels like Microsoft held back, either intentionally, or because it simply didn’t have the time to give the Zune more robust Wi-Fi functionality before the device’s holiday launch.

The iPod can’t match the Zune’s wireless capabilities, but Apple does throw in a few extras, such as support for games, a stopwatch, and simple contact list, calendar, and note applications. These little touches don’t make the iPod by any means, but games are particularly appropriate for the device’s small screen. Indeed, Microsoft has already pledged to bring games to the Zune, and that device’s button layout and larger screen should be an even better fit. However, Microsoft hasn’t committed to a timeline for Zune games, saying only that they will be released before July of 2008, some 14 months from now.

 

Conclusions
After spending several months with an iPod and a Zune, one thing has become clear: the Zune is not an iPod killer. Sure, it’s a decent personal media player, but it’s not going to convert the masses away from the iPod. At least not yet.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone should go out and buy an iPod instead. The Zune certainly has potential, particularly if Microsoft provides updates for the device that better exploit its wireless capabilities. Even now, the interface is snappier and easier to use than what you get with the iPod, and the device’s finish is considerably more durable. And then there’s the larger screen, which certainly gives the Zune an edge when it comes to video playback and whatever games Microsoft gets around to releasing for the device.

In fact, the screen is such a strong differentiating factor that it’s almost tempting to recommend the Zune over the iPod if video playback is a priority. Except for two small things. First, you can only get the Zune in 30GB flavors, while the iPod goes all the way up to 80GB. Storage capacity becomes more important when you’re loading a device with lots of video, especially if you want your entire audio library riding shotgun. More importantly, though, the 80GB iPod offers roughly two and a half times the video playback battery life of the Zune. That’s a lot.

Of course, the 80GB iPod costs 50% more than the Zune. But it’s smaller and lighter even with all that extra capacity and battery life under the hood. Drop down to the 30GB iPod and you may lose the capacity and run-time advantage, but you shed some weight and quite a bit of thickness along the way, making the Zune go from feeling a little chubby to downright fat by comparison.

Not that the iPod isn’t without its faults. The finish looks great as long as you baby it, but it’s shockingly scratch- and scuff-prone. Then there’s the interface, whose touch-sensitive wheel is more flash than function. The hardware appears to be at its limits, too, as evidenced by the fact that the apparently strenuous task of navigating menus while listening to music is enough to make the interface choppy and sluggish.

In the end, I have to side with the iPod, in particular because spending an extra $100 gets you more than twice the storage capacity and battery life of the Zune in a smaller, lighter form factor. Those are the metrics that really make a difference to me when it comes to personal media players, and the iPod gets them just right, even if it does end up looking like a beat up surgical instrument. You’d be well-advised to keep an eye on what Microsoft has in store for the Zune, though. For a first effort, it’s pretty impressive, showing just enough promise to make me think a second-generation unit may actually have a shot at giving the iPod its first real challenge. 

Comments closed
    • Tommyxx516
    • 12 years ago

    This article feels incomplete because it should of included the Creative Zen.

    • Kreshna Aryaguna Nurzaman
    • 12 years ago

    r[

    • beyoku
    • 12 years ago

    I have purchased 3 Zunes. Got them all through Woot dot com for 130.oo. MSFT could have really had an Ipod killer but they held back on the Wifi. OMG, what were they thinking. Internet radio, wireless sync, would have destroyed the ipod. O well, at least i got a good price.

    • Philldoe
    • 13 years ago

    I’ve used the Ipod Creative Zen Vision and own a Zune. All in all I perfer the Zune. The Zen Vision and Zune are nearly on par but the UI on the Zune is more to my liking. the Ipod IMO is ugly as all hell. I refuse to use any touch Wheel/Scroller so an Ipod is out of the equation for me.

    I think The Zune should not have been compared to the 80Gig Ipod for the fact that Apple makes a 30 gig at the same price point as the Zune. it’s like comparing a 19″ LCD to a 21″ widescreem LCD. sure the 21″ is a better value but is it right to compare it with a 19″?

    As for the size, I can understand that. For me it’s no big deal, I always ware cargo pants or a jacket with lots of deep pockets.

    THe software is no biggie I guess, I would perfer to just toss it on there like I could with my Zen Micro or atleast use WMP11 to sync it but until I can do that I’ll be fine.

    From what I hear MS isn’t nearly finished with the Zune line up. The Zune is in gen1 and the next will be much better and soon the Zune will putting some beat down on the Ipod, It won’t kill it but it will hurt it.

    TBH I’m getting sick of hearing the word Ipod…most idiotic name ever…even the word Zune sounds better to me.

      • Ricardo Dawkins
      • 13 years ago

      Zune brothers….The Zune Armada wants YOU!!!

      Hi, Zune brothers….can you all go to this website and post your 10 most desired features to improve the Zune Generation 1 device.

      §[<http://zunefeatures.wordpress.com/<]§ Just register yourself (free) and post the numbers of your most desired features.

    • prb123
    • 13 years ago

    How about adding a Creative Vision M to the review?

    • FireGryphon
    • 13 years ago

    Good article. Two things:

    1. In the opening paragraph, second sentence, the word “dominance” should be “dominated”.

    2. The article is great, but it would have been more complete — and better — if you had included test results for the 30 gig iPod as well. It’s possible to make comparisons between the Zune and 30 gig iPod given the information about which you wrote, but it requires some reading between the lines. It’s also a bit misleading to have the 80 gig iPod and Zune compared in graphs, and the 30 gig iPod and Zune compared in text. Different people will come away from this article having learned different things, depending on whether visuals or text more easily catch their eyes. It also presents the Zune in a slightly better light, given that there’s no hard data or graphs to compare the Zune to one of its natural competitors, and probably loses to it.

    Anyway, pretty good article. There’s less hard data and more editorial-ish opinions in this sort of review. That’s fine. I wouldn’t mind seeing more articles like this. Just don’t get too used to it, lest we read future CPU, mobo, or GPU articles and find our editors have gotten soft when it comes to rigorous testing and barraging us with performance tests and cold, hard numbers.

    • albundy
    • 13 years ago

    not that i’m a apple fanboi, but the ipod kills the zune in usability. i had to return my zune before i threw it at someone.

    • primitive.notion
    • 13 years ago

    “I’m surely in the minority here, but the iPod’s aesthetic has always struck me as something more befitting of dental equipment than a personal media player. The whole look is very clinical, sterile, and almost completely without soul.” -Geoff

    Thank you. You’re the first person I’ve seen that’s mentioned this. Although I own an iPod and enjoy using it, you’re exactly right.

    Same thing goes for Apple stores – wouldn’t surprise me to find a dentist’s chair lurking near the genius bar.

      • FireGryphon
      • 13 years ago

      I used to think this, before I owned an iPod. Now I couldn’t be happier to have that little nano in my hand. There’s something comforting about being in a clinically-lit subway car deep underground, with the chaos of clusters of people and a rocking train car going on all around me after a hard day’s work… then I look down and there’s a neat, clean, aesthetically pleasing polygon in the palm of my hand, its distinctive appearance, bright screen with little dabs of color to engage my weary eyes a stark contrast to the clatter that’s going on around me. It’s like an oasis in the middle of a sprawling desert. I love it.

    • Ricardo Dawkins
    • 13 years ago

    Hi, Zune brothers….can you all go to this website and post your 10 most desired features to improve the Zune Generation 1 device.

    §[<http://zunefeatures.wordpress.com/<]§ Just register yourself (free) and post the numbers of your most desired features. If you are a Zunescene member, there is a poll where you can select 10 of these sames improvements/features so the Zune team can see what we want from our digital media players right now or in the future. §[<http://www.zunescene.com/forums/index.php?topic=14316.0<]§ (is it fine to post this here ? )

    • Smurfer2
    • 13 years ago

    Thank you so much for the review Geoff! My brother has been looking at 30gig HDD DAPs. This helped persuade me to recommend the Zune, plus he also prefered the zune’s tactile buttons over the scroll wheel.

    P.S. I saw you recommend the 80gig Ipod, but he didn’t want to spend another $100 on extra battery life and space.

    Personally, I would buy an eSansa…. But that just was not big enough for him.

    • Jambe
    • 13 years ago

    I’ve never been particularly big on the iPod. I have, however, been a loyal fan of COWON products. I’d an X5 for years and loved it. Some complained of interface issues and the like but honestly I found it much more intuitive than the iPod, Zune or Zen. I sold it about 6 months ago and relied solely upon my iAudio 5, and just last week I purchased the iAudio 6 and the T2.

    You can call me a fanboy, and I suppose I do have a little bit of brand-bias when it comes to portable media players, but that’s only because COWON makes them so damned well that I don’t feel the need to get anything else (I tried the iPod, Z and Z at the behest of my friends, but couldn’t get used to them). But hell, I’d been saving money, and I figured, why the hell not? The last 2 COWON products I’ve owned have been stellar.

    BTW, interesting comparo of the two products. If you had a shiny graphic of the Apple logo as a lance trying to poke through a shield emblazoned with the M$ logo, that would have made my day. Or, I guess, in this case it’d be vice-versa. But you get the idea.

    • axeman
    • 13 years ago

    Nice to know someone feels like I do about the iPod. I went shopping for a player for my wife, and will admit I didn’t research much, just tried out a bunch of players.

    I instantly came to the conclusion that the iPod looks nice, but the UI itself, and trying to navigate with the click wheel was annoying.

    Got the wife a Samsung T9 (I just wanted a flash player) It looks better than the iPod, functions as a normal removable drive, and has a nice looking screen and UI, I’m happy (plus Jobs doesn’t get any of my money)

    Apple is like that blond girl in high school that flirts with all of the guys, but ends up sleeping with the english teacher. Looks nice, but ultimately leaves you disappointed.

      • SGWB
      • 13 years ago

      The only killer application the iPod has, the only thing it does that no other player can, is interface with the iTunes Music Store.

      By any other metric, appearance, durability, battery life, interface, flexibility, sound quality, etc., the iPod is not necessarily the best choice. But when friends and family ask me what player they should buy, my first question is “Do you intend to buy music off of iTunes?” It they say yes, then an iPod is the only choice.

      Fortunately, that looks to be changing soon. There is an iTunes plugin that allows the program to synch to a windows explorer directory. That includs any flash based player that appears as a mass storage device in windows. Couple that with DRM-free AAC from iTMS, presuming it becomes the norm, and we will have some possibilities for alternate media players..

        • Taddeusz
        • 13 years ago

        I’ve never had any kind of durability issues with any of my iPods. I don’t necessarily baby my electronics but I don’t go throwing them around either. I take care in handling a portable device I paid a decent amount of money for. Sure accidents happen but I’ve seen what kind of hell people put their stuff through. A lot of people don’t particularly care how they treat their stuff. Do you really expect a small electronic device with or without moving parts to go through the kind of hell uncaring people put their stuff through? These are the same people that keep on having to buy new phones because they keep on breaking them.

        I’ve seen tests done on some web sites where the Nano was put through all kinds of hell and maybe the screen was not working but the player itself was still functioning. So I don’t really know where some of this durability compaint is coming from since my experience is actually completely opposite.

          • Ricardo Dawkins
          • 13 years ago

          A few post back you said:

          ” Most of the time I’m not listening through headphones. I listen in my car and my home stereo using the iPod’s line level output ”

          So, your iPod is almost always near a dock. Not many ppl use their iPod or any other portable DAP on the dock or connected to a PC, stereo or car.

          I never use my Zune when connected to the PC. That is bad to all DAPs batteries.

            • Taddeusz
            • 13 years ago

            Actually Lithium based batteries last longer if you keep them topped off. Most rechargeable batteries with the exception of Nickel Cadmium last longer if they are topped off rather than letting them run down. It also means the device will most likely be available to use when you want.

            • Ricardo Dawkins
            • 13 years ago

            dude, I said “Use while connected to the PC or a dock”. while you use the hard drive is spinning and getting hot with the battery charging (release some heat while charging, too). The heat is not good to the battery. this happens when sync’ing a lot, too.

            §[<http://www.batteryuniversity.com/parttwo-34.htm<]§ from the link: Keep the lithium-ion battery cool. Avoid a hot car. For prolonged storage, keep the battery at a 40% charge level.

            • Taddeusz
            • 13 years ago

            Ok, for starters I never said I kept it connected to a computer. Just because it’s on a dock doesn’t mean it’s hooked to a computer. I my particular case I have the dock connected to a wall charger and then the line-level out on the dock is connected to my stereo.

            But that’s beside the point. Even if you have your iPod, or whatever, connected directly to the computer the drive should not be spinning the whole time. Only when it’s syncing or being accessed. My iPod times out very quickly and stops the drive from spinning.

    • d0g_p00p
    • 13 years ago

    Nice review. However I am the proud owner of a Toshiba Gigabeat to replace my broken Rio and Zen micro, I miss the Rio, best sounding MP3 player that I have ever heard.

    One thing, does the Zune have gapless playback? I still cannot believe that Apple has yet to add this feature to the iPod.

      • A_Pickle
      • 13 years ago

      Apple did add gapless playback at the “It’s Showtime” Apple event where they announced new iPods, games for iPods, and other stuff.

        • d0g_p00p
        • 13 years ago

        is it implemented in the current iPods? I was listening to a current one last week and the mixed dj stuff on it kept having playback breaks. This was with a current black iPod video or whatever they are called.

          • Taddeusz
          • 13 years ago

          Did you rip the songs with iTunes? If not that may be the problem. Gapless albums such as Pink Floyd’s The Wall play fine from track to track if they are ripped from the CD using iTunes.

            • R2P2
            • 13 years ago

            You don’t even need to rip the CD with iTunes, just add the MP3s to your iTunes library and it’ll do the rest. You probably need to add the whole album at once, with track numbers. I never use iTunes for ripping, and all of my albums that should be gapless are.

          • adisor19
          • 13 years ago

          Chances are that iPod didn’t have the latest firmware installed.

          Adi

          • Ricardo Dawkins
          • 13 years ago

          iTunes have to “pre-process” the tracks for gapless playback. Gapless is not done in hardware w/o itunes iteraction.

    • Bensam123
    • 13 years ago

    lol, it’s nice finding a random article here that doesn’t really fit the norm every once in awhile (like the cpu cooler reviews).

    I guess I don’t really listen to music enough to warrant purchasing a mini-player. I do, however, watch a lot of videos. A larger screen appeals to me, then again there are other media players out there with bigger screens that are portable.

    But when I start trying to justify buying anything like that I think about buying a laptop and then my justification gets shot down. The only improvement I think they could make on any of these devices is just turn them into giant touch screens. Instead of having buttons and a small screen, just make a entire side a screen. Other then that when you start adding more options things get heavier and when it comes to a portable music player, the walkman standard reigns.

    On subject:

    §[<http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2006/10/03<]§ §[<http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2007/01/03<]§

    • odizzido
    • 13 years ago

    I ended up getting a sansa from sandisk. Durable as hell, since it still works for me. I just copy paste my songs in too. I hate itunes.

      • 5150
      • 13 years ago

      Windows Explorer FTW!

        • A_Pickle
        • 13 years ago

        Hear hear!

      • Sniper
      • 13 years ago

      I also have a Sansa. I bought a Sansa e250.

      2 gigs, holds pretty much all my songs, memory expansion slot for more space. I can replace the battery too, if for any reason it stops holding a charge. Unlike iPods… heh.

      I think people are finally looking at alternative music players. They’re getting pretty good.

        • Ricardo Dawkins
        • 13 years ago

        I have a insignia video 2GB. 2.2 inch screen, two headphones out, removable battery, support for Ogg, UMS/MTP, FM radio, supports for AA and recording and microSD expansion slot.

        §[<http://www.insignia-products.com/pc-181-22-insignia-2gb-mp3-player-black.aspx<]§ Its my flash based mp3 player

          • ludi
          • 13 years ago

          Same unit here, except the 4GB version. Just ordered a 2GB MicroSD expansion card on eBay this afternoon, in fact.

          Only thing I don’t like is the lack of support for .M3U playlists. There was supposed to be a v1.106 firmware coming out in February or March that would remedy the situation, but so far, no show. The smaller FM/MP3-only unit (1GB or 2GB with no expansion) already does support .M3U and has for a long time, so it’s kind of strange that they still haven’t fixed this on the video units…

        • toxent
        • 13 years ago

        Ditto here! I’ve been loving it so far, and it really easy to use.

      • PetMiceRnice
      • 13 years ago

      I had a Sandisk Sansa M250 which lasted for 2 weeks before it froze, never to be recovered. It could not be reset or anything and was no longer detected by my computer. Apparently it is a common problem with that model and so I took a refund. I found the volume buttons to be stiff and hurt the fingers after a while, and that the volume would sometimes drop unless you selected Custom EQ each time a new song played. Other than that, it looked like the kind of product that would probably be very solid in a couple of generations. I hope the experience you’ve had with your Sansa has been better than mine.

        • odizzido
        • 13 years ago

        I have an e260…never had a single problem with it. I like the fact it has real buttons instead of a heat sensor or whatever, since I can chance the songs easy through my pocket.

      • A_Pickle
      • 13 years ago

      I thought about getting one of those, but I opted for a 2 GB MiniSD card for my Sprint PPC 6700. I’m sure you all kick the crap out of my player in terms of battery life, and probably sound quality… but… I like it. 😀

      • Spotpuff
      • 13 years ago

      Yeah drag and drop ftw. When will other companies follow suit? :T Itunes is a big bloated POS.

    • Taddeusz
    • 13 years ago

    Ok, I finally read the whole article. Good article. My biggest gripe was that both players were constantly being referred to as MP3 players. And according to the author the services are going to offer DRM free MP3 format files which is not true. Apple will be offering DRM free AAC files while Microsoft I’m sure will be using WMA. I wouldn’t buy MP3’s anyway just because they are MP3’s.

    The term “MP3 player” is so dated now anyway. These players are no longer mere MP3 players. Calling them portable media players would be much more appropriate. I realize I bark about this all the time but AAC really does sound so much better than MP3 at the same bit rate. I know storage is cheap these days but if you have thousands of songs like I do every little bit counts.

    • eitje
    • 13 years ago

    Neither plays FLAC, and that’s why I’ve recently re-ripped my whole CD collection into, so….

    Thank you, but I’ll pass. 🙂

    • moose17145
    • 13 years ago

    What we have learned here today folks… it both suck at this point. Buy a Creative Zen or something else.

    Also, it’s really a shame Zune doesn’t just recognize itself as an external storage device that allows you to just drop w/e you want on it (like a pen drive). To me that would just seem more preferable (for someone like me and most people on this site i would imagine). Just have a couple different folders in the device, like “music” and “Movies” or “Video”… w/e. There’s no reason at all why this can’t be done. I thought that this was the way a Zen interfaces with a computer… might be wrong though. Also this would be nice as you could use it as a really large pen drive too then. Granted you might have to carry a cord around with you, … but i already carry my entire laptop and power cord around to class with me as is… so tossing a USB cable in the lappy case really isn’t a big deal to me.

    • Ubik
    • 13 years ago

    I’m curious as to why you didn’t include the 30GB iPod on the battery test, as at least in my experience the battery is one of the biggest drawbacks to that particular model. Battery life actually tends to be /[

      • Ricardo Dawkins
      • 13 years ago

      maybe you should lower your tracks bitrate or set the backlight a bit lower. It is general advice for any DAP battery life.

    • Dude-X
    • 13 years ago

    I have no issues with the iPod scroll wheel, and I have a lot of songs to scroll through. But I guess I am used to it. I never had the issue of slipping on a choice. Though I never did play with a 5th generation iPod.

    • lethal
    • 13 years ago

    I’m pretty happy with my 2nd gen nano… anodized aluminum finish (far more resistant to scratches and such), better battery life and the form factor is unmatched. Not to mention that its a pretty durable device by itself, surviving the most abusing tests I’ve seen thus far.

    • Ricardo Dawkins
    • 13 years ago

    I don’t understand this review. When TR review CPU, graphics cards and mobo they always choose a price range to compare the different choices. So you almost always get in GPU: mid vs. mid. (same price range), low vs low (same price range)

    I got my Zune for 220 USD total price. A 80GB iPod should cost 100 USD or so more than the Zune. Add the required (for me) FM tuner and case (LOL) the iPod goes more than 400 USD. Out of my price range and out of the price range of many ppl, too.

    You should have reviewed the Zune against the 30GB iPod since:
    (or at least included its performance)
    1. they have the same hard drive capacity 30GB
    2. both are in the same price range

    .*[

      • Dissonance
      • 13 years ago

      Sorry, did /[

        • Ricardo Dawkins
        • 13 years ago

        You forget the more basic metric. Price ?

        “Using the 30GB iPod would have actually made that player look even more superior in the size and weight department, as well. ”

        Ok. No problem. The Zune have 40% bigger screen (0.5 inch), FM radio and crippled Wifi (size and weight issue right there) for that and scratch-resistant doubleshot finish (not real need for a case).

        Does the iPod still looks superior in size and weight ? yeah. you are right.
        But with the Zune size and weight I got 3 features / abilities that I like. radio, bigger screen and no case double shot finish.

        • Ricardo Dawkins
        • 13 years ago

        BTW, I forget. Both the Zune and ipod 80GB use the same mah spec’d battery. The Zune screen is crippling the battery life during video playback big time…

        Another thing. I don’t know if the ipod have a preference for audio codecs. But with the zune you can improve battery life when in audio using WMA encoded tracks
        §[<http://www.zune.net/en-us/support/howto/start/providecontent.htm#section6<]§

        • eitje
        • 13 years ago

        Could you add a sentence to the article about what the cost, weight, and size changes would be to include FM Tuning function into the Ipod? Obviously, it would require an external component, and that could be anything…

        Anyway, just a thought.

        In support of Ricky, I thought the review could have been more scientific & objective in some places. But the “Mom Test” was awesome. 🙂

        • adisor19
        • 13 years ago

        AHAHAHAHHA yes he did !

        I wouldn’t worry about your review standards Diss. You did a great job on this one and i find the conclusion quite balanced. Again, we all have our disagreements here and there but overall i see no bias in there 🙂

        Adi

      • adisor19
      • 13 years ago

      LOL

      You used the word “biased” ! 😀 i couldn’t help it but LOL when reading that ! This just made my day once again 🙂

      Seriously, if anyone’s biased here, i highly doubt it’s Geoff 😉

      Adi

    • Ricardo Dawkins
    • 13 years ago

    ey Diss, you can get the Zune in pepto pink color (aka baby pink) for better morning bowel movement…:D LOL
    §[<http://www.zunescene.com/pink-zune/<]§ and btw, ppl like brown. Who's Zune is that if you don't like brown ?

      • Dirge
      • 13 years ago

      Brown looks pretty ugmo and the pink one makes me feel a little queezy.

    • Ricardo Dawkins
    • 13 years ago

    TR should keep doing non-DAP reviews…LOL….
    Where is the sound quality test from the headphone out ?

    Threads on Heafi.org. Zune sound quality or SQ
    §[<http://www.head-fi.org/forums/showthread.php?t=211548<]§ (review of Zune from a iPöd user perspective) §[<http://www.head-fi.org/forums/showthread.php?t=235837<]§ §[<http://www.head-fi.org/forums/showthread.php?t=235580&highlight=Zune<]§ §[<http://www.head-fi.org/forums/showthread.php?t=235383&highlight=Zune<]§ (the Kenwood have digital amps) §[<http://www.head-fi.org/forums/showthread.php?t=234417&highlight=Zune<]§ §[<http://www.head-fi.org/forums/showthread.php?t=234686&highlight=Zune<]§ §[<http://www.head-fi.org/forums/showthread.php?t=233445&highlight=Zune<]§ (zune vs Vision M and 5G iPod) §[<http://www.head-fi.org/forums/showthread.php?t=232538<]§ #20, "You shouldn't need hacks to make the Zune usable to you. " Tell that to anybody that is using RockBox or the iMod to improve the crappy audio quality from the iPod headphone out and using a digital amp. §[<http://www.rockbox.org<]§

      • Thresher
      • 13 years ago

      Anyone who thinks they are getting high fidelity sound out of an MP3 player isn’t thinking clearly.

      MP3 is an inherently lossy format. Unless you encode your music in a lossless format, which most people aren’t even aware of, there is only so much information availiable in the file to recreate the original sound. That copy is going to be of lesser quality than what it came from, making high end headphones or a highend audio out kind of like polishing a turd.

      Get headphones that you are happy with and move on.

        • Ricardo Dawkins
        • 13 years ago

        No one is talking about HI-FI here. I said better sound quality not HI-FI sound quality.

          • adisor19
          • 13 years ago

          Then if you want better sound quality, get better headphones. This is THE only upgrade that needs to be done to both of these players so that most people will actually notice a difference in sound quality.

          Adi

            • droopy1592
            • 13 years ago

            Did you actually read the reviews that Ricardo Dawkins posted? The users of headfi.com have the best headphones money can buy. They all compared the sound output of the ipod and zune with these high quality earphones and all of the dynamic range and punch of the zune is totally missing with the ipod.

            I’m a headfi guy (by the same name) and I’ve invested plenty in phones. I’ve already compared the two and the ipod sound output is horrible compared to the zune. It’s even more eviden when you use low impedance phones. There’s no comparison between the two. The ipods sound awful once you hear better portable players. There are plenty out there but Apple marketing/RDF has this market on lock.

            • adisor19
            • 13 years ago

            Did you fail to read that i have a pair of Sennheisers HD 590 ? Yes, i used to wander through those forums quite a bit in the past and came out with the conclusions that they way 1 headphone sounds is relative to the person that is listening to it. For example : i HATE the laid back sound of the HD 580, HD 600, HD 650 while i love the in your face sound of the HD 590 and the HD 595. It’s all relative to each person. Now, since i have not had the chance to listen to either a Zune or a recent iPod, i can’t let you know what i think of them, and NO, i will not base my opinion on the reviews of some pple since the way it sounds to ME is really what matters.

            Adi

            • Thresher
            • 13 years ago

            I’d agree to a certain extent. My iPod Shuffle does sound better than my 80GB. However, much of this can be made up for through equalization.

            As good as these may or may not sound, putting a pair of $400 phones on a $300 DAP is just crazy. All it does is allow you to hear every deficiency more clearly.

            • Ricardo Dawkins
            • 13 years ago

            I get your idea. But you miss the amp ;). so add about 100-300 USD to that equation… 😀

            • ludi
            • 13 years ago

            $50-75 + time if you build it yourself 🙂

        • ludi
        • 13 years ago

        Actually, I’m fairly impressed with the overall audio quality available on many modern CD players and portable media devices. Far better than what was available even ten years ago. Often the main thing lacking is not audio fidelity, but current delivery and/or the 120R source impedance that “spec” headphones are designed to expect.

      • Taddeusz
      • 13 years ago

      Most of the time I’m not listening through headphones. I listen in my car and my home stereo using the iPod’s line level output.

      • Eckre
      • 13 years ago

      any ass who is concerned about headphone “quality” listening to lossy mp3s is an…. ass.

      it’s like your trying on two sets of glasses, both which are not prescribed to you and you’re trying to figure out which one makes the blur look least blurry? Mp3s and headphones are not about acoustical faithful quality, they are about convenience and portability.

        • Firestarter
        • 13 years ago

        I beg to differ. First of all, MP3s are designed to omit non-audible elements of the music. A good encoder does just that, and manages to fool a lot of people who listen very carefully using expensive equipment. Secondly, a lot of that expensive equipment consists of high-quality headphones (and amplification), which by nature reveal artifacts in an MP3 *better* than almost any speaker system that you can afford.

        Given both a good mp3 and good headphones, the limiting factor in audio quality becomes the stuff that takes the mp3 and drives the headphones. That’s why audio quality is a very valid concern when you review a MP3 player. After all, if the audio output is crummy, then how on earth can it ever be a good MP3 player?

    • Hattig
    • 13 years ago

    I used my iPod on and off with the default earphones, but since I bought a relatively cheap pair of Sennheiser headphones I’ve been using it a lot more. There’s a world of difference, especially where there is background noise.

    For all that my iPod nano is scratchable, it’s been jingling around various pockets of mine for 20 months with no protection and the screen is still perfectly readable. Yeah, it’s scuffed, but I found I didn’t care. The scroll wheel is a bit too sensitive though, I find I autolock the device automatically whenever I put it into a pocket now.

    I imagine the next generation of (large) iPods will be using an interface much more like the iPhone’s media interface. On the other hand the current interface is clear and works fairly well (I have some issues with artist view not showing artists in compilations, although it does declutter it somewhat).

    I use the alarm clock feature daily. Nice to wake up to some violent industrial 🙂

    Apple are probably using chips with built-in FM circuitry now, so they really should enable it as a feature in my opinion.

    You can’t buy a Zune in Europe either. I’m sure the V2 and V3 Zunes will be far more competitive of course, then it will be interesting.

    • Ardrid
    • 13 years ago

    Excellent article thus far, Geoff. I gotta say you’re one hell of a writer; I’ve cracked a smirk quite a few times already. It’s just the thing I’ve been looking for. I’m working my way through it while sitting in class right now and will update this post once I finish reading.

    Well, I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the article. I have to agree with some of the points as well regarding the iPod with respect to the UI and the stylistic concerns. I’m really looking forward to see what 2G Zunes bring to the table. Until then, I’ll be using the extra 4GB of space I have on my PSP as my makeshift Nano 🙂

    • Willard
    • 13 years ago

    Good article, but what about overclocking and noise levels? 🙂

    • Thresher
    • 13 years ago

    I know I am one of the TR resident Mac Drones, but I really wanted to like the Zune. The feature set sounded killer. I mean what’s not to like? Pretty interface, built in WiFi, nice feature set.

    But the damn thing is ruined by putting the content providers first instead of their customers. WiFi is needlessly crippled. The unit doesn’t work with Plays4Sure, so any old music you’ve bought is useless.

    Instead of offering a killer feature set with user friendly accessibility, they’ve given us a killer feature set ruined with DRM. The iPod, with its more limited feature set, doesn’t make the enduser feel frustrated by not being able to use the device the way it was intended.

    It seems to me that offering a feature and crippling it is worse than not offering the feature to begin with.

    I know it sounds odd from me, but I really do want to see the iPod face stiff competition. It keeps prices down and makes the manufacturers work harder for our money. Additionally, the more competitive devices there are out there, the more pressure there is to create compatibility across devices and platforms.

    • Hotdog
    • 13 years ago

    I bought a Zune when they first came out; I’m a giant loser like that.

    Since I bought it, I’ve used it for two primary purposes:

    1) It plugs into my car stereo via 3.5mm stereo jack.
    and
    2) It straps to my arm when I bike ride, and I use Logitech’s Wireless headphones.

    In both cases, for me, the Ipod would have been better. Why?

    1) In case 1, my head unit is compatible with an Ipod; that is, I could have bought a cute little adapter thingy, and controlled the Ipod via the face plate. Big deal? Not really, but just a fact.

    2) For case 2, strap selection is much, much better for Ipod; obviously, larger market, many more 3rd party dealers. Also, the Logitech Headphones I bought “fit” the Ipod… with the Zune, it just sort of works.

    It all depends on how you use the device. Do I like my Zune? Sure. But I play 100% un-DRMed MP3s, I don’t use Zune/URGE/Itunes, so compatibility is never an issue.

    Looking back, I should have bought an Ipod. Oh well.

      • Ricardo Dawkins
      • 13 years ago

      I don’t have answer for number 1. I don’t own a car.

      For number 2, Speck Active Sports lite

    • 5150
    • 13 years ago

    I would say that neither are the best the MP3 world has to offer.

    • danny e.
    • 13 years ago

    iAudio X5L is good. thats what i have

      • eloj
      • 13 years ago

      I have the iAudio 5, but the new D2 (http://www.cowonglobal.com/product/product_D2_feature.php) seems real sexy to me, even though some reviews say it’s neither here or there; too small screen for video, too large for just audio. If my “5” would die today I’d probably get the U3 though.

      As far as I know neither the Zune nor the Apple plays Vorbis out of the box, so that’s a complete deal breaker for me.

      I’d really like someone to build a cheap simple vorbis-only player (maybe using §[<http://www.sparkfun.com/commerce/product_info.php?products_id=8300)<]§ For me "Zune vs iPod" is a little like "IE vs Firefox". I use Opera.

    • blitzy
    • 13 years ago

    “one whose color just about perfectly matches that of my morning bowel movement”

    mama mia! that’s a spicy meatball

    • Nutmeg
    • 13 years ago

    Archos are better than those two, goddamit!

    • Anemone
    • 13 years ago

    I went with Creative Zen and thus got something I can simply download my own songs to my player. No fuss no muss.

      • NeXus 6
      • 13 years ago

      Yep. It also has a better screen than iPod or Zune, plays more video formats, has a custom EQ, has a higher SNR, longer battery life, etc.

        • Pettytheft
        • 13 years ago

        And a crappy user interface. Which in my book negated all the positives.

          • Ricardo Dawkins
          • 13 years ago

          ummm..Zen Vision M and ipod have identical interface. And the interface belongs to Creative.

      • Anomymous Gerbil
      • 13 years ago

      Huh? I download my ripped MP3s to my iPod. What’s the fuss?

      • adisor19
      • 13 years ago

      Errr.. not quite sure i understand your argument here as both these 2 players allows just that. Care to elaborate ?

      Adi

        • moose17145
        • 13 years ago

        He’s probably saying you don’t need crappy ass iTunes or w/e M$ has to get the songs onto the player. You simple open My Computer, and drop them on there, which is WAY more preferable to anything iPod has. I HATE having to use 3rd party software for something that really shouldn’t need it.

          • adisor19
          • 13 years ago

          Ah ok that makes sense. I agree that as a power user i would prefer the same thing too. However, iTunes is pretty damn good as a management system for the iPod. You get a lot more options to the way your songs are transfered etc. I would deffinetly prefer to have both options available.

          Adi

            • Anomymous Gerbil
            • 13 years ago

            True, but there are third-party tools that allow that.

      • PetMiceRnice
      • 13 years ago

      I agree, I’ve had a great experience with my Creative Labs MP3 player, even if it is a 512MB model with no video playback. It is easy to use, needs no software, and sorts my songs by actual file name rather than relying on ID tags. The included earbuds are very good, as is the overall sound quality. I can’t believed I’ve owned it for the better part of two years now!

      I have since purchased an RCA MC2602 which I also like very much as well. The novelty of the video playback has worn off now, but it’s still very cool. Can’t beat the $80 CDN price I paid for it either.

      The short of it is that I’ve gotten by just fine without Apple and their various iPods. I think they are overpriced for what you get anyway.

      • CampinCarl
      • 13 years ago

      I love my Zen Touch. I’ve dropped this puppy from over 11 feet high (top of my high school locker) to a hard tile floor. Put a dent in one corner…but that’s it. Playback is fine, though after the number of hard drops I’ve put it through it’s becoming twitchy in the interface. Sometimes, hitting “next” or “okay” will cause it to switch to the “random play all” mode. So I turned on the tap-select function, but that is iffy at best. Sometimes just moving my finger over the center will cause it to select (not touching), sometimes tapping it hard in the center will either scroll or do nothing.

      But for over two years of abuse, I love the thing. I still get great battery life (I think it’s down around 15 hours now, I haven’t really counted though).

    • NIKOLAS
    • 13 years ago

    So with the various DRM-less MP3’s I have on my hard disk, will they run without any issues on the Zune?

      • SGT Lindy
      • 13 years ago

      Yes just fine….and any video you can convert ot certain formats, .wmv and mpeg4

        • NIKOLAS
        • 13 years ago

        Thanks SGT. Lindy 🙂

      • adisor19
      • 13 years ago

      They will run without issues on either the Zune or the iPod. Basically, do your search and buy the one you like most. I would suggest trying them both out before making the buy..

      Adi

        • NIKOLAS
        • 13 years ago

        Thanks Adi. 🙂

    • grug
    • 13 years ago

    So based on your conclusion alone, the iPod faults are basically taste related (“I don’t like the look of it”, “I don’t like the interface”) whereas the Zune faults are absolutes (battery life, capacity).

      • SGT Lindy
      • 13 years ago

      Ipod….scratches easily, has no radio, is underpowered or sluggish at times and has a smaller screen as I read it.

        • Ricardo Dawkins
        • 13 years ago

        ROFLMAO, look adi. I didn’t start the bashing. LOL

        • lethal
        • 13 years ago

        wrong reply

    • Decelerate
    • 13 years ago

    Ricardo not here to call the iPod dead yet? I’m surprised…

    The screen is a little meh, since the resolution’s the same anyways (and yeah, I’ll be pissed if Apple pulls the same trick on their new iPod generation).

    The only tossup I have are the earbuds: I wish they were of better quality yet I know they can’t ramp it up to the quality that I want without adding to the price. It’s practically an existential debate: can’t please the audiophiles, yet Joe Sixpack rarely complains or bothers to look for better buds.

      • Taddeusz
      • 13 years ago

      I’ve found that the earbuds that come with the older iPods at least are fairly good quality compared to most stock sets. The newer earbuds have slightly smaller drivers and are a little lacking in bass compared to the older ones. Earbuds aren’t exactly the best sound producing devices anyway. To complain about them is really kind of pointless.

        • soccergenius
        • 13 years ago

        All this talk about the earbuds is a little wierd to me, ’cause when I bought my g2 Nano, I compared the new earbuds to the old, and I could swear that the new ones sound better than the old. Additionally, I feel that the new ones do a better job of staying in your ear than the old, thanks to the rubber rim. Sometimes having the old ones without the foam for awhile would hurt.

          • Taddeusz
          • 13 years ago

          Every person is different. My iPods came with the older earphones. I bought a set of the new ones to check them out. I always use them with the foam pads. I believe that’s part of what give the older earphones the edge on bass. I’ve tried them with the pads off and they don’t sound nearly as good.

          Personally, I don’t know how anyone can stand unpadded earphones in their ear. They just hurt after extended use. The pads also help keep them in my ears.

          I would rather get a pair of Etimotic in-ear earphones. I will eventually.

          But, in the end I thought the newer iPod earphones just sounded worse. I know everyone is going to be different. That was just my impression.

        • adisor19
        • 13 years ago

        Actually, if you want a decent pair of ear buds, get some Sennheiser MX400. Trust me, even for earbuds, it will be like night and day compared to what the iPod and the Zune ships with.

        Adi

      • Mithent
      • 13 years ago

      They could certainly improve the quality of the headphones to some degree by reducing their profit margins slightly, but they have no intention of doing that when it already sells so well.

        • Taddeusz
        • 13 years ago

        I only ever hear techie people complain about the quality of the iPod earphones. The rest of the world seems to not care a flying flip one way or the other. The people that do care buy something better or already have headphones or earphones that they enjoy listening with.

        Complaining about stock earphones is exactly like complaining about stock speakers in cars. You know they’re not that great. But most people really don’t care. If you don’t like them then replace them but the masses can still remain blissfully happy with their stock stuff and it won’t hurt you one bit.

    • GokuSS2
    • 13 years ago

    Experiences vary. I have had an easier time with the current wheel.

    • paulWTAMU
    • 13 years ago

    Microsoft made a better UI than Apple? Wow thats gotta be a first.

    We’ve been selling Zunes at work now, and I sorta like them. I wish they were either smaller or cheaper (I’d take either) but they’re not really all that bad. Good review. And yes, hearig my mother call something sensual would give me the shivers too. Particularly if I’d had the device in my pocket.

    • adisor19
    • 13 years ago

    :/ Waiting for Ricardo Dawkins to start the iPod bashing.. :/

    Great review Geoff! I agree with some points :

    – The included iPod headphones are pure crap and they have always been. Just replace them with a pair of Sennheisers and problem will be solved. Actually this will improve on the Zune headphones as well.

    – The touch based interface on the iPod is a step down from the original 1G iPod where there was actually a real WHEEL that you turned. I understand why Apple did it (to make it slimmer) but i’d pick the real wheel over the touch one any day. I’m sure your mom would love the 1G iPod wheel better then the current one as all the navigation problems you mentioned would be solved by it.

    – The wireless in the Zune is a waste of battery and space. No doubt about it. It serves absolutely no purpose unless MS fixes it with a future firmware update.

    Now here are some other points that you did not mention :

    – The Zune software can NOT be installed on Windows XP 64bit. This is unacceptable no matter how you put it especially from the company that makes their own freakin OSes !

    – You don’t have to use ITunes to transfer songs over to the iPod. In other words, that whole argument with the use of intrusive software should have been a little bit more forgiving when it comes to the iPod. There are sooo many applications out there to do the job and on soo many platforms : Mac, Windows, Linux, etc which brings me to my next point :

    – iPod is a multi platform device. It works on almost anything. The Zune only works on Windows and then, only SOME versions of windows.. see above.

    – Zune can not be mounted as an external hard drive and be used as such while the iPod can, on any modern OS. This is a biggie. I carry various documents on the iPod like the most recent TV 720p episodes that i share with my friends. Can’t do that with a Zune or with a flash drive as those are BIG files.

    Yes, your conclusion is right, that currently the iPod IS the superior device but i just wished you would have hammered that message a bit more 🙂

    Once again, great article and i thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

    Adi

      • SGT Lindy
      • 13 years ago

      He said the Ipod could use other software like WinAmp so you dont need itunes.

      While I agree that its does not work officially on Windows XP 64bit, it does or can work on millions upon millions of 32bit XP and Vista machines…..if only MS had to worry about reaching the 1% or less of Windows XP 64bit users…..I think its safe to say they are going to concentrate on the 32 users first:) Here is the 64bit hack.

      §[<http://www.zune-online.com/news/zune/zune-on-windows-xp-pro-64-bit.html<]§ The Zune can be used has a hard drive...with a registry hack, which was avalible just a few days after its launch. Granted its a hack but a very easy one that is on the PC and not the Zune. §[<http://www.pvrwire.com/2006/11/25/use-the-microsoft-zune-as-a-hard-drive/<]§ The head phones that come with the Zune are cheap as well. That said I have a Zune and I got the premium head phones for $39 and I like them better than my wifes Sure head phones on her Ipod....much better base. The WiFi is useless and I have mine off, but one firmware update to get it to sync with my PC with out a cable and that would shut up all of the negative comments about the Zune's wireless features....MS must not care.

        • Taddeusz
        • 13 years ago

        You shouldn’t need hacks to make the Zune usable to you.

          • SGT Lindy
          • 13 years ago

          I agree.

          I dont need to use it as a HD, nor do I need any reason to run a 64bit OS on my main PC that has the Zune software on it. So I dont use or need any of the hacks.

          • derFunkenstein
          • 13 years ago

          I completely agree when it comes to Windows. Other OS’s are another story. Just like you should not need (nor do you need) a hack for an iPod on a Mac. Going cross-platform could be worrisome, but on the platform you develop? You better get it right.

        • adisor19
        • 13 years ago

        Umm, all your solutions are actually hacks.. None of this is necessary with an iPod.

        Adi

          • Usacomp2k3
          • 13 years ago

          A 5th gen iPod that has been available for how long?
          I for one think it’s impressive that the 1st gen Zune can do as much as it can.

            • moose17145
            • 13 years ago

            Gonna have to agree, enough so that i actually would prefer the Zune over an iPod. IF i HAD to choose between those two… Personally… I’m still leaning towards many of the other offerings from Creative.

            Personally, to me iPod is nothing but a very popular disappointment. A 5th gen iPod really should have more than it does… and i would especially think it should be able to go through it’s own menu without slowing down while playing music. W/e.. only in Apple world i guess. The Zune has problems, that’s for sure, but given it’s only a Gen 1, it’s pretty damn impressive. Personally i can’t wait to see what they do with the Gen 2 version.

      • droopy1592
      • 13 years ago

      You forgot that the iPod’s op amp is one of the crappiest ever made. Apple’s sound quality is much worse if you use low impedance headphones compared to the Zune.

      In fact, the best output components ever on an iPod were on the shuffle (gen 1) and apple stopped using those op amps for gen 2, so now all iPods suck when it comes to output.

      The Zune’s output is barely better with low impedance phones.

      I honestly think my Sony (I hate Sony though) w810 phone has better output than an ipod especially when dealing with low impedance phones, like Grado.

        • adisor19
        • 13 years ago

        As i’ve stated it in the past i haven’t played with the latest iPods or with the Zune in order to compare sound quality with my trusty Sennheiser HD 590. However, i can tell you that my gen 1 iPod with its Wolfson DACs sounds crystal clear which in fact is a bad thing when listening to poorly compressed MP3s.. :S But, switch to Apple Lossless and it’s music to my ears 🙂

        Adi

          • Ricardo Dawkins
          • 13 years ago

          LOL.Wolfson DAC. Both the ipod 5.5 and the Zune use Wolfon DAC much better than your 2001 hardware…sorry but check your facts.
          §[<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zune#Zune<]§ §[<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPod<]§ will you repeat again you comment about how your iPod G1 sound better than a Rio Karma so I can prepare myself for not laughing ?

            • adisor19
            • 13 years ago

            That’s funny, i don’t recall writing that the 1G iPod sounds better then the Rio, cause.. I NEVER HAD A RIO TO TEST IT IN THE FIRST PLACE.

            Thanks for putting words in my mouth.

            Adi

      • Pettytheft
      • 13 years ago

      How do you fit 720p episodes on a 30GB device along with your music?

        • adisor19
        • 13 years ago

        Well, i guess i don’t carry ALL my music with me. Right now, i have 4 Gigs of music about 6 Gigs of other stuff with 11 Gigs free.

        It’s 1G iPod with a swapped 20GB hard drive. A little freak of nature if you will 🙂

        Adi

    • Sanctusx2
    • 13 years ago

    I have to say I completely agree with the wheel

    • toxent
    • 13 years ago

    y[http://www.segway.com/downloads/2004/centaur2.jpg<]§ But a fine effort nonetheless. ;) Nice article btw.

    • willyolio
    • 13 years ago

    *[

    • lombot
    • 13 years ago

    A great read however I haven’t had the issues the reviewer had with the clicker wheel but then I am using a 3 year old 3rd gen ipod.

    The earphones that came with the ipod are pretty crap and then when you look at the price apple will charge you for new ones you almost faint at $AU 50 it is just a joke as they are just to tinny and for that amount of money I can buy something a bit better.

    • totoro
    • 13 years ago

    Once again, a TR article informs and makes beer come out of my nose.
    Well done!

    • Gandhi
    • 13 years ago

    Oh dear. This comment thread is gonna go downhill, fast.

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