Monday, October 01, 2007

Zune! Big and buggy, but I think better

I've been getting a lot of new toys lately. I still love my new Dell desktop and new laptop, and I'm now enjoying my new Zune. My 2-gig Sandisk e250 has gotten a little beat up after being dropped so many times, and I wanted something with more space. Now, the Zune is really big, and I ordinarily wouldn't have paid the regular $200 retail price, but I couldn't resist Woot.com's recent offer of white Zunes for $130 each. That deal has since passed. My friend Charlie told me some time ago about Woot, which offers one product every day (resetting at midnight Central Time) at a usually fantastic price. Check as soon as you can, because there's only a limited supply of whatever it is, and at these prices, popular things like Zunes, Bluetooth earpieces and high-end home theatre speakers will sell out within hours.

If I could improve the Zune, I'd add a rotating volume wheel just inside the controls, like Sandisk's e line, but the Zune's volume still adjusts nicely (up and down when playing music, left and right when playing video because you'll have moved it 90 degrees counterclockwise). Some have said, and I agree, that Microsoft designed a very intuitive interface. I haven't read the instructions yet and likely will never need to. I would have streamlined the playback menus a bit, because after you select a song or video, you must click again to play it. However, this does allow you to resume playback from the last stopping point, which Sandisk's players can't do.

I've only had it a few days, so I don't know how good battery life really is (always count on less than the specs).

The software semi-crashed on me tonight with this error message: "This operating system is currently not supported by Zune." And this is on a Vista machine! Maybe it was because I disconnected it before shutting down the software, but that's still a crazy error message. It's par for the course for Microsoft, though. I love it as a company, but whew, their software is inherently buggy.

The Zune is a bit large, but we're talking about a 3" screen. Granted, it's still the same 320x240 pixel resolution of the regular video iPods, but that half-inch makes a lot of difference. It's a beautiful TFT display, although I'm guessing it has only 65K colors. Some blacks and grays are blocky, because the screen doesn't support enough colors for proper gradation.

I was considering the new iPod Nano with video, but its screen is only 2". You might as well get an 8-gig Sandisk e280, whose 1.8" screen isn't significantly smaller. Synchronizing Sandisk's MP3 players is also much easier since they're USB flash drives. The big drawback with the Sandisk e2_0 line's video playback is that the proprietary software must be used to convert videos into monstrous Quicktime files, about 10 megs for one minute (!). The players weren't designed from the ground up to be full video players, so they can handle videos only in 10-minute segments. If you have a longer video, it's split up, and during playback there's a slight and annoying pause of 1-5 seconds between each segment.

I'll still use my 2-gig Sandisk e250 for music and my regular work commute. It's only a little slimmer than the Zune, but 1.75" wide and 2.4" long versus the Zune's 2.4" width and 4.4" length. Being 41% of the Zune's volume, my Sandisk fits much more easily in my hand, even with a protective silicone case. My Zune will primarily be for watching movies on my Metro-North commute, entertainment when I can't nap because some people are being obnoxiously loud with no consideration for others. The other day, the bitch sitting next to me pulled out her cell phone to make three different calls. Others exhibit common courtesy by going to the doors, where they're less disturbing because of the half-enclosures. Well, I had glanced at the woman with an irritated look during her first call, which didn't last much longer, and glared at her during her second call. As her third call turned into a mini-marathon, I said, "Madam, do you always insist on being so incessant?" She said not a word to me and yapped on, so I said, "I see, not only oblivious, but rude as well." She then ceased the call.

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