Wednesday, November 21, 2007

sellout styled: my first mp3 player purchase in over 9 years (Zune Flash 8GB)

yes, the title of this post is correct.  being as big of a geek as i am, most of my pals are pretty shocked to hear that i hadn't owned an mp3 player since the first generation of mp3 playesr.  back in 1998, i bought my first ever and up to this point 2nd ever mp3 player.  it was a Rio PMP300 that had a whopping 32mbs of memory and 10 hour battery life.  video? photo? click wheel/touchpad? none.  this was before Apple made mp3 players.



i loved my Rio but after about 4 months, sold it to my pal who used it religously for about 3 1/2 years until duct tape could no longer hold it together.  at the time, i still preferred my mp3 cd player over it due to the high cost of storage of the times (before 1gb was < $1).  however, the times sure have changed quite a bit in since then.

so, why the Zune Flash you may ask?

well, one of the big deciders was that i didn't want to use iTunes and also am not much of the ipod-esq/apple fanboy type; again after working on a few macs recently i loathe apple but that is because i'm a diy-er and hacker/modder type.   apple makes great products for those who don't want to fix it or hack it or mod it but just want it to work and if it doesn't have it fixed by someone (ie apple care).

the other decider was the new redesign of the Zune and the 8GB flash model.  i really am not looking to carry my whole music library with me; 10,000+ songs can be impossible to go through on a device and i also planned to use it while snowboarding.  so the less moving parts the better.   also, i liked the idea of a touchpad over scrollwheel, so the Zune Flash 8GB seemed like a nice choice (oh yea, also add in the FM radio and wireless sync abilities as toppers for my decision, features i've always wanted in an mp3 player).

Whats in the box.


i picked up my Zune Flash 8GB in black at good ole Best Buy for $199.  the basic box comes w/the zune flash, standard (ie crappy) headphones, sync/charge cable, and the usual manuals and nice boxing. there is no cd for the zune software, you have to get that online at http://zune.net


Zune Software Setup and Notes.

The Zune software setup was pretty easy going.  Just go online and get the installer.  If you have never used it before, its nice looking and a bit mac-ish in the look.  However, if you had a Zune already and the previous Zune software; the change is pretty dramatic and takes away a few things that most were used too like smart playlists.

I had a few problems getting the firmware to update for the zune but after using a powered usb hub, i was good to go. 

another thing i like about the zune is its social aspect.  with the software, once you create a zune account, you get a zune card and profile page that shows what you've listened to on your pc and uploads it.  you can then add friends and comment.  

Feel free to add me as a friend, tag: theseamonkey420 
http://social.zune.net/member/theseamonkey420

Zune Flash and Geek Handling.

The Zune Flash is a pretty thin player, its more square than rounded and is very light.  it has a nice brushed metal feel to it vs the glossy feel of the ipod.  the screen is very crisp and bright, a little small but what do you expect w/such a small device to start with.



the big thing that the Zune Flash brings to the table is its touchpad.  with it you can slide your finger on it down to scroll down and up to scroll up; tap it to stop it or to make more precise selections, use the button up or down.  tons of people have complained about the touchpad being overly sensitive or hard to control; however i believe it is more how they are using it than anything.  i personally think of using it as i do the pearl scroller on the Blackberry Pearl and Curve.  just doing a whipping motion down to scroll, then tap the pad to stop and again, click to the song/album/artist.

however, we will see how this works out in the long run; using the key lock is huge if your carrying it in your pocket or bag.

Syncing: Wired and WiFi

one thing that microsoft did with the new Zunes was to target features that the iPod lacks (which already is a pretty hard battle to start with) such as FM Tuner w/RDS and also the new Wireless Sync options.  setting up wireless sync is pretty easy to do. 

just go to Settings > Wireless Sync and find your wireless network and then save the settings.  then go to your Zune and Settings > Wireless and hit the Sync option.  It will then connect to your pc w/the zune software and start syncing w/it. 

i have now used wireless sync about 8 times and so far have had a 100% success rate of syncing.  i actually had use wireless sync to get my music over (700 songs) for the first time since i had  a few problems w/my usb port.  700 songs took about 2 2/3 hours to do.  big video files will take quite some time to do too over wifi, wired would be recommended.

the wired sync is pretty fast since it is good ole usb 2.0.  my 700 songs over wired syncing took about 25 mins.

Other Notes

the audio quality is up to par.  however the lack of an equalizer on the Zune Flash models is a bit annoying and hopefully will be corrected by a firmware update. also, you cannot create, edit, move files on the device itself. you have to use the Zune software to create playlists and add songs to them. again, a bit annoying since this should be standard features on a mp3 player (atleast imo, hell my w810i lets me and its supposed to mainly be a phone).The cover art looks nice on it and the large main menu isn't annoying and very easy to read.  my initial impression about the large main menu were more on the lines of wtf but now after playing around for a day realize i like it.  function is design at times.

the inability to charge the zune via the sync cable and sync wireless also is feature that should be available.



Conclusion:

so, does the 2nd gen Zune Flash bring anything new to the game?yes, the wireless sync may not be that important to some people but to me its worth it and a great feature.  sure, the zune flash does have quite a few things that can be fixed or improved upon but the clean and cut look of it makes up for it (and the fugly 1st gen zunes). hopefully we will see some firmware updates for the device to add these features and hopefully not have to wait a year for them.

i give the Zune Flash 8GB an initial:   8/10.

PROS:
Wireless sync, FM radio w/RDS, Touchpad, nice design, not an ipod, battery life

CONS:
zune software needs more features added/stability/bugs worked out, several seemingly basic functions missing on device (playlist creating, equalizer, gapless audio), Touchpad if you have big hands