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A single Zune 80 on the left with four flash Zunes on the right  (Source: Microsoft)

Zune 80  (Source: Microsoft)

Zune 4/8  (Source: Microsoft)

Zune 4/8 (Pink) with Zune Dock  (Source: Microsoft)

Zune Marketplace  (Source: Microsoft)
Welcome to the Social: Part Deux

It's been nearly a year since Microsoft launched its Zune portable media player (PMP). Microsoft and consumers had high hopes for the player as details began to slowly leak out concerning the player.

The specs for the player were nothing groundbreaking: 3" QVGA color screen, 30GB HDD, FM tuner and the ability to playback video. The one feature that did pique the interest of consumers, however, was the inclusion of WiFi.

Ideas quickly formulated about what WiFi could possibly be used for on the Zune. There were possibilities of wireless music sharing with family and friends, wireless album syncing with a host computer and perhaps the ability to download music and videos direct from Microsoft via the Internet.

Microsoft fulfilled the music sharing wishes of consumers by giving them the ability to share full-length songs on a "3-day-or-3-play" DRM scheme. The ability to wirelessly sync media with a host computer and wirelessly purchase music tracks, sadly, was nowhere to be found.

Microsoft's first entry into the PMP market had some trouble gaining traction in the market. In March, the player was holding on to roughly 2.4 percent of the PMP market. Apple, SanDisk and Creative held steady at 73.7 percent, 9 percent and 3.3 percent respectively.

Microsoft made moves to push its Zune players on the public with special edition Halo 3 models and a more recent price drop from $249 to $199 – Woot.com has even featured the slow-selling White Zune for a low $129.99 on its often irreverent site.

Today, the Zune has still barely improved on March's 2.4 percent tally with a total market share of 3 percent according to BetaNews.

Microsoft is looking to change all of this with its new generation of Zune players. The new flash Zunes, as reported on yesterday by DailyTech, will be available in 4GB (Zune 4) and 8GB (Zune 8) varieties. The former will be priced at $149, while the latter will feature a $199 price tag. Both will feature WiFi and the ability to play videos. The Zune 4 and Zune 8 measure 1.6” x 3.6” x 0.33” and will be available in black, green, pink and red.

In addition, Microsoft revealed a new second generation HDD-based Zune. The new $249 Zune 80 features an 80GB HDD (in place of the previous 30GB unit) and a larger 3.2" glass display screen (up from 3"). The new Zune 80 is also noticeably thinner than the first generation model. The Zune 80 measures 2.4” x 4.25” x 0.5” and will initially only be available in black.

All new Zunes features a new touch-sensitive "squircle" controller which Microsoft dubs the "Zune Pad." The Zune Pad is used to navigate through the Zune's menu system. Microsoft has added the ability to playback h.264 and MPEG-4 video on all new Zunes.

Microsoft is also righting at least one of its wrongs with the original Zune regarding WiFi -- all of the new Zunes will be able to wirelessly sync audio, video and photos with a host computer. Syncing occurs automatically when a Zune is within WiFi range of a host computer. This capability (along with the additional video code support) will be added to first generation Zunes with a firmware update (there is no word yet on the availability of said firmware update).

Microsoft revealed that the first generation Zune will now be known as the Zune 30 and will be sold alongside the Zune 80. The Zune 30 will retain the physical attributes of the first generation, but will come standard with the new Zune 80 user interface/firmware and product packaging.

Microsoft is also debuting new Zune Marketplace software to sync with the Zune. The Zune Marketplace will be home to DRM-free music tracks -- over one million of which will be available when the new Zunes launch.

Other loose ends include the news that part of the "3-day-or-3-play" sharing scheme has been dropped – Zune users will no longer have a 3-day restriction placed on shared music files, but the 3-play limit is still in effect. All Zunes will have the ability to import recorded content and media from Windows Media Center-enabled PCs (Windows Vista Home Premium and Windows Vista Ultimate). The Zune will still not have access to a wireless music store a la the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store, but there will be support for podcasts (which can be shared between Zunes).

Microsoft isn’t taking the portable media player market lightly this time and it is going full bore against Apple. Microsoft still needs to work on getting a wireless music store in place to fully tackle the Apple juggernaut, but there’s always room for an update in the future.

As it stands now, Microsoft new generation of Zunes – especially the flash-based Zune 4 and Zune 8 -- are a welcome refresh and should help the Redmond software giant gain more market share in an iPod-dominated sector.



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Some features...
By hotel77 on 10/4/2007 1:35:41 AM , Rating: 2
don't appear on the spec listings.

I had the original zune, which I got for a really good deal ($150) from a friend when they were first released.

I think a lot of the features that come with the zune were overlooked, because they don't appear on a spec sheet. I have owned the iPod that came out right before the "video," the Mini and a Zune...which was stolen out of my car.

The most convenient yet overlooked feature of my zune was the fact that you can plug it in via USB and actually USE it. So I would bring it into work, plug it in via USB so I wouldn't use any battery. It didn't require any software to be installed (we can't, no admin rights) and just allowed the battery to be charged (or not used at all) while in use.

Also, the FM Radio is a blessing. Sometimes you're tired of listening to the same songs/movies you've watched before, ant it's nice to switch it up the the radio, or to listen to talk radio at your desk in the mornings. Also, the 2 gym's i've gone to have radio broadcasts for each TV they have up, so you can hear audio to games, CNBC, the local news, whatever, while working out.

I know a lot of the other players have FM radio's, but I think of this as much closer to the iPod, yet WITH an FM radio...Whereas it seems that some of the other players are sub par, with FM radio's. The 2 above features, to me, were worth having the Zune over an iPod, but the fact is you got those with a very big screen and better song scrolling UI than the iPod has.

The biggest downsides were the difficulty getting all the xvid/divx movies onto it, and the resolution of the screen. I didn't use the WiFi at all...I know they use it as a selling point, but it's really a non-issue for me until they actually make it really useful. Even if the thing didn't have WiFi, I still liked it better than an iPod...I hope that doesn't sound too much like a fanboi, because i'm anything but that...just thought I would throw in some things that most people really don't consider the iPod versus Zune comparisons.

I'm really excited for this refresh and plan on buying a flash version to work out with, and if I like it, probably the 80gig to share with the girlfriend on trips.




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