Hands-on with the Zune HD (Part 2)

We're now a few days into the Zune HD (read Part 1 here) and we're more sure of this than ever: It is not gunning for the iPod Touch. It is not a PDA. It is not a smartphone with the radio yanked out.

It is, however, a kick-arse MP3 player, with potential on the software side for much more.

Watch our brief hands-on video above, and join us after the break for a look at what Microsoft got right, and what leaves us wanting.

This is not a smartphone-lite

A reminder that we're looking at the Zune HD from the Windows Mobile perspective in hopes of getting a glimpse at what we may see in a future operating system. But first, a few major items that are missing from the Zune that keep it far from the smartphone category:

  • E-mail client: Nowhere to be found.
  • Contact manager: Nope.
  • GPS: Can't find it.
  • Bluetooth: Nada.
  • Apps: OK, there are nine right now, all developed by Microsoft (and sporting pre-roll advertising). Microsoft has opened things up a little, in the XNA-framework.
  • Phone radio: Yeah, kinda important.

So, yeah. This is an MP3 player with a killer user interface.

What we're not crazy about

Look, people are griping about the lack of apps currently available for the Zune HD. And we feel their pain (but are enjoying Texas Hold 'Em). We're more concerned about load time. Ten to 15 seconds to load an app is not good, especially given the Tegra processor. But we'd expect things to get better in the coming months.

The browser, based on mobile IE6, is functional, but not great. The keyboard isn't terrible and will get better with use. But pages are slow to load.

While syncing media is easy to do (more on that in a minute), podcasts can only be moved to the device via the desktop software. That's no good. We need to be able to do so via WiFi, just like other media on the device.

Oh, and speaking of podcasts, you can subscribe to the WMExperts Podcast with the Zune software by clicking this link. (We're still working on getting added to the Marketplace — feel free to suggest us! (opens in new tab))

What's done right

First and foremost: The operating system is smooth as butter. We're that impressed with it. If this isn't what Windows Mobile 7 looks like — no taskbars, seamless transitions — we're going to be very, very disappointed in you, Microsoft.

[[ shakes finger ]]

Media playback is as it should be as well. There's no sign of the usual Windows Media Player clunkiness. It just works.

Marketplace integration is very good. It's artsy, and the music and selections aren't bad at all. Transferring material over WiFi isn't the quickest, though that's that be expected. But that leads us to ...

The desktop software is top-notch, as it has been for the Zune for some time now. Again, none of the usual headaches we're used to with ActiveSync. It just works.

These are the biggest things we hope to see make the leap to Windows Mobile in the next year or so.

And not to be forgotten is the hardware quality. It's as good as any Windows phone we've had, and we're excited about (and here we are starting this flame war again) getting to use capacitive screens, finally. And the OLED is to be written home about.

The bottom line

The Zune HD isn't a phone. It isn't a PDA. And it's not trying to be either. But it is a killer MP3 player with a killer UI, and we're chomping at the bit to get it and the multimedia playback in Windows Mobile.

It's time, Microsoft.

Phil is the father of two beautiful girls and is the Dad behind Modern Dad. Before that he spent seven years at the helm of Android Central. Before that he spent a decade in a newsroom of a two-time Pulitzer Prize-finalist newspaper. Before that — well, we don't talk much about those days. Subscribe to the Modern Dad newsletter!

  • The biggest thing about the Zune HD is not what it is or isn't at present... but what it could become. It's starting out as a complete killer of any iPod save Touch. That's right out of the gate. Email client? That's easy. Contact Manager? Pie, man... Pie. Faster Browser? Not a problem as long as MS allows it (or fixes the current one). Apps? 12 hours to make an iPhone game work on the Zune HD... that says it all. Devs? Given the choice between objective C and XNA/C#, any honest, unbiased dev would pick XNA/C# in a split second. They just need to see that the market is there. Phone? Plenty of Tegra phones are on their way. Once I saw that an iPhone dev took the time to port a game from the iPhone to the Zune HD (and the fact that it was done in under 12 hours AAAAAND less than a week after the Zune HD's release) is enough to tell me that Apple has a HUGE problem on their hands.
  • I must say programming with XNA is incredibly easy. I tried it a little earlier. Made the obligatory level app that one makes when ever a device with an accelerometer is made available. http://www.youtube.com/user/j2inet
  • in the video you're like "oh im getting old I don't know who half these people are!". USE your zune hd to discover them!. dur. there is a lot of good stuff out there. just gobble up as much as you can and see what sounds good.
  • The overall direction of this device is why I expect Microsoft WILL get into the hardware end of the phone equation at some point in the near future. They don't have to make a full-fledged 'smartphone' in order to satisfy the needs of most people. The lines between 'smartphones' and 'feature phones' are continually blurring as far as the average joe's concerned anyway (data pricing plans increasingly being the biggest differentiator.) So by offering up a really beefed up 'feature phone' they can hedge their bets by not competing directly with WM offerings from OEMs (who are increasingly flirting with Android anyway.) A lot of the currently missing functionality you'd expect to find on a high level feature phone (think iPhone circa 2007-8) level device can easily be added. Email, contacts, more robust app lineup, etc. And Microsoft is still conspicuously absent from the wildly successful mobile gaming space. I still think that's their best bet for making a big splash in the hardware space as gaming is in their DNA. Zune's great and all, but the Xbox is a well-established brand/platform that would give an offering instant traction. I'd just like to have hardware buttons if that's the case though. Heck, a slightly shrunken down version of the Sidekick (nope, no correlation at all with Danger there) would be the ideal platform for a gaming-oriented device.
  • Hey Phil.. WTF.... What do you mean the Zune isn't on the same level as the Ipod Touch? It's a step ahead in almost every way (say bluetooth, web browser, and 64 gig space). You sound like a punch drunk Apple fan boy, maybe you and David Pogue should hang out. Objective my butt.
  • lol. I'm in the minority on this one, but I really don't think MSFT's trying to position it as an iPod Touch competitor. It's more MP3 player than PDA, by a long shot. And that said, I'm also quite fond of the Zune HD.
  • I love the OS on the new Zune. I guess the thing that bothers me most about it is the lack of external speaker.