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Zune HD made me wish I never bought an iPod

Microsoft's Zune never really took off. And that's a crying shame.

Zune HD

Zune HD (Image credit: Richard Devine/Windows Central)

I, like the majority of people, bought an iPod. I actually bought several of them, starting when I was 18 with a 20GB fourth-generation model of what would eventually be known as the Classic. I also had the original Nano and eventually the iPod touch, because that was cheaper than an iPhone.

The Zune never even crossed my mind, especially because it wasn't exactly readily available or well advertised product in the UK, where I live, at the time. It was all about Apple.

Only one of two Zune media players is still available today, but I recently picked up a refurbished Zune HD from Amazon for a low price. One thing became quickly apparent: I should have never bought an iPod.

Understated design and great hardware

From the start, the Zune HD feels like a quality product. This was the very first time I'd ever touched a Zune, and there's no denying the quality. It's a neat little design, with a nice sized display, and it is easily pocketable. The branding is subtle, and the design is classy. It doesn't yell about its purpose, like those shiny backed iPods of the time. The Zune HD is understated in design.

Aside from the shimmery finish covering the display, it's hard to fault the Zune HD as a piece of tech design even now. There are worse looking smartphones being sold every day, and this came to market eight years ago.

Zune HD

The tiny OLED display only has a measly 480 x 272 resolution, but it still looks pretty fantastic. Not by 2017 standards, but rewind to 2009 and there would be zero complaints. The dark-themed user interface is sharp, colors are bright, and for everything right down to web browsing it's a solid little display.

Oh, yes, web browsing. There's built-in Wi-Fi and a web browser on the Zune HD, though trying to load a current day website is an exercise in wasting your time.

Before Windows Phone there was Zune

Zune HD

Zune HD (Image credit: Richard Devine/Windows Central)

The Windows Phone Metro UI that so many loved, and some still do to this day, has roots in the Zune. There are no tiles, but the similarities are plain to see. Compared to the iPod, and even iOS and Android back in 2009, this would have been a breath of fresh air.

Or it would have had it taken off as a product.

The Zune UI feels thoughtful, based on gestures rather than taps. Sure, Apple pushed multitouch from the launch of the iPhone, but you stil had to tap and tap and tap to do everything. The Zune just flows, and of course, the rest is history.

While I wouldn't entertain the idea of going back to Windows Phone for a similar experience, it still feels just as awesome on the Zune HD now as it ever did on a phone.

What about the music?

Zune HD

Zune HD (Image credit: Windows Central)

With the iPod came the (heinous) iTunes for Windows. With the Zune came the software of the same name. One of these is still updated today, but the other has disappeared into memory. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, however, nothing ever truly goes away.

Microsoft still hosts a download of the Zune software, and that means even when buying one for the very first time in 2017, it's possible to hook it up to a PC and actually use it as a music player.

Download the Zune software from Microsoft (opens in new tab)

In the present day, you lose all the cool features like Zune Music Pass, but as a functional interface for putting content onto the Zune HD, it still works just fine. And it's better than having to deal with iTunes.

With only 16GB of internal storage and no expansion, I won't be loading up my whole music collection, but it'll still hold a good chunk of it. When you consider that for most of us our smartphones have become our media players, many are still sold with only 16GB of internal storage for everything.

The music player is a lot like the one that came on Windows Phone after it. It looks fantastic to this day. It is unique, and stylish, but function is front and center. The Zune HD even has a radio. (I still like listening to my local radio stations.)

The wrong one won

Zune HD

The iPod and its creator, Apple, were the undoubted winner of this war. Apple is still winning to this day, and I've contributed enough of my own cash to that end in the past. It may be a lot of years too late, but by picking up a cheap, refurbished Zune HD it didn't take long for me to realize that I was wrong. A lot of other people were wrong, too.

I should have bought a Zune.

It's too late for it to matter now, but even today this little music box is a tremendous device and a much earlier example of Microsoft's strength in design. Portable music players are mostly pushed out now by smartphones, but I'm going to keep using the Zune HD. It's small enough to fit in any pocket or bag, won't sap my phone's battery when I'm on the road and is just a nice thing to have. It found its way into my heart.

Your Zune love stories

If you're a Zune fan, old or new, share your story with us in the comments below. Bygone it may be, but when you remember something it never truly goes away!

Richard Devine is an Editor at Windows Central. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently you'll find him covering all manner of PC hardware and gaming, and you can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

181 Comments
  • Love my zune till this day, and would loved to see a windows phone modeled after it. I have a moto z and once i get a 3d printer im gonna see if i can make a mod with it. Just need to figure out the pin layout to get power from the phone to power the zune.
  • I love my Zune and Zune HD and still use them regularly.  Definitely one of the more under-appreciated devices in recent memory.  However, the entire Windows Phone OS IS modeled after it.  I'd go as far as to say the Metro design, Windows Phone, Windows 10, and Xbox user interfaces are all a result of the original Zune premise. 
  • I also still have my Zune HD, which i bought super cheap on double clearance, This article has me thinking about digging it out of the "old tech bin" at home. The Zune interface is what got me into Windows Phone and i honestly feel like the Zune HD was the best incarnation of Zune service/hardware they ever made. Zune started getting messed up with Windows Phone 8 and onward and shortly after the time they changed to Groove I stopped using Groove because most of the things i loved about Zune were gone and a ton of Indie artists i listen to were disappearing  from the catalogue. I'm on Spotify now for the ubiquity and large catalogue, but i really miss the good 'ol Zune days of yesteryear :(
  • I still have my 64 GB Zune HD as well as my 1st brown 30GB player I bought from overstock.com for $99. When it 1st came out. Still use my 64GB to this day. My 30GB still works but the battery's dying, won't last long on a charge.
  • Hijacking this comment to complain about spam. So, the WC, why did you start to send me daily emails that have no unsubscribe link in them? I was a reader of you site years ago until you decided to censor the Android subsystem tools for Windows Phones. Anyway, you have no right to suddenly start spamming me with your articles. Now you made sure I'll never be your reader again. Good job. Later edit: after spending 10 minutes I was able to find the option to stop the mails. That's because the WC has a bug, if you try to edit your profile then you go to edit your notification settings you are redirected to an non-existing page: https://passport.mobilenations.com/follow/ You have to go edit your notification settings from the main WC page to reach the real page: https://www.windowscentral.com/follow/ Anyway, bye WC. Hope to never hear from you again.  
  • The emails I receive have an 'Unsubscribe' link. It's located below the 'Share Windows Central with Friends' heading at the very bottom of the email  
  • Found the problem, the mails don't render proplerly in the Windows 10 mail app, the last part is missing, including the ad, the share buttons and the unsubscribe link. Which is kind of ironic for a site called Windows Central.
  • I have an original 30Gb Brown Zune and a Zune HD and I use them both fairly regularly. I bought an iPod a few months before the Zune came out, but found a willing buyer the day the Zune came out, so I used that money to buy a Zune and have loved it ever since.
  • My brown 30gb zune died on me a couple of years ago, never had an iPod found them way overpriced.
  • Don't get me wrong.  The Zune looked amazing for what it was. However, I do think that we're looking at this devices with rose-colord glasses.  The provided features compared to something like the iPod touch, which had apps and a long-standing product line for reliability.  Plus it was just a side-step for people to buy it for kids or just have a portible music device that ran apps without the cellular markup. Today, we can look at both the iPod and the Zune as a product we really don't need as compared to a smartphone and since the iPod has be userped buy the iPhone in many respects, it's safe to say that we have reached peak stand-alone music players long ago.  So no competition is there to make these things "better." It is opinion to see which is better by looks.  In a lot of ways I think the Zune looks amazing.  But the wrong one didn't win.