December 7th, 2006

Welcome To The Social

Earlier this year I bought an iPod. At the time seemed like the best solution to my music-playing and –holding needs. And, really, the iPod’s a good device. The things I don’t like about the iPod are endemic to me:

  • I don’t like the scroll-y wheel. It’s touch-sensitive and that’s cool and all, I just never liked it. I don’t like the “feel” of it and I don’t like using it.
  • I don’t like that I have to change a setting in the main menu to randomize my music, and that my music is either randomized or not.
  • I really, really don’t like that I have to use iTunes to manage the music that goes on the iPod. I know that I am in a very small minority here, because any time I mention that I don’t like iTunes people look at me like I have a hand growing out of my scalp and they say, “Really? I love iTunes!” I’m aware that people use it and like it. I’ve used it and know how to use it, I just don’t like it. I don’t like how it organizes my music, I don’t like how hard it is to get the correct album cover picture for individual songs, and I don’t like its layout. (As an aside, I’ve also had iTunes completely mess up two separate Windows installs, to the point where I had to reinstall Windows completely. For my iPod I actually used my G4 Mac and its iTunes so it would stay happy in its own environment.)

But, really, the iPod is a fine piece of equipment and I have no problem recommending it to people.

A couple of months ago a friend at work started talking up the Microsoft Zune, a soon-to-be-released MP3 player. I had heard about it, of course, but he was pretty fired up about it. I liked what I was reading about it, but already had an iPod, so what was I going to do about it?

As it happened, some of us techs met for lunch on November 14, the day the Zune was released. Ryan (the aforementioned friend) and I were talking about going to Best Buy after work to play around with one and the question came up, “Are you going to buy one?” At this point I must say I was interested in getting one, but I didn’t really see how I was going to work it. Ryan was planning to get one for Christmas, and even had his wife talked into it already. I said, “If I could find someone to sell my iPod to I’d probably get one.” Ryan’s answer: “eBay!!!” (This isn’t just his answer to this, it’s pretty much his answer to just about anything. If I didn’t know better, I’d think he had stock in the company.) I, of course, don’t trust eBay and don’t want to mess around with it, and that doesn’t help me get a Zune that very day.

At this point another tech spoke up and said, “I’ll buy your iPod from you.” Sweet! We worked it out that he’d get me the cash after work, and after his cash and the nice little Best Buy Rewards discount coupon I had, I didn’t end up having to spend any of my own money on the Zune. Super sweet!

The Zune comes in three colors: white, black, and brown. I had no interest in white and was planning to get the black. My iPod was black and it seemed to make the most sense to me. Enter Ryan:

“No, dawg! You gotta get the brown! That’s the distinctive color! It’s what all the cool kids’ll have!”

I’ll never be exactly sure why, but I let him bully me into the brown. The salesguy said there was only one brown left, a bunch of black had sold, and that NObody had bought a white one. Okay, fine. Brown it is. Done & done.

I’ve had my Zune for almost a month, now, and I have to say: I love it.

  • I like the bigger screen. Yes, it’s the same resolution as the iPod screen, but it’s bigger. Album art takes up the upper two-thirds of the screen when the song is playing, and it’s easily visible. I don’t know if it’s exactly a golden rectangle, but it’s in that direction and I wonder if that’s part of why it’s so pleasing to me. Pictures and videos are actually shown in widescreen (you hold it so the controls are on the right), and look really, really good.
  • I like the simple menu interface. When you go into an album or an artist list, you are giving the option at the top of the list to “Play all” or “Play shuffled.” I really, REALLY like that. (For some reason, though, it doesn’t give you the “Play shuffled” option when you look at a playlist. If I want to play a playlist shuffled, I have to do the same thing I did on the iPod – change a setting in the main menu. I hope this gets changed in a future software update.)
  • The click wheel is just that: clicky. I like that, too. I must respond to tactile interfaces, as The radio dial in my car has a “click” feel when I turn the knob and I like that as well. The Zune “wheel” actually functions more like the arrow keys on a keyboard, and its specificity is right up my alley.
  • While it’s not a big deal, I also like that I can set any picture I have as a background for the main menus.
  • The software used to manage content is basically a slightly different version of Windows Media Player, so it’s familiar and easy (for me) to use. It seems to me that it would have been easy to just use WMP for the content management – in fact, I would have preferred it. Oh, well. I still much prefer the Zune software to iTunes.

One of the big selling points for the Zune is that it has wireless capabilities. Right now that means you can send pictures or songs to other Zunes, but there’s hope for more functionality later. The music transfers have a 3-day/3-play policy – after one of those milestones is hit, the receiver can’t listen to it any more and would need to get their own licensed version. There’s been a lot of griping that it’s only 3-days or 3-plays, but I think it’s a neat feature for introducing someone to new music. Pictures don’t have the time limit on them. This transferring is the basis for Microsoft’s adline for the Zune: “Welcome to the social.”

I have yet to play with the wireless transfer, but have seen real-time videos of it working and it’s speedy and easy to use. “Oh!” you say. “You can test the wireless transfer when Ryan gets his at Christmas!” A fantastic idea, certainly. What better way to put the player through its paces than by testing it with another tech? There’s only one problem: it’s hard to test things with someone who’s a welsher. Ryan’s decided he’s not getting a Zune and instead has ordered a Creative Zen. Hoser.

I don’t really care, though, because I really do like my Zune. I might never transfer music to anyone from it and I might only use the FM radio feature to show other people it can be done, but it holds all my music and the rip of Garden State I did looks really, really good on it.

I’m just a little bummed that there was no ice cream involved.

15 Comments on “Welcome To The Social”

  1. MadMup says:

    Let's see a show of hands from those who are surprised.

    Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?


  2. TheBon says:

    I have to say I agree with Brian. We're a two iPod household, both 30g and I have no intention of ever switching. I am a little jealous of the brown color although I'm not sure why because when I bought my second iPod I specifically bought white [Bishma's is black though].

  3. the obscure says:

    a) I think it's "welcher" not "welsher". Could be wrong, but but you are better off offending grapes and their derivative product than people from Wales (not whales, i.e. Jonah).

    b) Mac is second only to Saturn in the cultish behavior of their devotees, or perhaps it is the other way around.

    c) You are totally making me want a Zune, and I have little to no use for it.

    That is all.

  4. the obscure says:

    Also, at no time during the last comment, nor during the typing of this one, was I raising either or both of my hands.

  5. Lorelei says:

    Oh my.

    First I would have to say:

    And then I would point you to……

    followed by……..

    And wrapping it up with……..

    Overall, I would have to say that it's just a good idea to avoid anything that is brown and squirts.

    Put me down as: Currently-stunned-can't-believe-I'm- related-to-a-zune-owner

    (and I can't even START to tell you what i think about your picasso-garfunkel blog.)

  6. Lorelei says:

    And it's a CLICK WHEEL. :)

    (scroll-y thing….!!!!!!&*$^$#^&^$*#^%^^$&&!!!!!!!)

  7. Abe. says:

    This post made me feel a little bit weak :(

  8. BNick says:

    Welcome back to the Microsoft camp. I was beginning to worry about you when I saw you with iPod in hand not long ago.

    I too hate iTunes, though I've had limited exposure to it. It wreaked havoc on my PC, and I had a terrible time figuring out the logic (or lack thereof) of how they had things organized. I admit I used it only for TV shows, not for music.

    Some day I'll have you explain to me why so many people need so much music with them all the time. I just don't get it.

  9. JClark says:

    Hey Mup, I tried to respond, but IE7 (which I just updated to) seems to slip into an infinite "display non-secure items?" loop on the comment page here. Long story short, I lost the comment I'd typed.

    Reader's Digest version: Yours is the only positive review I've heard of the Zune so far. I like my iPod, I don't like WMP, though the wireless features of the Zune intrigue me, I just don't like the issues I've been reading about (plus, whatever I have has to work with my iBook).

    As for being both an Apple and Saturn fan (not fanatic or zealot, those are the vocal minority, like animal rights groups that fire bomb labs), I like them both for the same reason: A known quantity that I like already at a price I'm willing to pay.

  10. MadMup says:

    I figured some people would disagree with me, but I had no idea it would draw so much actual anger!

    I figure it's not a "right or wrong" issue, it's a "what's best for a particular person" thing.

    Can't we all just get along?

  11. Abe. says:

    I asked several employees at the Best Buy I work at, and there is a fair divide in what each person prefers. I was surprised that a lot of people like the Zune, so maybe there's more to it? I'm a tech junkie, so I wouldn't be surprised if I picked one up in a few months… now it has to work with Mac… does it?

  12. MadMup says:

    It does not currently work with Macs, but I suspect it will at some point.

  13. ZiggyTQuirk says:

    " I like them both for the same reason: A known quantity that I like already at a price I'm willing to pay. "

    Which is great, but how come that never seems to work on the other side?

    Anyways. I don't have, nor want, an iPod OR a Zune. I have a Zen, and I lubs it.

  14. Kim says:

    I hate iTunes. haaaaate it. And I just had to turn in my iPod nano that I got a month ago because it froze every time I listened to it for more than twenty minutes. LAME.

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