I think the last time I saw those words in the same sentence was looking at that infamous photo of a young Bill Gates caressing a retro and probably very scared computer in the age of brown and more brown. I never thought I’d hear those words again with the imminent release of Windows 7 and Microsoft’s general history of proudly bringing ugly products to the market – the original Xbox and Internet Explorer are just two examples. On those special occasions though, the company surprises us with a beautiful product. The Xbox 360 was one example that comes to mind and now, I believe, another is the third generation of Zune, the Zune HD.
The first iteration of the iPod competitor was frankly awful. It lacked features that cheap Chinese MP3 player rip-offs excelled in, it looked ugly even compared to the slightly uglier iPods that were available back then and the interface had nothing on its competitors. It had promise though. Saying that, even the second generation of Zune didn’t quite hit the nail on the head. The thing I most remember it for is the Zune Pad – or the squircle – that was used as the main means of navigation through the product’s interface. Microsoft seems to have gone back to the drawing board, looked at what people love about other products in the personal multimedia player market and, probably just as important, what people don’t like about them. The result is the not yet released Zune HD and from preliminary reviews it is one damn sexy beast.
The main features of the Zune HD are its beautiful 3.3″ OLED touch screen display, unusual HD radio tuner, Wi-Fi connectivity and an internet browser that’s said to be good, even though the team behind Internet Explorer produced it. Another thing about it is that this will be the first Zune released outside of North America so it’ll be that bit easier to get your hands on it.
Firstly, along with the integrated HD radio and high-definition video playback (through an optional dock), the 3.3 inch OLED screen is something the Zune HD has that its main competitor, Apple’s iPod, currently does not. Early reviews, and especially leaked promotional photos, suggest the screen is beautiful. Secondly, unlike most players in the market, a HD radio is integrated into Microsoft’s latest entry. HD radio is very similar to DAB digital radio here in the UK and Europe. Hopefully when it is released here, the Zune HD will be modified in whatever way to allow us to receive DAB stations – a selling point very few MP3 players boast at the moment. The third important feature is that of a web browser. These days, any serious mobile entertainment device has to have the ability to surf the internet. Pre-release reviews of the web browser included with the Zune HD have yielded significant praise – especially considering the browser was born from the same team behind Internet Explorer. It apparently behaves almost exactly like the browser included with Apple’s iPod and iPhone. This can only be a good thing but with the good obviously comes the bad and at the time of review the browser on the Zune apparently did not include support for Adobe Flash. Hopefully an update somewhere along the line will bring this near essential functionality.
The Zune HD is shaping up to be a nice piece of technology and a huge improvement over previous generations. It’s not confirmed but suspected to be launched around early September this year although in which markets are anyone’s guess. Nor has pricing been confirmed but hopefully it will be priced competitively against other products. I’m going to go out on a limb and say around £190. This is one Microsoft product I can’t wait for. I won’t be one of those buying it as soon as the shop doors open, but I think I’ll be getting my hands on one if everything that’s been said is true.
Round-up of the Zune HD’s features:
- 3.3″ OLED multi-touch touchscreen
- pocket friendly size
- nvidia Tegra graphics chip – challenging the iPod touch/iPhone’s gaming dominance?
- HD radio tuner
- Wi-Fi connectivity
- web browser
- 720p HD output (with optional dock)