Monday, November 26, 2007

Zune 2.0: The Good, Bad, and the Ugly

I've been playing with my Zune 30 (aka, original zune) for a couple of weeks now. I'd like to go over what I like and don't like about the new Zune interface and software. But first of all, overall, it's not bad. I was thinking that I'd either keep my Sony PSP and give the Zune to my son, or keep the Zune and give my son the PSP. I have given the PSP to him.

First, the good. I absolutely love the podcast support. I tell the software what I want, how many I want to have on hand at a time, and it takes care of the rest. When I am done listening or viewing a podcast, it will automatically remove it from the Zune, and sync the next episode (if available) to the Zune. I listen to and watch several podcasts, and it was a chore to get everything synced to my PSP, and make sure I had enough room to store them. With the Zune, I have plenty of room, and it simply is no longer a chore.

The interface on the Zune is nice. It is faster than the previous firmware when scrolling through the list of albums or songs. It is easy to find what I'm looking for.

I like the idea of wireless sync. I have tried it, and for some reason it is not working. I want to move the Zune software to another computer because where I have it now doesn't have enough hard drive space to support it (more on that in a moment). I hope that I will be able to get it working on the new computer.

My list of good things don't seem like much, especially after you see my list of the bad things, but the list of bad things are not deal breakers. If I had a choice between a Zune and an iPod Video or Touch, I'd go with an iPod. But my choice was between a PSP and a Zune. And given that choice, I'd pick the Zune. The list of bad things is merely things I would like to see Microsoft do to enhance the product.

Now the bad. I mentioned earlier that I liked how the software would automatically remove played podcasts. For a while, I couldn't figure out how to tell if an episode had been played yet, or not. And then I noticed that an unplayed podcast was just a little brighter than a played one. The difference is so subtle that I missed it for the longest time. And even knowing that, I have to move the selector up and down just so I can try to see the difference. I think Microsoft would do well to make the distinction a little more evident. And, along the lines of played versus unplayed, it would be really nice to be able to tell the software, from the Zune, that something has been played. The idea being that sometimes I start a podcast and don't want to listen to it all. As it is now, I have to either go to the software and mark it as played, or fast forward to the end of the podcast on the Zune and let it finish it. Doing the latter will cause the Zune to mark it as being played. I would rather go into an options page and select "Mark as played" from the Zune. That way, when I get the wireless sync working, I won't have to touch the computer at all.

I don't like the new rating system. If it's on my Zune, I like it enough to listen to it. So the broken heart idea doesn't work too well for me. If I give something a broken heart, it doesn't get on my Zune. So, that leaves two options for me, like it, or really like it. I can't set it up with the levels I was used too. Some songs I like more than others. And some more songs I like even more. I'm really not buying the excuse given. It's interesting that they say that there was confusion for the 5 star system. How in the world can a 3 star rating be "I love this song"? What is higher than that? "I really love this song"? Well, if you "really" love a 4 star song, does that mean you really don't love the 3 star song? Makes no sense to me. They could have, in the Zune software, a label beside the rating giving what the rating means for whatever number of stars were selected. And so I can better rate my list of songs, I hope Microsoft will consider changing it back.

I don't like how the Zune card doesn't show ALL of the songs I listen too. You would think by looking at my card that I don't listen to much of anything, other than the few that are listed there. According to the FAQ, most of the songs I play should be showing up. However, I have just noticed the updates. I will try their suggestions and see if that works. It would also be nice if it would list the podcast I was listening to. I believe I read somewhere (can't find it now) that it was coming.

Now for the ugly. I know a lot of people will disagree, but I don't like the software. It's just plain ugly. I will admit that it's better than the last version. But it still isn't as intuitive as it should be. In the podcast section, how do I tell the software to check for updates to all podcasts? I can't find how to do that. Right now, I have to right click on each one and tell it to check individually. When adding a new podcast, you have to stop everything from downloading, if you have already played the older episodes and tell it where to start. The software assumes that a new podcast has not been played ever. It can't assume that. Then, I'm getting a lot of cryptic errors. There are a couple of podcasts that some episodes work just fine, but others tell me that the format is incorrect and doesn't work with the Zune. Which I find hard to believe. Also, I was getting other cryptic errors that ended up being that I was running out of hard drive space. The encoder was trying to transcode the video files for use on the Zune, but was running out of room. Instead of telling me that it ran out of room, it just says "Unknown error".

And that's not all. Over on the music side of things, the album art was messed up in the new software (it was fine in the previous version). I tried a couple of things the online FAQ suggested, which was a mistake since it made the software think it was a new installation. Still didn't fix it. I ended up having to download the cover art from a website and tell the software to use that file for the cover art. It was a lot of trouble for something that should have been easy.

I don't much like the marketplace either. It's not real easy to browse anything. I knew that it was supposed to now have videos available, but I couldn't find any. And when I did find them, they wanted too much for them. Why not some freebie videos?

The point system stinks too. Most songs are 79 points. Which at first glance makes you think you are getting a deal, since Apple charges 0.99 cents per song. But considering you can get 400 points for $5.00, that's 0.0125 cents per point (And there is no discount for buying more points. 4000 points costs $50.00, or 0.0125 cents per point). So, 79 points is 0.9875 cents. Practically the same price as iTunes. Here's the kicker, however. When you purchase an album, the point value ranges from 800 to 900 points, or more. At 800 points, you're looking at $10.00. 900 is $11.25, and 1000 points is $12.50. The 50 Cent album, Curtis, is 1000 points on the Zune Marketplace, whereas in iTunes, it's $10.99. You are paying $1.51 more for the same album. Not exactly fair, is it? (And no, 50 Cent is not a choice I would make, it just happened to be the easiest example)

To end on a positive note, I do like the idea of the Zune pass. Basically, you pay $14.95 a month and you can download just about any song in the Marketplace. I think that includes videos, but I can't find anything to confirm or deny that. When you stop paying, the songs become unplayable. It's a great plan. But I listen primarily to podcasts, so it won't be worth it to me. Maybe one day I'll try it for a month.

The Zune, overall, has a lot of potential. I wish I had more control on the Zune. I wish I could record songs off the radio. I wish the software was more userfriendly. I wish the songs themselves were cheaper in the Marketplace. But will I give up my Zune? Probably not. If someone where to say that they'd trade my Zune for an 80gb iPod video, or even an iPod Touch, I'd do it without thinking twice. I'll even throw in the new Belkin case I just got off of Woot for the Zune (more on that in the near future). But until then, I'll be happy with what I have.

What would you like to see changed? Or do you like it as is?