Zune: How We've Lived With It For Three MonthsS

Click to viewAfter the iPod came out on top in our Zune v. iPod battle royale, we decided to keep on using the Zune so we could get a long term evaluation on how Microsoft's player stacked up. After nearly three months with the thing, we think we've got some new light to shed.

First off, we have to say that the subscription service is great. This is probably the main reason why many people wanted to make the switch to the Zune from the iPod. Being able to hop online and download as many songs as you want off their library is extremely freeing, in the same sense as walking in your underwear at your in-laws' house and letting one rip.

Hear a song in a movie and you want it? Well, you've already paid for a subscription so go ahead and download it for free. This pays off if you buy at least one CD a month, but comes with the restriction that you lose everything if you stop paying—or if the Zune store tanks.

Actually listening to songs on the Zune has been fine as well. The larger-than-iPod size is negligible (for us). The battery life is pretty great, seeing as we only listen to music in the car and only occasionally on foot. Even compared to the iPod at three months, the Zune keeps charge longer when not in use.

When we left our iPods in the car for a couple days, when we picked it up again there would be just enough power left for it to tell us that there was no power. With the Zune, we got at least a quarter—if not half—of battery life left. That's very cool.

Despite being "scratch resistant", the Zune seems to have scratched up after being taken all around Vegas during CES. It's only one large scratch instead of millions of tiny scratches like on the iPod, so we'll say that the Zune really is a bit more sturdy.

As for the sharing? Yeah, right. Whether it's at CES, or at the airport, or you know, anywhere, we've never actually found anyone to share songs with. Readers may have had more luck if any of their friends had a Zune, but this feature's been pretty useless for us so far.

Playing back video has also been great. We encoded the Sci Fi miniseries The Lost Room and Clive Owen's BMW Films series onto the Zune for watching on the go. Despite having to encode files twice—once into WMV, again with the Zune software—the finished product was great. Definitely something we could use if we were ever stranded somewhere without anything else to do (unlikely).

On the software side, we still don't like the Zune suite as much as iTunes, but it does most of what iTunes does, albeit in a clumsier way. The music playback does still sound better to us, even if Cooder used iTunes to master his album. The Zune store's been fine for the most part, giving us snippets of text and reviews gleaned from allmusic.com and other sites, but still suffers from the occasional untimely outage (like as we were writing this).

Zune: How We've Lived With It For Three MonthsS

So would we change our recommendation of the iPod over the Zune? No. All the reasons we had to pick one or the other still stands. If you want movies, TV, a larger music library, a touch sensitive scroll wheel and more accessories, you should still go with the iPod. If you want an FM tuner, music rentals, and a larger screen, there's the Zune.

However, the fact that the iPhone is due out in a few months may change the picture again. Instead of just iPod vs. Zune, there's iPhone vs. iPod vs. Zune, which means Microsoft better come out with a Zune Phone quick.

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