More Zune HD Impressions: Beautiful Hardware, Clever Software, and... a Decent Browser?

An hour with the Zune HD inspired a moment of rapture for CNET reporter Donald Bell, who breathlessly told the world "I am tentatively reaffirming my faith in Microsoft." Reading his impressions, it's easy to see why.

We got a few minutes with the Zune HD all the way back at its announcement, and everything felt and looked like something to get excited about, but that was just a taste; now we know that the Zune's relative stagnancy over the last few years hasn't been for nothing. The hardware feels "expensive, solid, and sexy" and the 3.3-inch OLED screen looks "outstanding," while the software—particularly the music playback screen and music recommendation features—sounds miles ahead of the Zune's already decent interface. It's great to hear that our hopes were warranted, but there's a bombshell buried in here, a few paragraphs down.

Speaking of Wi-Fi, the Zune's new Web browser smokes. Not since first using the iPhone have I been this impressed with a mobile web browser. There's no branding on the browser, but I was told it was cooked up by Microsoft's Internet Explorer team (makes sense). [Ed. note: It does?] Page load was snappy, and pinching and reorienting pages work just like the iPhone and iPod Touch.

As anyone who has used Windows Mobile in the last—well, ever, including the much-improved-but-still-only-tolerable-Mobile IE 6, this is a comeback for the ages. I just hope Bell wasn't swept away in the moment; if these observations hold, the Zune HD could be a certifiable Very Big Deal. Or possibly, if Microsoft wakes up and drops a cellular antenna into this thing, a Very Very Very Big Deal. [CNET]