When we're making a comparison between the iPod and the Zune, it's also important to note that the software makes a big difference in your music experience. You'll have to use the software suite extensively for both playing back music at your computer and organizing songs onto your portable device. This is why both iTunes and Zune Software play such a large part in determining which music player you should purchase.

So which one is better? That depends largely on your personal usage habits, but suffice it to say iTunes has a challenger on its hands. Find out why after the jump.


It's hard to customize a music player or music library for everyone's use. Some people don't use ratings at all—I love them—and some people don't use smart playlists. So to figure out which one's better for you, you'll have to pick and choose the features you like and decided on that. Here we go.

Music Importing: On install, the Zune automatically imports your existing iTunes database, for the most part without any hiccups. It even grabs the playlists and converts them to Zune's default playlist format. What it doesn't do is import the smart playlists, so you'll have to start all over with those. Except you can't, because there aren't any smart playlists in the Zune. In any case, the Zune should carry over the non-protected iTunes music, but if you purchased songs from the iTunes store (or any other online store) you're out of luck.

Also, you can't drag and drop stuff onto the Zune, you'll have to set up folders that it automatically monitors. Useful in one way, but kinda awkward in another, since it has to rescan all folders every time you add a new folder.


Music Store: Some of you won't care about this, *cough* file sharers *cough*, but in the realm of selection, Apple has a couple million more songs than Zune. Eventually Zune should be able to catch up, but if you want more music now, you'll have to go with Apple. However, if you're looking to buy tons and tons of music, Zune has a all-you-can-eat subscription plan to rent music for $15 a month, which is great if you want to load up your entire 30GB with songs that you don't currently own. Buying music is equally simple on both, as long as you've either already have an Apple account or a Hotmail/Xbox 360 Marketplace account.

Also, there are no TV and Movies on Zune. This may either be a big deal or a non-issue.


Music Playback: This could be me, but on the default equalizer settings the Zune Software sounds a lot fuller and better than iTunes, even on the same MP3. Even after fiddling with iTunes' equalizer I couldn't get it to sound as good as Zune's. This is subjective, and could totally be in my imagination, but there ya go. Both have a "Now playing" area in the player, a minimized mode, and playback control.

Music Transfer/Loading: Thanks to iTunes' smart playlists, you can easily pick only the songs you want, in interesting combinations, to sync to your iPod. Only five starred songs that you've played between three weeks and a month ago? Done.


The Zune Software (which just locked up as I plugged in a Zune, incidentally) has a concept of "Auto Playlist" for syncing, and only for syncing. You can filter by all the song's criteria, including play count and rating, which makes it similar in functionality to iTunes, but it's kinda hidden. You'll have to right click on your Zune's name, then go to "Set up Sync" in order to see your lists. The functionality's there, but Microsoft should make this option more visible and accessible.

Music Presentation: iTunes 7 divides your music up into your library, the store, and your playlists. Zune has playlists, your library, and marketplace. Quite similar, save for a little rearrangement of items. When browsing your library, iTunes has Coverflow view, album view, and list view, whereas Zune has icon/tile view, which shows all the album covers, and details view. Once you get to a single artist, you get an album view which looks similar to iTunes. Honestly there's not that much difference here, but you do get Coverflow when you go with Apple's software.

Music Organization/Playlists: Zune only has regular playlists here, which causes my own experience to suffer since I love smart playlists. Both Zune and iTunes have smart playlists, except on Zune it's called Auto Playlists and they're kind of hidden. And when you view a playlist in Zune, you can only view by detail view and not album view. iTunes wins here, but only if you like smart playlists.


Music Searching: Both suites search "while typing", but Zune's search is quite a lot faster. Not a huge deal if you have a fast machine, but if you search often the times add up. Zune also downloads the Zune Marketplace database locally, so even store searches are fast. Another bonus to Zune is that if you search for something you don't have, it'll show a link to Zune's Marketplace automatically. So if you're on a subscription plan, you can go and download the song quickly.

If you're just starting out and picking either an iPod or a Zune, you should be satisfied with either music management suite. The two match each other pretty well in functionality, save for smart playlists, but are just about equal in other ways. iTunes has more music, but Zune has the subscription plan.


If you're already an iTunes user, you may find it harder to switch over to the Zune because the Zune doesn't carry over your purchased songs, nor does it import your play counts. You lose smart playlist functionality, plus whatever plugins you've got for your software. And if you're a Mac user, you're just plain out of luck.

Of course, this is just for the software, and you'll have to consider the other half of the puzzle, hardware, to make up your mind.

Zune vs. iTunes Image [Gizmodo]

Zune Product Page


iPod Product Page