zunerama logo



  blog    forum    games    accessories    fun    free    downloads    zune 3.0    help    specs    shop    us


Zune forums


Full Zune 2 coverage from Zunerama:
   Zune 80 review
   Zune 8 review
   Tour the new Zune user interface video
   Watch how wireless sync works video
Fun stuff:
   Unboxing Zune 80 video
   Unboxing Zune 8 video
   Zune gallery - close-ups and 360o views
More stuff:
   Zune software install
   Walk through Zune's PC software
   View Marketplace screenshots


Zune 80: Review

Zune 80 player

The Zune 2nd-generation player launch is almost upon us, and today we bring you Zunerama's pre-release review of the Zune 80GB player ("Zune 80").

The Zune 80 is part of a sweeping update by Microsoft of its digital media player offering. Along with Zune 80, two flash-memory players are being launched, as well as a significant firmware update, new PC software, an updated online Marketplace, and a new Zune Social community site.

Let's start this review by noting that the Zune 80 unboxing is a most pleasurable experience. Check out our unboxing video and pics.

Zune 80 player

The installation of the new Zune software was much improved from the first-generation experience. Player setup and initial sync was painless, although it does take time to load up (or even partially load up) an 80GB player!

Zune 80 player

Now, on to our review of the 80GB player itself.

Body. The front of the player is plastic, with a warm, soft feel similar to the first-gen Zune 30GB. My eyes do not detect a double-shot finish on the 80GB player. (The 30GB player, and the 8GB and 4GB flash players, have a different shade of color injected into the edges of the casing, as a design accent.)

The backside of the player is a matte (non-glossy) aluminum. I had wondered how the two different materials would "go" together; now that I see the player in person I can say that it's a pleasing combination, to the hand and to the eye. The matte finish resists fingerprints and smudges.

Size. The player weighs in at 4.5 ounces - which is 9/10 of an ounce less than the 30GB model. Height and width are 4.26 x 2.41 inches. It's a compact, nicely balanced player. You can view more player specifications in our Zune hard-drive player spec table, and compare its features with the iPod hard-drive models.

ZunePad. A new feature in this generation is the touch-sensing ZunePad, which responds to light brushing of your fingertip (or, more likely, thumbtip).

For long lists, you can "flick" the ZunePad to scroll. The faster you flick, the faster the list rolls. You stop the scrolling with a light tap on the Pad. It's a natural-feeling action.

I particularly appreciate the ZunePad when navigating through detailed pages. For example, when browsing through a grid of photos, you can move your thumb continuously, in zig-zag or L-shapes to smoothly get to your desired picture. (You don't need to lift your thumb to switch from an up-or-down motion to a left-or-right motion.)

The ZunePad can be used as a directional button, similar to the Zune 30's control pad. If you prefer to use the buttons instead of the touch pad, you can turn off the player's touch-sensor in the Settings menu.

It's good that users get the option to "flick it" or "click it" - but I bet most will quickly find the touch pad the preferred way to go.

Zune 80 player

Other Controls. The Back button and Play/Pause button are slightly raised - unlike the slightly recessed buttons on the Zune 30. They give a more satisfying tactile response and I prefer them to the Zune 30.

Screen. The big, bright 3.2-inch glass screen is a real highlight of the player. The glass reflects glare, mirror-like, when the player is turned off - but much less so when it's on and the screen is bursting with its own light. As with other players, you will probably have to adjust the viewing angle if you're near bright lights.

As expected, screen resolution is 320x240 pixels - the same as the other smaller-screened Zune models. (The Zune 30 has a 3-inch screen; the Zune 8 and 4 have 1.8-inch screens.) In my viewing of videos, album art, and pictures on the player, I don't see a problem with pixelation.

The photo below shows the same image on the Zune 80 and the smaller Zune 8 screen, for comparison purposes. I think most Zune 80 owners will be delighted with the screen's viewing quality.

Zune 80 player

See more Zune 80 pictures, fresh from our pre-release review, in our Zune Gallery.

User Interface. The graphical UI of the first-generation Zune player was impressive, setting it apart from many other players. Now the user interface has been further improved with completely rebuilt firmware. (First-generation Zune 30s will also receive the new UI through a firmware update on November 13.)

One notable new feature is wireless sync. I was pleasantly surprised by how simple it was to set up my home wireless network for the player. Wireless sync can be initiated from the Settings menu at any time you're in range of your wireless netowrk. Wireless sync also happens automatically when the player is plugged into a power source.

As the video of our wireless sync testing shows, it's a straightforward and fun process. I think wireless sync will quickly be viewed as an essential and useful feature by Zune owners.

Zune 80 player

Podcast support has been nicely implemented on the player, which organizes and plays audio and video podcasts from the several hundred that are available at no charge on Zune Marketplace.

Zune 80 player

As before, the player includes a built-in FM tuner, and the ability to share songs and pictures wirelessly from one Zune to another. You can listen to full-length tracks sent to you up to three times. There is no longer a three-day limit for listening to the tracks. Also, you can now wirelessly send another Zune a track that you yourself received wirelessly.

The player is satisfying to use, and even more intuitive than the first-generation user interface. Amidst the delights of the new firmware and software, there are changes that may cause consternation for some. Those include:

No equalizer. In a design decision that surprised me, the Zune team did not include EQ capability in this release. I queried Microsoft about this and got some insight into this decision. The Zune team evidently went to great lengths to ensure top quality throughout the signal path - delivering 32 ohms of signal to the headsets. (Indeed, the first-gen' player was favorably-viewed for its sound quality.) EQ obviously modifies the sound content, which can have a significant battery impact. And, while some users clearly make extensive use of EQ, it is apparently not considered a "must-have" feature by many. The decision came down to an attempt to balance performance, quality and price.

New rating system. The one-to-five-star rating system has been replaced with a simpler "heart"-"broken-heart" rating to indicate songs you like, don't like, and that remain unrated. This has made for some controversy in our forums, and some will no doubt be loathe to lose the work they've put into their detailed ratings. Personally, I'm starting to like the new rating system. I think it will be fine for new users, and for those who aren't heavily invested in using the more detailed rating method.

Playlists. Auto-playlists are not supported in the new firmware or PC software. These were supported in the first-gen Zune software, and I was surprised to find that my auto-playlists were not converted when I installed the new software. The Zune team has indicated to me that this was a design trade-off, made based on their survey data that indicated a small percentage of people use auto-playlists (a.k.a. "smart playlists").

I think their ears are open to us, though... if we as a group feel that this is an important feature. (I do - although I am also aware that many users simply don't use it.)

I've dwelled a bit here on the changed or missing features, that I know will be important to some of you. Overall, the user interface and features are much improved and beautifully designed. You can view the user interface in our video walkthrough, which tours through every menu and feature on the player.

Integration with Zune software. You can't separate the player experience from its integration with Zune software and Marketplace - both of which have been expanded and re-engineered. Clean, intuitive... it just makes sense, and is a model of simplicity. Props to Microsoft for designing such a rich, functional, and compelling software experience.

Zune 80 player

See our Zune software walkthrough for a look at the revamped and greatly improved software.

The re-built and re-stocked Zune Marketplace is also full of new features and content. Check them out in our Marketplace review.

Summary. In the year since the first-generation Zune was released, we've been surprised at the paucity of firmware and software updates from the Zune team. It is now eminently clear why that was. In that time, the team has defined all-new hardware for this second-generation player, developed firmware and PC software from the ground up, and re-stocked and re-defined the online Marketplace. That's a lot of activity, and the final results show the Zune team's solid strategy.

Comparisons to iPod are part of the media player business, so here goes. In my view, the Zune 80 fills a market niche left open by Apple: the need for a high-capacity player that has a large, watchable screen. The Zune 80's 3.2-inch screen is significantly easier on the eyes than the 2.5-inch screen of the iPod Classics. And while the iPod Touch (and iPhone) have larger screens, their small flash-memory storage make them marginal for storing even a small video collection.

Moreover, the fun and improved software makes for a great user experience. Zune seems poised to further wedge its way in to a position of strength in the digital player market.

Microsoft has maintained for some time that it is in this digital player market for the long haul. That certainly rings true given the investment into this second Zune generation. Great kudos to the Zune team for a stand-out second-generation player.


Full Zune 2 coverage from Zunerama:
   Zune 80 review
   Zune 8 review
   Tour the new Zune user interface video
   Watch how wireless sync works video
Fun stuff:
   Unboxing Zune 80 video
   Unboxing Zune 8 video
   Zune gallery - close-ups and 360o views
More stuff:
   Zune software install
   Walk through Zune's PC software
   View Marketplace screenshots


Comments