My New Zune : Thoughts from an iPod Junkie

Yesterday morning I replaced my iPod with a new Zune 2. I’ve owned 4 iPods over the years, and I’ve always loved them. When the first Zunes released, I wasn’t tempted at all to replace my trusty iPod. That all changed when I heard of the new features in Zune 2, and after using the new Zune for a day, I am convinced that it’s hands-down better than what Apple offers.

The Hardware

My 80GB Zune feels smaller than my 80GB iPod, but the screen on it seems HUGE in comparison. I’d love to see a higher resolution screen on the Zune for video (you can see pixels if you look closely enough), but it’s not a big deal to me. Video looks great and the colors are incredibly vibrant. The huge, widescreen display is perfect for watching my video podcasts. (Yes, the Zune has podcast support now.)

Another great thing about the Zune 2 is that it’s extremely scratch-resistant. The screen is glass, so it’s just about impervious to scratches. The rest of the front of the case is a matte finish that resists fingerprints. The rear of the case is a matte aluminum that doesn’t show fingerprints and doesn’t scratch. It also provides a great feel when holding the Zune.

The new controller on the Zune is called a ZunePad. It’s one of those things that you can’t truly appreciate until you use it. It’s touch-sensitive so that you can swipe your thumb across it for fast scrolling, but it’s also a tactile clicker. I’ve often been frustrated by the iPod wheel because it’s sometimes hard to select an item with it. Because the ZunePad can be swiped with the thumb as well as clicked for precise selection, it’s a perfect solution.

The new Zunes also offer WiFi sync. It works well and is a huge convenience. Users of first-version Zunes get all of the new software features in a firmware update, including the ability to sync via WiFi.

The Software (on the device and on the PC)

The Zune 2 software flashed onto the device is nice for someone coming from the utilitarian iPod. My favorite feature is the full-screen album art. I’m not a big fan of the huge letters on the home screen. It would be nice to have the option of making them smaller.

Navigation is easy and very attractive. I played with a friend’s first-generation Zune when they first released and I found it confusing and a little awkward. The Zune 2 is a huge improvement and I find it to be very intuitive. It also has nice touches that you don’t appreciate at first. For example, when you select an album for a particular artist, you get the typical screen showing the tracks where you can select to play all tracks or an individual track. However, you also get a horizontally-scrolling thumbnail view of all of that artist’s albums along the top of the screen. If you’re trying to find a particular song but you’re not sure which album it’s on, you can swipe your thumb left and right until you find the track. That same operation on the iPod requires you to select an album, scroll through the track list, click Menu to go back, scroll to a new album, select it, etc. The Zune’s interface feels more polished to me.

The Zune software that installs on your PC is equally nice, and it solves some of the frustrations I have with iTunes. Podcast support is certainly not an afterthought (as I thought it would be) and unlike iTunes, you can control how many episodes are kept, etc. for individual podcasts. In other words, I have some podcasts that release daily, and I want to keep the latest 4 episodes. Another podcast might release weekly and I might only want to keep the latest episode of that one. The Zune software makes configuring that easy. You can’t do it at all in iTunes.

Another enormous advantage is being able to add as many folders as I want for my music collection. I like to keep my music separated from video and podcasts. Using the Zune software, I can add as many folders as I want (on any drive) and Zune software will watch those folders. With iTunes, you have one folder and that’s it.

When I first set up my Zune, I pointed it to the music on my external firewire hard drive. After using it for a few hours, I decided that I wanted to put all of my music on my laptop hard drive, so I copied it all over and reconfigured the Zune software to point to the new folder on my hard drive. When I synced my Zune, it was smart enough to accept the new configuration without requiring me to resync the entire device. Making that same change in iTunes often requires a resync of your iPod, a process that can take a considerable amount of time.

Another huge plus with the Zune is the Zune Pass. For $15 per month, I can download anything I want. I can use that music on up to three computers and three Zunes, and I can keep it as long as I keep my subscription active. The iPod doesn’t offer any subscription services.

The Zune Marketplace doesn’t have as much music as iTunes yet, but it does offer more music than many other music services. (James Taylor’s new album released yesterday and I was able to download it immediately!) You can also purchase DRM-free MP3 music from the Zune Marketplace. (Yes, MP3 format, not WMA.)

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. I’m sure you think that I’m a Zune fan because I work for Microsoft. Not true! I’ve been an iPod junkie for years. I am a fan of the Zune 2 because it truly is a superior device in my opinion, is a joy to use, sounds great, and “fixes” many of the annoyances I have with iTunes/iPod.

Great job, Zune team! This one’s a winner.


 [In order to avoid prolonging the debate of iPod vs. Zune, I’ve decided to close comments on this post. I think the existing comments sufficiently represent both sides of the debate.]


Comments (26)

  1. Chuck says:

    Unless you use a Mac. Then the Zune is a no-go.

  2. Jim Cheshire says:

    Boot Camp or Parallels should solve that for you. 🙂

  3. tmay says:

    "Yesterday morning I replaced my iPod with a new Zune 2. I’ve owned 4 iPods over the years, and I’ve always loved them. When the first Zunes released, I wasn’t tempted at all to replace my trusty iPod. That all changed when I heard of the new features in Zune 2, and after using the new Zune for a day, I am convinced that it’s hands-down better  than what Apple offers.

    Uhmm. Am I mistaken that the iPod Touch is offered by Apple?

    I’ve had the 60GB 5G since they came out, which was quite some time ago, so I’m not surprised with your considering the Zune 2 superior to your previous iPods including your 80 GB and the newest iPod Classic (80 GB and 160 GB models.

    But "hands down better than what Apple offers" is a bit of a stretch, don’t you think?


  4. Byron Faber says:

    I started with Zune 1..  ‘loved the subscription based music.  ‘Alas with the new software I can’t get it to work behind a webproxy..  Version 1 worked great.. version 2 says there’s no internet.

  5. Max says:

    You’ve used Zune 2 for one DAY…and you feel compelled to write a lengthy blog on this matter? Given MS’s track record, do you really think this honeymoon is going to last terribly long?

    What really made up my mind about you and this post is your futzing around with two different hard drives–your decision to sync the Zune to an external HD, then to put all of your music on your notebook HD, followed by your syncing the Zune to the notebook.

    Why did you do this, esp. during the first day of having a Zune? My guess is because you’re being paid to do it. MS has been outed recently about its practice of buying good press. Looks like you had your hand out along with the rest of ’em.

  6. Jim Cheshire says:


    I know what I like. I’m opinionated about just about everything. I have had years of experience with iPods, and I know well what frustrates me. The Zune solves those problems for me.

    My music is all backed up on an external drive because I have over 50GB of music. Therefore, when I first installed the Zune software, I simply pointed it to my external drive. Not long after, I decided that I didn’t want to carry my external drive with me to work and to friend’s houses, etc., so I copied my music to my laptop drive and repointed the Zune software to my C drive. Seems like a perfectly normal scenario to me. No need to look for a conspiracy here.

    Microsoft doesn’t pay me to talk about the Zune. I have no involvement in the Zune product group, and I was very critical of Zune 1. Believe it or not, there are people who simply tell it like they see it. 🙂


  7. James says:

    Be prepared for many comments, some of them nasty.

    For some reason, this blog post was picked up by MacSurfer, an aggregator of many Mac-related articles, one that is read by all sorts of Mac (and iPod) fans out there.  There will be people who come here and read this.  Some of them will be unable to resist "correcting" whatever they disagree with, and others will vociferously argue trivial points in various ways.

    Me, I’m with Max: a bit suspicious about the whole thing.  Why is there a lengthy scribe about the Zune on a blog about .net and, one that has had roughly ten posts total in the past year?  How in the world did it get picked up by MacSurfer?  And why does it read like a PR piece from Microsoft?

    If you legitimately love your Zune, more power to you, glad you got something you like.  But this reeks of astroturf.

  8. Jim Cheshire says:


    When I first saw the iPod Touch, I really wanted one. Then I started thinking about how I use my current iPod and I quickly became convinced that I didn’t want it.

    First of all, 16GB is not enough room for me. I want to carry all of my music with me. Secondly, I don’t like the idea of a touch interface without any tactile response. I like being able to pause my music while the player is in my pocket or adjust the volume without looking at it. The iPod Touch doesn’t allow for that.


  9. mcsteveb says:

    You’re right: I think you’re a Zune fan because you work for Microsoft.

  10. Jim Cheshire says:


    I have no control over what robots pick up this feed. As for why there is a post about the Zune, it’s because that’s what inspired me. If you read through my posts, you’ll see plenty more than just ASP.NET here.

    I welcome anyone to comment as long as politeness prevails. However, folks should keep in mind that we’re not talking about religion here. This is simply my opinion about the Zune. I posted it because I suspect that there are many like me who weren’t at all impressed with Zune 1 and just wrote it off. I told plenty of people a year ago that in a year, no one would know what a Zune is. I was obviously wrong and just thought I’d share my experiences.



  11. Jim Cheshire says:


    I promise you that I’m not that shallow. Just ask any one of my co-workers who have ribbed me for years and years because of my love of the iPod and Macs.

    I still love iPods and Macs. In my opinion, the Zune 2 is a better experience for me. For me, that’s all that counts, but I appreciate your well-thought-out response. 😉


  12. cesjr says:

    I think there’s legit reasons to prefer a HDD Zune over Apple’s iPod classic.  However, the iPod touch simply blows the HDD Zune away, except for capacity.  Once there’s a 32 GB iTouch (probably by August 2008), it’s simply no contest anymore. Game’s up for the HDD Zune.  32GB is more than enough today for all but a few folks with massive collections.  Apple has too much momentum to lose significant sales to Zune this holiday season and MS needs an iPod touch competitor for next year to have any chance.

  13. Jim Cheshire says:

    If a total-touch interface is up your alley, there’s no doubt but that Apple has done it right. Anyone who’s played with the iPod Touch has to admire the cool factor. However, for me, a user-interface that is 100% touch isn’t ever going to be a viable solution.

    When I was using an iPod, I kept it clipped on my belt in a Contour Showcase. If I needed to skip a song, pause, adjust the volume, etc., I could do it by feel. I can do the same with my Zune, but I can’t do that with an iPod Touch. For me, that’s a deal breaker.

    I strongly considered an iPod Classic prior to getting my Zune, but I wanted a bigger screen, WiFi sync, and a music subscription. I agree that Microsoft won’t put much of a dent in the iPod kingdom, but it sure is nice to see a viable competitor to the iPod. No matter what audio player you choose, the competition is good for everyone.


  14. Nathan says:

    "The screen is glass, so it’s just about impervious to scratches"

    Last time I checked glass scratches pretty easily.  Easier than plastic/polycarbonate.  Just take a look at my glasses on my face.

    This article is written like an add from Microsoft, why sell out?

    I’m not saying the Zune 2 isn’t any good, but don’t act like it great.

    Nothing Micorsoft makes is great.

    Not everyone likes iTunes but a LOT of people do, so it must not be that horrible, as you insinuate.

    Just wait til the zune software gets a virius, then see what happens to your music.

  15. Astroturf says:

    So, how much does Microsoft pay for fake testimonials?  I have an english degree AND I work as an IT professional.  I could write all kinds of fluff as long as the price is right.  Then I could turn around and buy some of the most recent offerings from the ipod camp.

  16. Taras says:

    A number of the issues you mentioned, especially about podcasts seems to indicate that despite owning 4 iPods, you didn’t really take the time to learn how things work. iTunes can handle music stored in multiple locations and it can also aggregate all your music in one location with files organized by artist and album if you so desire, automatically. Someone who writes a review after just one or two days of using a product and that review hits all the marketing bullet points gives the appearance of being paid to push the product, whether that is the case or not. Plus, copying all those files back and forth would not leave much time to play with the new Zune.

  17. Wow, a lot of defensive comments.  They must all work for Apple. ;P

  18. Chuck says:

    Like I said above: doesn’t work with a Mac. Run Bootcamp? And pay for a copy of XP just to use a Zune? Yeah.

    What is MSFT saying when they won’t try to really compete with the iPod? And offer it to Mac users? Seriously. I think it says a lot.

    And the iPod touch? Gimme a break! "No, I don’t want to surf the net and listen to tunes." See the point here? MSFT keeps aiming at Apple, and Apple is already gone. Tactile feedback or not, that is where the new technology is going. Look at the monolithic MSFT table.

    If you like the Zune, great. But MSFT is so slow to get on the bandwagon. I wish they would truly think outside of the box. I just don’t think they can in the consumer space.

  19. Jim Cheshire says:

    "iTunes can handle music stored in multiple locations and it can also aggregate all your music in one location with files organized by artist and album if you so desire, automatically."

    Yes, but not the same way that Zune software works. In iTunes, you can create multiple libraries, but that’s not the same thing.

    Note that I did not say that iTunes is horrible. I simply said that the Zune software works better for me and the way that I handle my music.


  20. Jim Cheshire says:

    Hey, Chuck. My response to you was tongue in cheek. I’m not sure what the Zune team has in store for the future. It would be nice to see support for Macs.

    Keep in mind that the Zune is only a little over a year old. I think that the Zune team has done a tremendous job given that this is such a new product.

    As for Microsoft Surface, that was in development long before Apple came up with the iPhone, so be careful about who you think of as not thinking outside of the box!  


  21. Brian says:

    "My 80GB Zune feels smaller than my 80GB iPod, but the screen on it seems HUGE in comparison."

    You are comparing an outdated iPod to a brand new Zune.  The new 80GB iPod Classic is thinner than the Zune 2.  And yeah, the Zune 2 screen may be bigger, but it’s still the same resolution as the iPod Classic, which means your videos will just look more pixelated.

    Also, the iPod classic is available in 160GB, double the size of the Zune 2.

  22. Jim Cheshire says:


    I see nothing in the Classic that makes it stand out from my 80GB other than Cover Flow. While I think cover flow is extremely cool, I have heard (on the Windows Weekly podcast) that the Classic doesn’t have the horsepower to handle it well.

    I did mention the screen resolution in my post, but I certainly wouldn’t say that the Zune 2 is pixilated.  Yes, you can see pixels if you look closely, but lines are smooth and video looks very good on the Zune. However, if you are looking for a device for primarily watching video, there are better choices. The Archos WiFi family comes to mind right off.

    At this point 80GB is enough space for me. I don’t do video outside of video podcasts, so I’m fine with 80GB.

    Do you think Jobs will ever agree to a music subscription service for the iPod? That would be nice to see, but I doubt it will ever happen. Until then, that’s one thing (a HUGE thing to me) that the Zune has that iPod doesn’t have.


  23. Jim Cheshire says:

    This link does prove one thing; the Internet is a beacon of misinformation.

    Article Claims:

    “If your device is plugged into an approved dock you can wirelessly sync it. That’s swell, but I wouldn’t normally expect to see “plugged into” and “wirelessly” so close together in the same sentence for the same device, would you?”

    The Reality:

    If your Zune is plugged into a Zune dock or a Zune speaker set, it will automatically sync after 1 min of inactivity. If you choose to sync wirelessly without it being docked, you can simply choose Sync Now from the Wireless menu.

    Article Claims:

    “Shared Zune files are still DRM-infested and explode on your device after three days. And there are still numerous restrictions on what files can and cannot be shared.”

    The Reality:

    The three day restriction has been removed. You can keep the song for as long as you wish, but you can only play it three times. As for restrictions, you can send any song as long as the content provider doesn’t restrict it.

    Article Claims:

    “Oh brother! Subscription music has failed everywhere it’s been tried. . . . People don’t want to rent their music. At least not enough to sustain any valid business model.”

    The Reality:

    Subscription music has not failed. There are plenty of subscription music services that are still growing in membership. As a user of Zune Pass and a previous user of Yahoo! Music, I can attest to it being a great way to enjoy music.

    Article Claims:

    “Since the software upgrade to Zune 2 wasn’t that radical anyway, they made it available for the BA30 solely to try to clear that inventory.”

    The Reality:

    Zune 2 is a complete rewrite of the OS, and new features are substantial. Color it as you will, but it’s a positive that Microsoft gives Zune 1 users all of the same features that Zune 2 features get, and they did it because they value the early adopters.

    As for “giving away Zune 30s,” that refers to Amazon’s promotion where they have consumers vote on incredible deals for a limited time. It is not (and never has been) an indicator of the value of the sale item. These are items that people really want, so if the Zune wins and goes for $90 a pop, it means that more people vote to purchase a Zune than the other items on the list.

    I really don’t want to turn this into a big argument over iPod vs. Zune, but I do want to correct the misinformation.



  24. Mr. Gouda says:

    After reading your blog I am left with the impression you’ve never really owned 4 iPods or even 1 iPod for that matter.

    In iTunes 7 on OSX you don’t have to resync your iPod when you make a change to a music file or move your music to other folders.  Heck, one can change an mp3’s file name, move it to another folder while it’s still playing in iTunes, and iTunes is smart enough to recognize the name change without having the user re-point iTunes to the newly named file and location.

    If you’ve really had 4 iPods in the past, you’d already know this stuff.

    Sorry, but the Zune subscription also fails because as soon as your subscription expires you can’t play the music you’ve downloaded nor can you burn them to a CD.

  25. Jim Cheshire says:


    I can only surmise that you didn’t really read my post. I didn’t say you have to resync after making a change to a file or moving music to another folder. I’m talking about changing the location of your iTunes library.

    I’m not sure that calling me a liar promotes your cause.