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This is a little tack from my usual music journalism, but I think it's applicable to us, purveyors of the digital era - I can tell you guys I had a hands on with the much hyped Zune, the latest and greatest iPod killer. Let me first hedge a bit to say that it's not as bad as I would have expected from a first attempt from Microsoft. That being said, onto the critique!

The feel and texture of the Zune is rather plastic-y with a chalky texture. Feels kind of cheap. Of the 3 color combinations, white looks the best. Is this because it looks like an iPod? Not necessarily. On the white model they shoot a clear plastic over the opaque white. However, on the black model, they shoot a poorly chosen blue over the black, and on the oft-griped brown model, they shoot an ill advised light green over brown. As Engadget put it, "My Zune looks like swamp water Jello".

The UI of the Zune looks good at first. Animated transitions, some interesting menu ideas. However, after about 30 seconds you realize it is way too busy and distracting. On top of that, there is a slight delay before the transition begins, where the menu actually blanks out. This delay is also from the button press. Speaking of buttons, they feel kinda cheap, and loose. The UI itself is a cross between the Xbox 360 interface (which is decent) and the Windows Media Center interface (which is horrible). Way too many clicks just to play one song.

To make concessions, the wireless feature is an interesting idea, but will need to mature a bit. I don't like the fact that it wraps all songs, even ones by your band or originally DRM free tracks, with a 3 play/3 day DRM. I don't understand why Microsoft disabled use of it as an external HD. Why is it also 60% bigger than the 30GB iPod? And still bigger than the 60GB iPod? Also, giving Universal Music a royalty for each player sold is simply retarded. Should every DVD player manufacturer give the movie studios a cut of each player sold? Maybe the baseball bat companies should pay the ball companies for every bat they sell.

In any case, Microsoft has put their foot in the arena, and we all know they have the resources to throw at it until it becomes viable. They did decently with the Xbox. I expect the 2nd generation Zune to be much more competitive. Probably still retain the microsoft wonkyness, though. For now, pass.

Happy Belated Thanksgiving, folks. Some rarities:

Animal Collective - Polly (Nirvana Cover)
The Knife - We Share Our Mother's Health (Ratatat Remix)

Animal Collective on MySpace
Ratatat on MySpace

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