In which your humble blogger, a longtime iPod user, continues to test the capabilities of Microsoft’s new Zune HD against the iPod Touch. The Zune HD represents Microsoft’s attempt to develop a mobile media-player ecosystem that can compete with Apple’s own offerings; Redmond is hoping that the multitouch device can earn a few more points’ worth of market share heading into the holiday season.
I’ve been hearing rumors that a certain subset of Zune HD users experience technical glitches with the device’s 3.3-inch, glass-covered OLED display screen–which, just by the way, displays video and images with an impressively crystal-clear fashion. I personally experienced no issues during my three days of near-constant operation.
During that same three-day period, I subjected the Zune HD to a highly unscientific battery of stress tests also known as My Morning Commute, and the device proved no shrinking violet in the sturdiness department: after being inadvertently bashed in train doors, smacked against a subway turnstile, and accidentally whacked repeatedly by a 2-pound, 14-ounce copy of Jonathan Franzen’s 2001 whiny-magnum-opus “The Corrections,” I can report the Zune HD’s screen and body in fine working form.
Those who use their mobile media-player primarily to play movies or TV shows will find sharp image and sound quality. However, the Zune HD’s display measures 0.2 inches smaller than that of the iPod Touch–a negligible difference on paper, but one you can see when the devices are placed beside each other with video running. On the other hand, 0.2 inches isn’t quite enough to be a deal-breaker in that department.
According to an analysis by Rapid Repair, which took the Zune HD apart to examine its innermost workings in September, the device’s power comes courtesy of an Nvidia Tegra APX2600-HM-A3 processor with a 600MHz core, two Toshiba NAND flash memory chips, and an Atheros AR6002 for the mobile Wi-Fi. Video is displayed at 720p.
That’s enough power to run any number of mobile applications, but the Zune’s App ecosystem is rather barren at the moment: Microsoft offers Calculator, Chess, Goo Splat, Hexic, Shell Game, Space Battle 2, Sudoku, Texas Hold ‘Em, and Weather. Compare that to Apple’s App Store and its tens of thousands of Apps, and there’s a clear disparity in offerings.
Yes, I know the majority of Apple’s Apps are either poor imitations of better ones, or else utterly useless–but nonetheless Microsoft needs to figure out a way to port a similar variety into the Zune ecosystem. The upcoming integration with Xbox Live has been much-reported, and may help Microsoft find a way to further brand the Zune HD as a viable alternative for video and games.
The differences between the iPod Touch and the Zune HD in their music-playing is primarily a matter of taste. Both their multitouch interfaces are intuitive, with a bit of practice. Battery life between the two devices seemed roughly equal.
The Zune HD does have one area of clear advantage over the iPod Touch, at least for the moment: FM radio. (Apple’s catching up in that department, the fifth-generation iPod Nano will come radio-equipped, and a future iPod Touch will probably feature one as well.) The Zune HD radio’s scanner interface is easy to navigate, and the sound is clear. If you hear a song you like on the local station, you can put it in a Marketplace shopping cart with one finger-tap–a useful feature, to say the least.
Both the Zune HD and the iPod Touch have a Wi-Fi connection, and both work with the inconsistency you’d expect given the spottiness of local networks. The mobile version of Bing on the Zune HD is supple, searching very quickly. If you need a device to surf the Web, though, you’re still better suited with a smartphone.
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