Going up against the almighty Apple iPod is no easy task, but Microsoft is giving it all they got with its impressive line of Zune media players, with capacities ranging from 4GB all the way up to 120GB.
With a huge screen, excellent audio quality (complimented by outstanding earbuds), FM radio and support for multiple audio and video codecs, the Redmond, Wash.-based giants are hoping many will put the two competing products side-by-side and choose in favour of the Zune.
But if you know someone who already owns a Zune, you're probably aware of the device's attractive display, well-balanced audio and built-in radio, which is also great at the gym by listening to a TV broadcast. Oh, Zune owners can now “tag” a song they hear on the radio and purchase a CD-quality version at a later time (only in the U.S. at this time, however).
Here are a few things — and impressive ones at that — about the Zune you probably aren't aware of.
1. Games and books, oh my!
The latest Zune software (version 3.0) now lets you play games while on the go. In fact, you'll start with two freebies included with the latest downloadable firmware update: Hextic and Texas Hold ‘Em. The Zune will also let you multitask so you can play a game and listen to your favourite tunes, podcasts or an audiobook at the same time! Speaking of audiobooks, Zune owners can now sync books from the huge library of titles at audible.com or overdrive.com.
2. Sharing is good
When you're in the same room as another Zune listener — and it doesn't matter if they own a Flash- or hard drive-based model — you can wirelessly beam them a song you like, which the recipient can listen to up to three times on their Zune. This is a great way to be exposed to new music. No wonder why Microsoft's tagline for the Zune is “welcome to the social.”
3. Wireless sync
iPod owners are used to connecting their player to a PC to transfer over media. For some, this can be a laborious process if it involves connecting a USB cord to the back of a computer (perhaps under a desk), and you might need to unplug an existing USB device first. So long as you have a wireless network, you can automatically synchronize your Zune player with your PC when you step in the door.
4. It's in the cards
On the free Zune Social [http://www.zune.net/en-US/social/notsignedin.htm], which is Zune's online music community, you can easily create and customize a Zune Card. What's that, you ask? No, these aren't Zune-branded playing cards. These online cards can be embedded on various social networking sites, such as Facebook, as well as blogs or other websites, where it will automatically update to show others what they are listening to.
5. X(box) marks the spot
Xbox 360 owners who want to change up their favourite video game's soundtrack can play their own music stored on a connected Zune — whether it's by attaching the media player to the console via its USB cord (included) or if you have a Wi-Fi network and a Xbox 360 wireless network adaptor, you can wirelessly configure your Zune to play on your Xbox 360 (as a soundtrack or simply to use your TV/stereo speakers).
6. All the music you can handle
While it”s not available in Canada — yet — the Zune Marketplace is the online store to purchase music for your Zune player. Sure, you can download tracks one at a time, as you can with Apple's iTunes, but this service also offers something called a Zune Pass ($15/month) which lets you fill up your Zune to the max with thousands of songs. In other words, you choose whether you want to consume your tunes a la carte or in an all-you-can-eat buffet style!