The horrid patheticness of the Microsoft Zune

Recently, I had a chance to get what I thought was a pretty good deal on a new Microsoft Zune. I received the Zune on Saturday and finally had a chance to hook it up to charge last night and load some music this morning. I figured that as a second release generation from Microsoft, it should be past some of the past problems. Besides – flight simulation software and hardware have been the only 2 categories I’ve felt Microsoft has ever been good at.

Let me just get out of the way now my opinion that this is the absolute worst MP3 player available on the market right now. If this is the best Microsoft can do in the 2nd generation, it’s no wonder Apple and (significantly behind but still far better than other options) Sansa are leading the media player market.

Now, for some of the “Why is that?” answers.

  • I am trying to listen to some music I ripped to 192K mp3 files earlier this year. On my underpowered laptop at home, on my underpowered desktop computer at my old job, on the mp3 playing FM converter I have plugged in to my cigarette lighter in my Jeep, on my wife’s iPod, and on my Sansa e200 mp3 player the files play absolutely perfectly. No skips. No pauses. No errors. Everything is fine. On my new Zune, I don’t hear more than 10-15 seconds of music without a pause, pop, or moment of silence.
  • Trying to move around the interface is painful. Click down twice on the control dial because you see a song you want to play then wait 1-4 seconds for the selector to update and highlight that song. Click the back button so you can browse your video instead of music and wait the same 1-4 seconds for the screen to change to the music/video/pictures selection screen. Everywhere I try to go in the interface draaaaaggggggggssssssssss me there.
  • Oddly, if I turn off the wireless capabilities of the device, the above problems seem to go away – but what fucking moron would include a non-media feature that you have to turn off to make the mp3 player function properly? If any capabilities make the music playing of a MUSIC AND MEDIA PLAYING device fail to work properly, you rip out those features until you can do them correctly. This is a media player. Media functionality MUST function perfectly in the presence of any added non-music features. And have the default of the malfunctioning “feature” turned off rather than on if you absolutely must put it in.
  • While it is nice to be able to maneuver around the interface while music is playing, where the hell is the “Currently playing…” option? I was looking at my video options and decided I didn’t want to stop listening to the album I’ve got playing now, but I would like to choose another song to play. I went back to the music section, chose the album area, then had to remember which album I was listening to. I couldn’t recall which album was playing, so I had to back up to the artist section and look. Still no help – it just shows the albums of hers that I have loaded. I just want to go to the currently playing album, see what else is on it, and choose a different song. No can do on the Zune. The only way I’ve found to get there is to put the stupid thing away until the display shuts off, then when I click the control pad again it puts me where I want to be.
  • How about the initial setup of the device? I have to load the Zune interface software, then plug in the device, then wait for it to charge up. But I can’t tell the charge level without trying to turn on the device, which starts a cycle I couldn’t figure out how to stop – the device would boot up, the computer would detect the Zune and start the Zune interface application, the battery low indicator would flash, and the Zune would turn off. A few seconds later, without any action on my part, the Zune would boot again, the computer would again detect it and start the control software (in the few cases where I closed the software after the Zune turned off), then the battery low warning would flash, and the Zune turned off again. Each cycle of this took 20-30 seconds, and it continued for almost 30 minutes before I just gave up and went to bed. This morning the device was fully charged and turned off, but I have no clue how long that took nor why it finally stayed turned off.
  • The control software absolutely sucks. Want to add a directory of music? You can’t just drag and drop it like you can with every other media player control software I’ve ever used. You have to go into the settings area, choose “Add directory” and then select the directory of music you want. Same for video, and I suppose podcasts.  I’m no big fan of Apple’s iTunes interface, but it’s years ahead of Microsoft’s Zune control software.  I really prefer the Sansa, which I update by treating as an external hard drive, drag music into the music folder, and reboot to have access to my music.   For the money Microsoft spends on interface research, you would think they could come up with an intuitive, easy to us, super functionally simple interface to add and remove media.

I haven’t had a chance to test the social aspects of the player.  I doubt I ever will, but if I get a chance I’ll post again on my thoughts.  I can say right now that if this is all Microsoft has come up with after having years to see what Apple is doing, there isn’t much incentive for other media player producing companies to strive to create better devices or interfaces.  I don’t think Microsoft should just copy what Apple has done, but I think following Apple’s model of braindead simple to use is the right way to go.  Microsoft needs to get someone who understands gadget use by non-gadget freaks, as the Zune makes it clear no one at the company currently has that idea wrapped up.

I have more thoughts, but want to wait until I’ve used to player a bit more before making some comments I’m mulling right now.

[tags]Zune, iPod, Microsoft, Apple, Media players, mp3, Sansa, Interface[/tags]

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