The Zune HD hit store shelves earlier today, and I myself had the opportunity to play with one for a little bit. While everyone is busy comparing the Zune HD to the iPod Touch, the comparison seems a bit misplaced. The first thing I noticed about the Zune was how small it was relative to the Touch. Not only is the screen smaller, but the entire device is noticeably “shrunk” when measured up against the Touch. Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing by itself, but one of the key selling points of the Touch is its large 3.5 inch screen which makes viewing movies a bearable, if not enjoyable, experience. In that respect, size wise, the Zune HD is almost like a hybrid between the iPod Touch and the iPod Nano.
And speaking of screens, the Zune HD’s OLED screen definitely impressed me. It looked extremely bright and vibrant, with videos that seemingly jumped off the screen. In terms of the UI, the Zune HD was somewhat disappointing given all of the hype and resources Microsoft has put behind its development. The homepage background was black, with white text designating the various categories (Movies, Photos) users could choose from. Not only that, but the multi-touch on the device seemed relatively unresponsive compared to other multitouch products out on the market such as the iPhone and the Palm Pre.
But chief among the Zune HD’s missing features is an app store. And even without an app store, the Zune HD is still missing some pretty basic apps that came standard on the iPhone even before Apple rolled out its iTunes App Store last summer. For instance, the Zune HD doesn’t come with a calendar app, a weather app, a maps app, a stocks app.. hell, it doesn’t even come with a built-in email program! As it stands now, the number of apps available for the latest Zune hardware coming out of Redmond is 9.
Microsoft is touting the Zune HD as a device that focuses on music, but the fact of the matter is that dedicated music players are a thing of the past. While a market for that sort of device undoubtedly remains, the next major battleground will be among multi-purpose mobile devices, and in that respect, the Zune HD falls far short.
And one more thing – the Zune HD also lacks external speakers, meaning that if you want to hear any sort of sound, it’s gotta always be through headphones – a fact which might make game play (if it ever truly arrives on the device) somewhat lackluster.