Nov 13th Release After the first year of feedback and learning from experience the Zune team is back with new players. They clearly caught the competition off guard, and in some respects, even surprised me a little by making something sleek and sexy with a Zune logo on it.
Display: The Zune 80 sports a 3.2" diagonal LCD and the flash players get a 1.8" diagonal. What this means for the 80 is a screen nearly double the size of the iPod 80 LCD. Resolution for both units is 320x240 pixels, and in both cases the pixel density (or sharpness) is 2x-4x times higher than the best laptop screens out there. Like last year's model, the Zune is operated in portrait mode then flips horizontal when playing video. New this year is a glass LCD which makes the screen twice as scratch resistant as a plastic LCD. Brightness has 3 settings and the images look amazing, crisp, and colorful. Reflections are more obvious in the glass screen especially when viewing at a side angle, but not noticeable from a direct front view.
User Interface: The new Zune pad (squircle) is both a d-pad and a touch sensitive surface. I have mixed feelings about the pad although it's definitely an improvement. Swiping vertically seems more natural than from left to right. This is due to the knuckle orientation of the thumb, so I find myself using d-pad functions from left to right and touch pad sensitivity for vertical scrolling. It's also fun to give it a good fast swipe and watch the list keep scrolling as if it had some momentum imparted to it. There is an option to disable the touch sensitivity, but I doubt anyone would turn it off, it's just too much fun to play with.
Wifi : Wireless is back with a vengeance. It now even has a purpose. After carrying a Zune 24/7 for one year I confess I've never had a close encounter of the Zune kind. New firmware allows the Zune to sync wirelessly with the PC, assuming you have a home network. No dock or power source is required to initiate sync, but transfers are much slower than USB 2.0 (about 6x slower). Zune to Zune file sharing is still possible, and the three day restriction has been removed for shared music tracks.
Feel: The flash Zunes are shockingly small and have a matte finish on the front plastic and rear aluminum. The red is the only flash player has the gloss finish and the front plastic feels like glass. The Zune 80 is just the right size, and seems to make the Zune 30 look blocky in comparison. The back and play button are raised and sit slightly above the surface of the unit. This is incredibly helpful and now looking back, I really wish they had done that with the Zune 30. The chrome ring around the zunepad is flush so you can't feel it, but the pad itself is raised, even more than the pause & play buttons. The pad makes a quiet click noise when pressed, this also helps with "no look" track skipping due to the tactile and auditory feedback.
Appearance: Small is good. Last year we opened up the Zune 30 and replaced the hard drive with a much thicker 80gb one. Perhaps not enough effort was put into shrinking the form factor of the original Zune (O RLY?). The new Zune 80 is 27% smaller than the Zune 30, and the best way to describe the design is modern and simple. The screen dominates the the layout while the color matched buttons don't gather much attention.
Media: The Zune's have 80/8/4 gigabytes of storage depending on the model you choose. Those interested in uploading movies to the Zune should be aware that each movie can take 1GB of space. The Zune Marketplace is unique because you can choose between track purchases or a subscription service with infinite downloads for 14.99/month. Most importantly is the addition of a podcast library to the marketplace and podcasting menus on the devices themselves. Podcasts are fully integrated in the Zune environment. Some great features include the ability to bookmark a spot in a podcast and return to it later. A new one click podcast subcription method makes things easy for both the publisher and listener.
The hard drive cannot be used as a memory stick for storing and retrieving word documents, zip files, and other such data. This is by far the biggest drawback of the player considering most competing devices are recognized as mass storage drives by computers.
FM radio is integrated into all the Zunes including the ability to gather track info from the airwaves and display it in real time.
Sound: The Zune 80 dominates the sound category because it comes with premium quality earphones while the flash players use basic earbuds. The most critical part of sound quality is the earphones (or speakers) used. The audio output signal itself is vibrant, clear, and has no background hiss whatsoever. Unfortunately I was disappointed at the lack of an equalizer on the new Zunes.
Value: The Zune 80 is priced at $249 and quite simply has more features and functionality than any other player in that price range. A Zune vs iPod chart is available for line by line evaluation with iPod. The flash players stack up well, and are priced at $199 for 8gb and $149 for 4gb. Personally I have less interest in the small players because the price per gigabyte of storage ratio is much higher.
I am in a unique position to comment on the Zune community, I have watched it grow daily for the past year. ZuneScene forums have quickly grown to 20,000 registered users in the first year. Microsoft is now seeking to further the social element of the Zune with the addition of personalized internet Zunecards and a new web page for "Zune Social" networking. Metcalf's law indicates the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of users. In the long run tapping into this law will give the Zune momentum to keep growing exponentially.
Conclusion: Monopoly over. The Zune team must have realized the situation at hand. They shrank the Zune and pumped it up full of more features than ever. Navigation has taken a quantum performance leap with the introduction of the squircle pad, and the interface is fun and easy. Expect a lot from the new Zunes, you will get it.
80 GB Zune 2 Is Here!
The 80gb Zune arrived November 13th in the United States for $249. In addition, smaller 4 and 8 gb Zunes will be available in multiple colors. The Zune 80 will be black at launch and it includes a new "squircle" shaped navigation button which is also touch sensitive. The Zune 80 sports a larger 3.2 inch screen but a smaller body reduced in size by 27% compared to the original Zune. Review the Zune vs iPod chart for more details or visit the Zune Scene homepage for the latest news and videos.
80GB Zune Mod: Hands On Review
The only thing better than a Zune is a bigger 80GB Zune of course. The 80GB version costs $489.98 total and has no warranty from Microsoft. Compared to limited edition pink Zunes that sell on ebay for $800+ we think the 80 Gigger is a steal. Ipodmods.com offers replacement hard drives in 30GB, 40GB, 60GB and 80GB sizes. They even offer free installation with the purchase of a drive. Our drive of choice was the Toshiba 80GB MK8009GAH which sells for around $240.
The 80GB Zune has the exact same dimensions as the 30GB Zune, unlike the 80GB iPod which is larger than it's 30GB version. Since there is room inside for a larger hard drive, why aren't they being sold at retail stores? There are 2 possible answers to that question.
In order to install the thicker 80GB drive a protective metal casing must be removed from inside the Zune. This casing shields the drive against crushing forces that may occur when the drive is stepped on, sat on, or otherwise abused. The Zune design team may have felt removing this piece would jeopardize the structural integrity of the player. On the other hand, perhaps they kept the drive small to allow for a lower price point and a future development path for a larger capacity Zune 2.0 device.
The stock 30GB Zune holds over 7000 tracks of music which is not shabby, but movies take up a lot more space than mp3's. A 30GB Zune may hold around 25 full length movies at best.
The 80GB Zune can hold around 70 full length movies. Another thing to consider is that the Zune pass subscription allows for "all you can eat" music downloads. The larger capacity drive allows you to to really go overboard at the music buffet. Finally, with a registry tweak the Zune can be used as a mass storage device and could double as an off site backup for your PC.
For those who like to tinker, we'll go through the steps of installing a new hard drive. It's actually quite easy. Zune Scene is not reponsible for any damage or loss of warranty to your device, DO THIS AT YOUR OWN RISK. Grab an extra small phillips and flathead screwdriver. Start by popping out the the metal piece at the USB port.
Removing the piece exposes 2 small phillips screws. Be careful not to lose them.
We didn't use a magnetic screwdriver, but it would have made things easier. Remove the 2 srews.
Use the flathead to pry open the case, start at the bottom. The case will appear to hinge at the top once it's opened at a 15 degree angle. Just wiggle it a little bit to get the top off.
Next remove the 2 ribbon cables at the bottom of the Zune, just loosen the brown connector and they slide out. One leads to the battery the other to the directional pad.
Remove 2 phillips screws at the bottom of the player. These hold the drive case to the printed circuit board. They are a little bit longer than the other two screws so don't mix them up.
Finally peel back any stickers holding the drive and remove it from the Zune. Peel back the stickers holding the drive to it's protective casing and discard the casing.
Replace the old drive with the new one. Keep the rubber pads on the left and right. (If you are installing a 30GB or 40GB drive you should keep the protective metal casing.) Put everything back together and turn the device on.
Installing the firmware is a cakewalk. Instructions are provided right on your Zune. Step 1 says plug it in to your PC.
At this point a message will open on the PC saying it's time to update the firmware. Step 2 is to proceed with the update. The whole process may take 3-5 minutes.
Check the storage capacity of the device, it should have 74GB of free space. Congratulations, you may be one of a few people in the world with a 80GB Zune. If you ever get social with the Zune, think of all the squirts you can receive, with room to spare. The Zune 80 review is brought to you by our lead editor at Zune Scene.