Second Generation MS Zune Review

by Michael Kwan on January 9, 2009

User Interface and Performance

MS Zune

With the first generation Microsoft Zune, the menu took up very little space on the otherwise large display. This seemed like such a waste, because many users would just end up squinting their eyes. For the second-gen Zune, Microsoft decided to make things a lot bigger and a lot easier to read. This makes the menu a little more “in your face”, but it works quite well. I just wish that the currently highlighted menu item was highlighted a little better.

In terms of navigating through the menu, it’s great that Microsoft abandoned the clunky five-way navigator that they had on the original unit and replaced it with what they call the Zune Pad. This touch-sensitive pad allows users to swipe their fingers across its surface, quickly scrolling through playlists and other menu items. While listening to a song, a quick upward swipe results in an increase in volume. Realistically, these motions produce the same results as holding down the various edges. That’s because the Zune Pad still functions as a conventional five-way navigator. It’s the best of both worlds, you could say. Just don’t try to use circular motions a la the iPod click wheel; the Zune Pad is linear in nature.

MS Zune

Beyond the Zune Pad are two other buttons. The one on the left represents “back” and gets you to the previous screen. The one on the right represents “play/pause” and is used, surprisingly enough, for playing and pausing. Confirming a menu selection is not done with this button. Instead, you do that by pressing the center of the Zune Pad. Unlike other touch sensitive controls, the Zune Pad actually offers the “click” of a real button. Very nice.

Although the new Zune comes with some great headphones, I found it strange that there is no ability to adjust the equalizer settings. This is a little disheartening, especially since most users prefer different settings for the Smashing Pumpkins compared to Kanye West or Michael Buble. Other than this, getting through the menu was reasonably straightforward and included a lot of very large album art.

Watching videos on the landscape-oriented display (hold the Zune sideways) was quite enjoyable, but the QVGA resolution really doesn’t cut it for a screen this size. It would have hurt the battery life, but a VGA resolution would have done wonders. I do like how they used scratch-resistant glass for the screen, which is much better than the plastic wonders found on some other players.

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