Saturday, November 21, 2009

Zune HD 16GB Review

After getting my Zune HD I was surprised that it was actually smaller than expected. It was only inches bigger than the iPod Nano (1st gen). The Zune HD is solidly built device. The screen is slightly smaller than the iPod Touch and was prone to smudges. Overall, this is looking different (in every way) from the Zune 30 that I originally own…

Read the full review (with photos) after the jump or watch the unboxing here.

Display - Vibrantly colorful

The Zune HD's 3.3 inch glass OLED screen is one of the best screens I have ever seen. Really. Blacks are blacks and the colors are so alive and vibrant.

However, The rendering of the graphics and text are a little bit sharp on some and some have blurry edges (like anti-aliased). I find the resolution of the iPod Touch more manageable and cleaner than that of the Zune HD. I don't really know why. The iPod Touch looks more natural too me, maybe because of the Zune HD's high contrast rendering of some sort. (the colors looked like it was rendered in high contrast).

Both devices below was shot at the same time, on the same lighting.

The iPod Touch is a little better in terms of detail while the Zune smoothens and somewhat artificially improves the colors and quality of the image making it look great at the expense of it not being color accurate. Gradients also seem to have discolorations and “halo” effect on some images.

When it comes to color quality in person, the Zune HD obviously still beats the iPod Touch. When watching movies and videos, the Zune HD also comes on top. The colors just pop right out of the screen but the display is not consistent with the colors that you would see on your PC.

The Zune HD's resolution is 480 x 272 @ 167 PPI (pixels per inch) while the iPod Touch has 480x320 @ 163 ppi.

User Interface - Icons or no icons?

The Zune HD's interface is similar to past Zune UI which relies on text rather than buttons and other graphics. this straightforward approach is beauty and complexity going along well.

On my first days of use, I had a hard time figuring out what was clickable and what wasn't on Zune HD's interface. I fumbled around the volume controls which requires me to tap the EXIT text on the upper left corner for it to disappear (what came to me naturally was just tapping the screen again to remove it but it didn't work that way)

I also later found out that I can actually click the name of the artist playing to see more info about her (biography, photos, other albums). It didn't occur to me that the name is actually clickable. Unlike on web pages where a link is underlined or in a different color, the Zune HD interface uses only white standard texts for all, clickable or not. That makes it quite confusing at first.

Also, I was initially wondering how to go to a certain point in a track. (ex: 1:23) It wasn't clear in the interface how to do that. the solution I found on the net was that I had to tap the screen (or click the left button) to show the volume and playback controls and from there I'd have to hold the right or left arrow to fast forward. I would appreciate if a slider was available similar to the one found when watching videos.

The interface takes time to get used too but it has its own style and function altogether.

On Zune HD’s New Features

Quick Links - (PLAYING, PINS, HISTORY and NEW) is an intuitive way to view your new files and previous history on the Zune HD. May it be your radio station, last song played, last video seen, last website visited, last app opened, it is all there on the history. It enables access to your common tasks on the device.

3D Feel - I also like the fine details placed like 3D effect of the menu when the device is tilted from side to side. You can actually notice the menu shifting place like as if it was in a 3D space.

Compelling Extras - Features like Artist Bios, Photos and Albums are nice additions that complement the whole music listening experience especially if you have the Zune Pass.

Apps - You get what you don't pay for

The Zune HD is a great multimedia player. It is excellent for music aficionados who like to discover new music thru the Zune Pass. It is also perfect for movie enthusiasts who likes to bring their HD movie collections anywhere. However, one thing it isn't is that it is not a pocket computer like the iPod Touch. This is where the apps come in and try.

Zune HD apps are already available for free. Right now there is a weather app, a calculator app, and a couple of games. The apps load mini ads during launch and have painfully slow startup and exit time. The ads are somewhat justified because you essentially don't pay for anything so the least they could do to is show you Microsoft ads.

Apps also have no consistent look between each other which for me makes the Zune HD apps “ugly” compared to the iPod Touch. Any how it is understandable because there's no official released API for the Zune HD. There’s no 3D support either for it’s XNA code. What a waste of Tegra power developers can’t maximize.

The apps are moderately good for the extra feature. The games are decent and the graphics are quite good but not what I had expected for a Tegra-powered device ( I expected for it to look better than the iPod Touch). But I really can't complain for something that is free and a nice addition to a great device. So bring in that Twitter and Facebook app please :)

Browser - it's still IE

The browser is a dumb-down version of mobile Internet Explorer. It isn't even IE7 but IE6 engine. Don't expect to be able to do tabbed-browsing on this browser as it only offers basic search and bookmarking features. Text rendering is also not that good compared to Mobile Safari but it's also not bad. No Flash support also.

You can also see the rendering of the gradient results in a “halo” effect which may have been caused by over-contrasting image. The iPod Touch does not have that halo effect.

The keyboard is very easy to type on. The auto fill also works flawlessly. The loading times per site have improved on the recent firmware update while Bing search proved to be a very good search service integrated within the Zune HD browser. You won't be surfing online for hours using the built-in browser. Just enough to check out common sites like Facebook and Twitter from time-to-time.


  • Nice OLED screen
  • Intuitive and engaging interface
  • You’ll get to know more about the artist and album via Zune Marketplace info database (photos and bios)
  • Very good multi-touch features
  • Free apps / games


  • Not color accurate with what you see on your PC
  • Slow loading and exiting of apps
  • IE browser is somewhat lacking
  • Poor codec support (again)
  • Slow response time on random occasions especially when coming out from standby mode.


Comparing the Zune HD to the iPod Touch is inevitable. both are multi-touch music device but the Zune HD is more of a media-centric device while the iPod touch is more of a PDA. The Zune HD is a cable music and media player that is surely a threat to iPod in the music and video arena.

Despite the displays strong contrast it still manages to wow me every time I upload a new photo and see it on the gorgeous OLED display. The color may be different from my computer but the Zune HD manages to make my photos brighter crisper and more colorful.

I would recommend getting a Zune HD only if you’re going to use it for music and HD video. If you need to check emails, add calendar notes and surf the web longer I suggest you get an iPod Touch, or for that matter, a real computer.

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