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Review: Hands On With Zune HD

Introduction

The Zune’s slow march towards portable media player supremacy just got some real traction. The Zune HD may finally give Apple cause for worry-- the device will redraw the battlefield for personal media players. Apple's iPod Touch, however, remains very competitive.

To those who've gone Apple, does the Zune HD sport enough goodies to make the Apple faithful flock to the dark side? We tested the Zune HD and the new Zune software to find out.

Take a quick look at the specs of both the Zune HD and the latest iPod Touch:

Specification
Zune HD
iPod Touch 3G
Size
4"x2.1"x.4"4.3"x2.4"x.33"
Weight
2.6 oz.4.05 oz.
Screen Size
3.3"3.5"
Screen Type
OLED (Active, Color)LCD (Active, Color, Backlit)
Touch Screen
CapacitiveCapacitive
Resolution
480x272480x320
Aspect Ratio
16:9 Widescreen3:2
Storage
16/32 GB32/64 GB
Audio Codec Support
MP3, AAC, WMAAAC MP3 WAV
Video Codec Support
h.264/AVC, MPEG-4, WMVh.264/AVC, MPEG-4, Quicktime
Picture Format Support
HD Photo, JPEGBMP, GIF, JPEG, PNG, TIFF
WiFi
802.11 b, g802.11 b, g
Wireless Sync
Yes
No
Bluetooth
None
2.1 + EDR
Radio Tuner
HD Radio, FMNone
Video Output
HDMI, RCANone
Price
$219.99/289.99$299/399
Speakers
None
Mono

Based on the specs, these seem like two very similar devices. But, it’s what’s on the inside that counts, and the inside of the Zune HD is very nice and shiny and gives the iPod Touch a run for the money. A 3.3” OLED display produces brilliant picture quality and colors and is much more enjoyable for watching video than the Touch, even with its smaller size. It’s also wide-screen, albeit at a strange 480x272 resolution, which means HD content won’t be letterboxed.

The main difference between the two devices is the hardware. Running on the new Zune is Nvidia’s Tegra, a chipset with imbedded CPU, GPU, and memory. With it, all graphic-intensive applications work faster than we’ve seen on competing devices. Even the iPhone 3GS feels slow in comparison. The speed of simply turning pictures back and forth between portrait and landscape is remarkable. Instantaneous shifting of pictures and applications, as well as instant touch applications such as pinching to zoom in and out give the Zune HD unmatched speed.

Beyond the bright and rich screen and top-notch processing power, the Zune HD represents a different take on the personal media player. For once, it is Microsoft that wants us to think differently. (Yes, that was Apple’s slogan a few years back). How is Microsoft actually accomplishing this? By giving users a new way to organize media and a never-ending catalog of media to sort through. We’ll take a look at how the company made this possible, but first, let’s see how the Zune HD design stands up to Apple’s best.