SAN JOSE, Calif. There's only one thing I really don't like about the Microsoft Zune HD media player I have had for review the last several days—the software.
The Windows giant's latest answer to the iTouch is a reasonable alternative to Apple's top-of-the-line iPod player. But users need to be willing to climb what were for me some pretty steep and frustrating hurdles in setting up and figuring out how to use the Microsoft device.
I was thrilled at first to get my hands on the Zune HD. As a happy veteran user of low-end MP3 players, I longed to explore a media device with all the bells and whistles.
The Zune HD gave me a tempting come on. The packaging was both stylish and elegantly simple. A one-page guide mapped out three seemingly easy steps to getting started and a handful of tips on advanced tricks.
The device itself was gadget chocolate. I have never owned anything so small and svelte with so many features—it plays music, videos, HD radio, shows videos, connects via Wi-Fi, runs apps and packs a whopping 13 Gbytes of storage.
|The Zune HD is amazingly slender given all its features.|
The industrial design is almost all screen, the largest and most luscious mobile screen I every carried in my palm, capable of 720-progressive resolution. In an implicit promise of ease-of-use, the Zune HD sports just three buttons—one to turn it on/off, one to take you to a menu and an option button.
The case sports recessed bevels, one with an inscription "Hello from Seattle." It felt like the designers had enough flair to do their job and even throw away a couple extra millimeters in a gesture of grace under pressure.
My review model came from Nvidia, giddy to have its new ARM-based Tegra designed into such a high-profile device. Unconsciously I gave Microsoft credit for designing this sliver of a system packed with capabilities and doing it on a processor relatively new to Redmond's engineers.
Then I turned it on. Ah yes, this screen was going to be lovely I could tell from the canned video and pictures. Too bad there was no music pre-loaded for me to listen to, I thought.
I decided to link it to my home Wi-Fi network so I could grab a quick song and test it out. Hmmm, must connect to the PC first. That doesn't feel right.
Ah, I thought, let's turn on the HD Radio. Same message: Connect to PC first. What the @#$%^?
So somewhat reluctantly I turned to the simple one-page guide. Step one: go to zune.com on your PC and download the Zune software. Step two: synch the device with your PC.
Gee, I don't recall ever needing to do that with my Creative Labs Zen Stone or the SanDisk Sansa Clip I bought recently after the Zen Stone finally died after years of abuse. You just plugged the devices into a USB port on your PC and they were generally recognized right away—or after some futzing—after which you could treat them like a USB drive.
Oh well, I thought, what's so bad about needing to download Microsoft's version of iTunes before I get my new Zune going. Little did I see I was headed down a long and painful journey into the woes of Windows.