Zune 80GB and Zune 8GB Review: Microsoft Master Digital Music

Back when a new line of Zune digital media players was announced, the addition of a flash-based model grabbed all the headlines. But now that the products are here, the real show stealer is the Zune 80GB hard disk device. For the same price ($250) as the 80GB iPod classic, the Zune 80GB offers a much larger screen, FM radio, wireless player-to-player sharing. Wi-Fi syncing with your PC, and a rear panel that can be customized with some cool- and free- artwork. To put it simply, Apple is no longer the leader in the hard drive player realm. While the Zune 80GB and the iPod Classic are both outstanding, the Zune has more features- and it’s more fun.

The Zune 8GB (also available in a 4GB version), Microsoft’s first flash-based player, doesn’t fare as well. The iPod nano is a better bet, with a larger screen in a much smaller frame. While the Zune’s new user interface looks spectacular and navigates smoothly on the 80GB player, the flash-based Zune models are riddled with jumpy menu navigation and delayed responses. My biggest complaint, however, is the minuscule 1.8-inch screen.

The newly designed Zune Marketplace-Microsoft’s answer to iTunes- is a big reason to buy a Zune player. Full of links to artist bios, band photos, and discographies, it makes iTunes seem like a big, boring spreadsheet. It's got some fun interactive features, and there are lots of other goodies, too: DRM-free songs and a $15 per month all-the-music-you-can-download plan. (One major bummer is the lack of video programming.)

One of the coolest features of both Zune players is wireless syncing. After a short setup, your Zune can use your wireless network to sync with your PC’s music and video library, which is something no Apple player offers. Microsoft didn’t have its act together in time for the launch, however: Until the company issues a firmware upgrade, which wasn’t yet available at press time, users must connect their PCs to their routers via Ethernet cable in order to load the Zune wirelessly. Microsoft claims the firmware update should be ready by the time most folks unbox a new Zune.

Overall, the Zune 80GB is a good-looking, feature-loaded device that bests the iPod classic, while the Zune 8GB isn’t nearly as compelling as the iPod nano. Neither of these players, however, touches the iPod touch.

Zune 80GB and Zune 8GB Review
Price range: 80GB,$250; 8GB, $200; 4GB,$150

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