A non-musical geek’s first impressions of the Zune HD

imageOf course I ordered the Zune HD. Did you think I could resist the “come hither” siren song of the latest, greatest device?

I received the Zune on its release day, Tuesday, September 15 via Amazon’s release day shipping. So I’ve now had a chance to play with it for a few days.

There are plenty of Zune HD reviews already. So I thought I’d provide a different perspective. You see, this is my first MP3 player (and the Zune HD is primarily an MP3 player). I’m not that into music (or so I thought). I don’t own a stereo system. My car radio is about as far as it goes. So did the Zune HD change my music listening habits? 

Before talking about music, a few comments about the device itself.


The Zune HD is very small and light. It’s only a bit taller than a credit card, actually fractionally smaller in width, and quite thin. It’s extremely pocketable.

Screen (I’m in love)

The Zune HD’s small size is almost entirely filled  by its screen. This 3.3” screen is about the same size as the one on my Blackberry Storm, which is a much larger device. This large screen is OLED, which means it’s very vivid. Finally, the screen is also capacitive, which means it is very responsive, comparable to an iPhone or iPod Touch.


It’s not only the screen which is responsive. The device is fast, very thanks to its Tegra processor. No lag or skips at all. The Zune HD’s speed is noticeable not just when playing music or watching videos. Browsing the internet using the built-in WiFi is surprisingly fast.

Wires (ugh)

imageOK, let’s now get to music. The sound is beautiful. Crystal clear. But … the Zune HD doesn’t have speakers. You have to listen through a headset. That’s OK. But the Zune HD doesn’t have Bluetooth. That means a wired headset. I don’t like wired headsets. The wires get in my way. And they get tangled.

I avoid tangled wires by using Zip-Linq retractable 3.5mm White Earbuds (pictured). However, the earbuds keep falling out of my ears. So I use headphones. But they do have those wires.

I can avoid the wires altogether while the Zune is connected to my computer. I can then listen to the Zune’s music through the computer’s sound system via the Zune desktop software. My problem is my computer’s sound system, while perfectly OK for audio podcasts, is inadequate for music. Yeah, I know, time to upgrade.

You also are supposed to avoid wires by playing the Zune’s sound through your car’s FM radio with the Zune Premium Car Pack, an accessory that, for a mere $79.99, combines a car charger and an FM transmitter. But I can’t get the Zune’s sound to go through my car’s FM radio. Based on past experiences with other FM transmitters, I suspect this is an issue with my car. I’m working on it.

HD Radio

The Zune plays HD radio. I guess that’s why it’s called the Zune HD. Duh.

Apparently, only the Taliban and I were unaware of HD radio. It’s great! I can listen to my favorite music (mostly oldies since I’m an oldie) with great sound and few commercials. Assuming I can get an HD signal. I find that in my house, I get a signal most places upstairs, but few places downstairs. It may be a function of my home’s location in the hills, construction materials or both. I could get an HD antenna booster I guess.

Sync Dock + Other Accessories

image I’ve already mentioned the Zune Premium Car Pack. I also purchased the Zune Sync Dock. It’s a nice stand with a hard-wired sync cable to connect to my computer so I can use the desktop software + charge my Zune + listen to music on my computer.

The sync dock has a hard-wired HD Radio antenna. it works about as well as the one built into the Zune in picking up (or not) a signal.

The sync dock also has ports for HDMI and optical digital audio. I’m still scratching my head on how to use them, particularly the latter. More research I guess.

Finally, the sync dock has a wireless remote. It’s convenient since, with my cluttered work area, it’s not that easy to reach over to the Zune.

All in all, the sync dock is worth $49.99. And if your money is burning a hole in your pocket, there are other accessories. I purchased the Zune Charge Pack, which for $29.99 combines an AC adapter (with folding blades) and a sync cable which plugs into the adapter. You can also buy the sync cable separately for $19.99.  For $10 more, the charge pack may be the better deal.

Finally, there’s the Zune HD AV Dock, which for $89.99 apparently you can use to connect to your home’s media system. Since I don’t have a media system, I haven’t purchased that dock. Maybe as I get more into music.

Obtaining Music

I download music from the Zune Marketplace via the Zune desktop software. It’s easy to find and download music and sync it to the Zune. I’ve been downloading individual songs rather than albums. Cost so far has been 79 cents a song. It’s neat to be able to hear oldies that are rarely played even on oldies stations. If you’re curious, my favorites include Poor Side of Town by Johnny Rivers, Magic Moment by Jay and the Americans, Someday Soon by Judy Collins and That’s the Way that Boys are by Lesley Gore.

Apps and Games

Not much available yet. But with the Tegra processor, I have high hopes for fast action games with great video.

Changed Habits?

The Zune HD is a great music player. It’s help me rediscover my favorite music, which I rarely hear on the radio, and can’t play on my home entertainment system because … I don’t have a home entertainment system. I listen much more to my music now. And I find I work more effectively listening to music (another discovery only the Taliban and I didn’t know about).

The music leaves the Zune HD in crystal clarity. But hearing it requires a wired headset. Nevertheless, I’ll put up with the wires. Though I’m going to try to see if a 3.5 mm Bluetooth adapter will work. It’s hard to keep a good geek down!

7 Responses to “A non-musical geek’s first impressions of the Zune HD”

  • Noticed you said 79 cents per song. Typically they are 79 Microsoft Points. 80 MS Points is $1 USD.
    Enjoyed the review. I really enjoy my Zune HD and if I actually listened to more music, I’d buy the ZunePass for $15 a month.

    Regarding Apps and Games, Microsoft has announced they are working on a Project Gotham Racing title (Ferrari Edition). Also, home brew games will be popping up. Check the http:\\zuneboards.com\ as that is where the original Zune apps popped up. Note: That original Zune apps won’t work well in Zune HD. They will deploy, but the input is totally different (Touch panel instead of specific buttons).

    I written a small scribble app to demo this past weekend. It is mainly for aspiring game developers to show how to actually use the Zune Extensions API from XNA Game Studio 3.1 (which is required to create games for the Xbox 360 and the Zune). http://xnaessentials.com/archive/2009/09/20/zune-hd-scribble-test-source-code.aspx

    The Zune Sync Doc is the Zune HD AV Dock minus the cables. So if you have your own HDMI cable you can still hook it up to your home theatre system (or TV).

    Hope some of this information helps!

    Chad Carter

    • Chad, very interesting and helpful post. Thanks!

      Watched your video. You sure print better with your finger than I do. Perhaps more important, I think I will show this to my computer programming students at the community college where I teach computer science. As you might imagine, they’re very interested in game programming, so I suspect this will grab their interest!

      I’m still learning the Zune HD. Next step is to get the FM transmitter in the car charger to work so I can hear my Zune in my car.

  • Glad to hear you have discovered music and moved beyond the “banging of rocks.” Now the next step will be to have you create your own podcasts for this blog or your classes so we all can carry you around with us all the time on our mp3 players.

    • Jim, I do keep threatening my students with podcasts. Or worse, YouTube videos.

      Seriously, I think this blog would be enhanced with podcasts and/or videos. It’s on my things to do list.

  • I’m a total convert to FireFox having run IE for about 10 years! Oh well, I’m making up for lost time time now. I run about 5 add-ons inclusing Fire.FM which is just awesome! Rocking on!

  • There’re good news:

  • i have china made car chargers at home and they work well on my Honda Jazz-.*

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