Zune HD Does Touch With Some Twists

Microsoft revamps its mp3 player with the new Zune HD.

ByABC News
September 29, 2009, 6:41 PM

Sept. 30, 2009— -- Microsoft's Zune was a latecomer to the MP3 space, arriving on the scene long after Apple had established dominance with its iPod.

Its first iteration was much thicker than the iPod, didn't support many of the media types that the iPod could, and had a far inferior navigation control to Apple's scroll wheel.

And yet, Microsoft had features in that initial product that would come eventually to the iPod, including a larger screen, integrated FM radio, and Wi-Fi.

Microsoft closed the gap even further with its second-generation Zune, whih included a smaller, sleeker flash version and a touch-sensitive control pad nicknamed the "squircle" for its rounded corners, but Apple changed the game and pulled far ahead again with its iPod touch, which brought most of the functionality of its popular iPhone to an iPod.

Now, Microsoft is back with the Zune HD, a slim flash memory device with a tapered, brushed aluminum back and a touchscreen that can respond to multi-finger gestures such as "pinching" to zoom out of a photo.

The Zune HD's screen is smaller than the iPod touch's, but it uses a new display technology called OLED, which provides for crisp, eye-popping colors. However, the screen itself can't display high-definition video. For that, you'll have to connect the Zune to an HDTV with a separate docking accessory.

The "HD" in Zune HD also stands for HD radio, an upgrade from the initial model's FM radio that offers better sound quality and more stations without subscription fees.

The Zune can even detect songs being played on the radio and have them downloaded for you. However, as with earlier models, you must be using the earbuds that Microsoft supplies to receive radio signals as they include the antenna. Fortunately, the earbuds are pretty respectable.

On paper, the Zune HD sounds like a copycat of the iPod touch, with a button below the screen, a side-mounted button (which would be more effective as a split volume control as it is in the iPod touch), and a top-mounted power/display toggle button. But the user interface of the Zune HD is as quite different from that of Apple's touchscreen iPod (as well as previous Zunes).