The unthinkable happened… why I love my Zune, and what is my dilemma

I recently got back from a two week trip, and the “unthinkable” happened. Four weeks ago, when I was packing my luggage, I noticed that I couldn’t find the cable for my Zune. I had my Zune … but no cable? I started panicking: a two week trip without my third most trusted companion? What were my options?

My first thought was to search the whole house, again. No luck. Then I tried to bribe my kids: “if you find my cable I will get you a cool XBOX 360 game.” That didn’t work either. Then I started to look for a replacement cable. Way too expensive considering the price of the Zune.

I ended up leaving my Zune behind. What a pain. Instead, I brought an older MP3 player, one with a USB adaptor built in and one that would work on regular AAA batteries. That’s when I realized how much I missed my Zune.

My Zune and the software that comes along with. As I wrote earlier, I listen mostly to podcasts. My Zune software is configured to download particular podcasts and my Zune, through the Zune software, is configured to only retain the 3 most recent unplayed or partially listened to podcasts (for each particular podcast series). I just plug my Zune in every day (or other day) and receive new podcasts I haven’t listened to. Older content is erased transparently.

I was back to the dark ages. I had to drag and drop podcast files. I had to see what files were new and what files were old. I had to make room for newer files because my old MP3 player only had 512 megs. What a torture. On top of that, the Zune has a special menu and way to show podcasts. For example, they are sorted showing the most recent file first. There are classified by podcast. When you do ‘back’ or ‘next’ (i.e. rewind and fast forward), it will skip to 1/4 of the file, 1/2 of the file or 3/4 of the file depending of where you are. This is much better than say skipping to the next song, something you would want to do if you were listening to music. Anyways, if it wasn’t clear enough before, it became perfectly clear that the Zune was the most convenient MP3 player I had ever used.

Now here comes my dilemma. My mother also wants to get an mp3 player to listen to podcasts. I definitely think the Zune is the best choice, but the Zune HD is just around the corner. I am considering upgrading, but the form factor of the my Zune 8G is simply too practical. Then again, when I gain access to a device that will have better Internet support, how long before I realize upgrading was the right thing to do?

And for those wondering where my Zune cable was, I had already packed it in my suitcase. I discovered that the moment I opened my luggage when I arrived at my destination.

My Zune love hate relationship, part 2

In my previous blog entry I was discussing three things I didn’t like about my Zune. Let me now go to the next one, namely the wireless portion.

When I purchased my Zune, that was THE feature I was looking for. I thought that connecting my player to retrieve my podcast was a thing of the past. I think that I was clearly mistaken.

First, as an aside, you need to connect your Zune to recharge it. Clearly, the likelihood of a doing at the same time is greatly increased, especially if it’s your laptop you are connecting to.

But besides that, I encountered a few problems. Wireless syncing is really configured by doing a triple pairing: you zune, one computer and one wireless setting. My laptop moves around. I am not always connected to the same wireless network. To make things worse, the wireless connection at my university was not supported because of the authentication model used there (web page or WPA2 with domain authentication). So wireless syncing at my university was not an option. At home, it would not always work. Often my computer was not detected. And when it did work, speed was horrible. While wireless syncing might work for small deltas, if the goal is to receive 100 meg of podcast, even over 802.11g, it takes a LONG time. Much longer than say looking for my USB cable, hooking up my Zune and syncing. And connecting my USB cable was more likely to work. So for all there reason, I ended up not using that feature.

I think if Microsoft wants the wireless to really work, they should allow you to sync to your library through the internet. This would be similar to the kind of technology Orb supports. Your files are accessible through the web (even though they are stored at home). And you can access them from anywhere. This would make wireless syncing useful.

(and on a side note, if you have never tried Orb, you should do it now! It allows you to see your music, video and picture media from just about everywhere)

Stay tuned for part 3 of this Zune series

My Zune love hate relationship, part 1

Believe it or not, I moved from a Creative Muvo TX FM 256 Meg to a Microsoft Zune 8gb player only in…. 2008! No iPods, no Creative Zens or Sensa players in between. The jump was relatively brutal, and definitely good.

Before I go to my evaluation of the Zune, let me just state how I was using my MP3 player. I would use my Muvo to listen mostly to podcasts. The Muvo was great in this department, particularly because it could play only one track at a time, and not go to the next song. Fast forwarding was exponential (slow at first, then would get faster), and the Muvo would retain my position if I turned it off. Finally, batteries were easy to swap out (so I always had a spare AAA battery) and the player was really small.

Last year, my friend convinced me to get a Zune. One feature that really pushed me to get one was the wireless syncing. I thought that, with my podcasts, it would be a feature I would always use, since new podcasts were released every day.

So what’s the verdict? I can’t live without my Zune, but I certainly wouldn’t mind a Zune player that really got the job done. Here is a list of things I really hate about the Zune, some of which are not necessarily the Zune’s fault, but are certainly annoying.

Constant crashes

I think there are few things I hate more than my Zune crashing (more than that, there would be Vista crashing and my car crashing). I’m not sure if iPods crash as often, but it sure is annoying. At the very least, maybe Microsoft should regularly save what you were listening to so that upon resuming, the player would start back at the same spot. Even would be not to crash, but that might asking for too much.

Losing my Zune player/Zune desktop connection

This happened to me too many times (at least twice). I connect my Zune to my computer and the Zune software thinks it’s a new player it has never seen. I then have to waste tons of time resynchronizing my player and reconfiguring all my podcasts settings (how many to keep in my player, etc.). Part of this seems to come from the fact that the Zune (like an iPod) is a one way street, where data goes in but never seems to really come out.

The Zune cable

This was the thing I dreaded the most. With my Muvo, I could connect my player to any computer without the need for a cable. It was very convenient. With the Zune, you need a cable. Now granted, all MP3 players of this type require a cable, so the problem isn’t just with the Zune. But here was the second problem. The Zune cable is proprietary. Which means it’s worth as much as my Zune if I lose it. No cable? No Zune. I’m not sure why, but Microsoft should have found a way to use the same connector as the iPod, which would have given me access to dozens of peripherals and more competitive pricing. Microsoft has always made compatibility a priority, I am not sure why they didn’t embrace the iPod connector, even with the potential lawsuit attached to it.

Stay tuned for part 2…

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