User Interface: The user interface is the second most important feature (after the display) for making the Zune stand out. The large center button can be pushed in 4 directions (left, right , up, down) or pressed straight down. Anyone who can use a web browser can operate the Zune.The layout is really minimalist, we observed many people at the LA preview picking up and using the device for the first time without asking any questions or looking for instructions. The menus have a sleek animation from one screen to another that gives the Zune a modern edgy feel, and personalized background pictures stay visible during navigation.
Sharing: The award for most unique feature on the Zune goes to the Wi-Fi functionality. The official range is 30 feet but this is a conservative number, we've already done tests beyond 50 feet. Users can detect who has a Zune in range and then transfer songs, entire albums, and even photos to other Zunes. The recipient is prompted to accept or deny the incoming files. To preserve copyrights, transferred songs can only be played 3 times, then data is automatically deleted. Although the track gets deleted, it can be flagged, in which case the Zune remembers all the details of the track and can fetch it from the Zune Marketplace in a legal and permanent manner.
Feel: The Zune is not slippery. It actually has a matte finish on a special 80 durometer plastic that feels neither hard nor rubbery. A lot of the "softness" comes from the finish texture rather than the material properties. The best part about the outer shell is that it's nearly scratch proof. Dig your nails into it and see what happens. We did our best to scratch the test unit but without any success.
Appearance: The players are not shiny like most consumer electronics lining the shelves these days, and that seems to give them some personality. Although the brown Zune is quite popular with pre-orders, we couldn't get ourselves to like it. The secondary (double shot) colors are not really dominant, they are more of a detail than a color scheme. The dark chrome border around the display and black button is a huge plus for all three colors and without them Zune would be aesthetically lost. The devices look better in person than photos (kind of like most people) and the best thing about them is that they are unique. It's impossible to mistake a Zune for any other player.
Media: The Zune sports a 30GB hard drive capable of storing thousands of songs, images and videos. The hard drive cannot be used as a memory stick for storing and retrieving word documents, zip files, and other such data. This is by far the biggest drawback of the player considering most competing devices are recognized as mass storage drives by computers. FM radio is integrated into the Zune including the ability to gather track info from the airwaves and display it in real time.
Sound: The sound quality of the device is 100% dependent on the headphones used, not so much the player. The standard ear buds are exactly that, standard. They look great, and sound as good as any earbuds on the market, but to get the most out of the player consider upgrading. We actually don't recommend the Zune Premium Earphones either unless you are limited for space. If sound quality is a must, consider blowing $300 on some nice headphones with active noise canceling.
Service: Zune marketplace launches with over 2 million songs and offers 2 options for enthusiasts. Songs can be purchased for about 99 cents or a subscription for infinite downloads can be had for 14.99. Individuals with an existing collection of ripped CD tracks or illegally downloaded music may choose not to participate in the marketplace at all. The Zune will play and even share songs from other sources. The ability of Zune software to fetch album art for ripped and illegal music is nothing short of fantastic. Be aware, however, that songs purchased from iTunes are protected with strict DRM codes and cannot be played in the Zune or any other non-Apple device.
Value: The Zune is priced at $249 and quite simply has more features and functionality than any other player in that price range. A comparison chart is available for line by line evaluation with iPod.
Conclusion: Based on features, Zune is the premiere player available on the market today. It has already pressured other manufacturers to drop their prices in an attempt to remain competitive. Expect to see the mp3 category heat up over the next few years as the competition scrambles to add larger screens and Wi-Fi connectivity. The mp3 player is the first Zune branded device to be released, expect to see more Zune products in the future including the Zunephone and Zunegamer among others.
You can read more reviews by 100 Zune owners at ZuneScene.