Dude, you got a Zune?

Why yes, I did.

In the words of Jim Newkirk, I "drank the Kool-Aid" and picked one up.  Rarely have I seen such a fascinating launch of a product from Microsoft--it's certainly the most interesting in my 5+ years here.  The first thing everyone does is compare it to the iPod (fair) and proclaim that it's a failure because it doesn't completely measure up (not fair, at least IMHO).  Personally, I spent a lot of time debating whether I'd get one or not.  I definitely wanted to get a portable video player and was stuck between choosing the iPod, Zen, and Zune.  Now, I do try to support Microsoft whenever possible, but rarely do I get something only for that reason.   I didn't get a PocketPC Phone when it first came out (even though I really wanted one) as it was too rich for my blood compared to how much use I'd get out of it.  I still haven't gotten an XBox 360.  So the Zune was definitely not a guarantee.  Talking to people in and out of Microsoft, I didn't have anyone saying "you DEFINITELY have to get one" (as opposed to an XBox 360).  Of course, I don't know anyone on the Zune team and maybe they could've been persuasive.  I was close to giving up on the Zune until I started looking at the criticisms and tried to figure out which ones I cared about.  Here were the big strikes against Zune and why I personally didn't care:

  • Doesn't work with Plays For Sure - I didn't really have much PFS content anyway and I can always burn those songs to CDs and re-rip them (a pain, but I did that for my iPod).
  • iTunes is still better - I never really cared for iTunes.  In fact, I've never been compelled to buy anything off it, though I've browsed.
  • It's bigger than the iPod! -- If I was trying to buy a Nano vs. Nano-clone, this would've made a difference.  And I am still a fan of the Nano, which I will keep for running and when I want something that fits in my pocket.  But making a stink for the extra ounce and surface area is a little like complaining about gas mileage differences when comparing SUVs--it's important, but it's secondary or else you'd be buying a Prius (or in this case, a Nano or Sansa).  I already have my Nano and now I want something with more capabilities that I can throw in my bag for the commute or the long plane ride.
  • Doesn't work with Vista - I trust that it will when I am in a position to put Vista on my home computer (in the new year).  For now, only my work computer has Vista RTM (which, BTW, I have been really enjoying since installing yesterday) and I don't use that for digital audio anyway. 

So I wasn't bothered by some of the complaints tossed about.  Of course, with some of the scathing reviews on the Zune, the one challenged "why would anyone buy a Zune over an iPod?"  Fair question.  FWIW, here's what I was thinking:

  • Bigger Screen - I can't believe this isn't a bigger deal for people.  The iPod and Zen screens are 2.5" where the Zune is 3".  Technically, the difference in ratios is the same as a 30" screen over a 25" screen.  That's a lot!  I don't care about the resolution being the same because the picture still looks great.  I watched "Vince Young: Next Level" yesterday on the way to work and it looked great (and I could actually tell the difference between Vince Young and Mario Williams!).
  • ZunePass - It really has to do with my love of Canadian women.  Before my wife gets worried, allow me to re-phrase that.  Two albums that I've been thinking about this Christmas are Sarah Machlachan's "Wintersong" and Nelly Furtado's "Loose".  The fact is, I'll likely spend the next month listening to them quite a bit.  But the season will pass and the Sarah Machlachlan holiday music won't sound as good in January.  As for Nelly Furtado, I love her evolution to hip-hop lady and I am amazed at how well her work with Timbaland turned out, but I think my appreciation is only going to last so long before I move on to something else.  For albums that end up being flavors-of-the-month, I hate to drop $10.   With ZunePass, I can enjoy and discard.  With the albums I know I'll love for years (like the latest Audioslave), I'd buy the CD anyway as it doesn't cost me any more than iTunes and gives me the maximum flexibility.  With the CDs that I might like, I can spend some time getting used to it before taking the plunge (like Death Cab for Cutie's latest, which I couldn't get into despite the fact that I loved the first single).  I had been doing this with Napster and you can extend that service to certain devices, but having a dedicated device optimized to a specific service is preferable.  And, of course, you can't do this at all with an iPod.
  • FM Radio - Sometimes, you want someone else controlling the playlist  I always liked this about the Zen and was surprised that the iPod didn't have it.  I won't use it a ton, but in case I need a little NPR to make me smarter after one too many listens to Eminem, I have the option.
  • The Future - I love the guy that thinks the Zune is dead in six months.  Is that really possible?  I suppose anything is possible, but it reminds me a little of rumors going around with customers 3-5 years ago that .NET was going to be ditched (customers honestly approached me with that fear after reading some goofy articles).  You just don't make a bet as big as that and drop it so quickly.  Frankly, anyone inside Microsoft that thought we would jump in and eliminate the iPod is delusional.  They were anxious to get it out for the holidays.  But what about 2007?  I've heard rumors about what's next for Zune.  I've seen a couple of confidential things.  To this Chicago Sun-Times writer, I'd remind him that the game is barely in the second quarter and he shouldn't head home yet.  Just ask my Tennessee Titans. :)

So, here I sit on the bus for my evening commute and the Zune blaring away.  I'm not saying it was an obvious decision and the 10% employee discount helped.  Plus, I don't know about Zune software installation issues (mine worked perfectly and I had much bigger problems with the iTunes installation where it kept adding additional modules and I had to roll back twice).  As for the Wi-Fi sharing, maybe I'll care about that someday, but that didn't really sway me.  After all, I'm still surrounded by iPod users (maybe Joe will "squirt" me some songs if we make him happy with our next version of Forums).  But I truly do believe the Zune is legit and worth consideration.  And if the guy from the Chicago Sun-Times is right and it'll be dead in six months, then I will happily use it for a couple of years and then sell it on eBay to a collector (the same way someone sold me an Apple Cube two years ago).  I can't lose!


{Garden State Soundtrack (on my Zune)}