Zune 3 software and firmware review


Well, yesterday Microsoft released the fall updates to Zune.  Along with new players, they released new desktop software and device firmware.  The new firmware works on ALL Zunes, from the 30gb on up.  I downloaded the software and had it installed on both the desktop and device in about a half hour.  The desktop software is a big improvement over the previous versions.  It feels snappier and does not bog down my computer like version 2 so often did.  The software contains numerous improvements, some are very subtle while others are quite noticeable.  For example, there is now an option to allow a manual sync, where you would add and remove content individually-something that many had asked for.  Likewise, a more obvious change is the addition of channels.  Channels are customized playlists.  There are canned channels from the Marketplace as well as some of Microsoft’s music partners.  There are also channels that are tailored to your musical taste.  For me, the feature seems to work well, but I’ve only played with it a short time. Another visible change is the addition of the Mix View.  Mix View takes the currently playing track and displays similar music-either music influenced by the playing track or group or that influenced them.  This also seems to work well and seems to be a great way to find new music.  It works best if you have a Zune Pass.  The overall GUI seems a bit sharper and there are quite a few graphical enhancements.  It looks great.

The Marketplace has a new feature called ‘Picks’.  Picks, like Mix View and your custom channels, is a place where you can find music that is, again, tailored to your tastes.  I’m a bit concerned that it put Jordin Sparks in a big photo on my page.  While I have nothing against her personally, I cannot remember ever listening to her music and did not think my taste reflected her style.  Hmm…

One thing I have noticed is that the new software takes ALOT of memory.  Way more than I ever noticed before.  As long as it works, I’m ok with it.

An interesting thing I noticed for the device setup under conversion, was a setting to optimize videos for the device or for television playback from the device.  I have not yet connected the Zune to my TV to see if it makes any difference.  Gonna try that later.

The device firmware has many subtle changes and a few big changes.  The biggest change is the ability to purchase and download musical content wirelessly.  It is about time they added this feature.  Where’s the browser?  Other big changes include games and FM tagging.  FM tagging requires local radio stations be broadcasting a special signal that contains meta data about the station and currently playing song.  Clear Channel has pledged support as have several other radio station owners.  This feature, while implemented in Zune, is not unique to Zune.  RDS has been around for awhile now.  I think Microsoft may be the first company to utilize in this manner.  The games include Hexic and Texas Hold ‘em Poker.  Poker is very cool and surprising easy to use.

The firmware now includes a clock, though you have to set it manually-which I found just odd.  But, it is there and that should placate many Zune users. Other smaller additions include full descriptions for podcasts, multiple network setup (necessary for hotspot use), your Zune card can now be sent to friends, send podcasts (this might have available before, I don’t recall), a played status and you are told if you have subscribed to the podcast or not.

There are many more features in both the PC software and the new firmware.  Overall, I think the changes are for the better and Microsoft has hit a home run with them.

Stay tuned for my post on my POST UPGRADE WOES.  What an adventure that was/is.


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