Quick takes: Zune Phone wish, hhgregg and a second look at Chrome OS

Zune Phone

My ‘new’ favorite devices-for now, anyway-are my Pre and my Zune HD.  The Pre is a terrific smartphone-made somewhat less so with the last software update-and the Zune HD is a terrific media device.  Both devices have two or three functions that they do well.  The Pre is a nice phone, a good Internet browsing device and it is a competent information manager.  The Zune HD does multimedia very, very well.  It’s also a decent game playing device.  In fact, about the only thing it does not do so well-and it is the software that it is the issue here-is browse the Internet.

What if the best of both devices were in one device?  Not only would that be a dynamite device, but it would also be a true competitor to iPhone and all of the cool Android devices such as the Eris and Cliq.  Microsoft should pursue this and do it quickly.   A Zune device with the cell radio and syncing ability of the Pre could sell very well.  I look at my Zune HD and really have to wonder just what the heck Microsoft is doing.  The device is beautiful and works well.  Why not make that next logical step and make it a phone?  And why aren’t they nurturing a software eco system?  Surely, it is not because of Windows Mobile.  That battle was lost the day the iPhone was announced.  Let it go.

The chances of a real Zune Phone are, apparently, pretty slim.  All is not lost, though.  Microsoft does have plans to integrate Zune features into Windows Phone devices and software.  The Zune ‘service’ is already being rolled into XBox Live.  You can use Zune Marketplace without the device itself.  In fact, Zune is available-or will be-in so many places, that a Zune device itself is not necessary.  And that has me worried.  Zune HD is the best of the lot.  As a portable media player, it has hit its stride.  It would be a shame for Zune to end with such a great little device.  Perhaps a company, like HTC, will come out with a Zune branded device that is a phone as well.  One can hope.

hhgregg

A new store has opened in the Richmond, VA market.  Called ‘hhgregg’, the chain has been around since the 1950’s, but not in this area.  They opened two stores in the Richmond area, one of which is in a former Circuit City store. This particular store is pretty decently sized and the format of the hhgregg store makes it look bigger than it really is.  It is pretty open and appears to have a lot of merchandise.  Alas, it’s selection is not all that great and the choice of products is a bit baffling. An odd mixture of appliance and consumer electronics, the store is roughly 50/50 of each.  The appliance section is very nice and the pricing is competitive.  It  is the consumer electronics choices that I find really odd.  The company seems to focus solely on hardware.  You won’t find any Blu-Ray discs to watch in the inexpensive player they sell.  You will find only one or two video games for that Wii or XBOX 360 that you bought there.  And the only reason you find them is because they are part of a hardware bundle.  And for that new computer?  Yep, no software here.  Not even a Norton Antivirus or copy of Windows 7. Not even Office.  So, this store that wants to sell you lots of hardware, forces you to go across the street for software.  Well, if I have to do that, I’m just going to get it all there.  Nowadays, convenience often trumps price and if I can get all I need in one stop, even if it costs me a few dollars more, then I’m going to do that.

Want an iPod?  Too bad.  You’ll have to go across the street to Best Buy for one of them.  Ditto a Zune.  In fact, the only ‘name’ you will find is one Sansa. Oh, you can get a Sylvania player or some other no-name devices, all fairly cheaply, but no iPods, Zunes or Sony players.  Many of the televisions there are from the ‘lesser’ or even no-name companies. 

I have been there twice, now.  The first time was just before the grand opening.  There were many shelves that were still bare and there were tons of employees.  I’m guessing they were in training.  I got bombarded by them upon entry into the store.  Everytime I turned around, I was greeted with an oh-so-polite offer to help.  I even got a brief company history from one of them.  Problem was, I was just checking the place out.  Fast forward a week, when I actually wanted to buy something, and the story was different. 

On my second visit, I was interested in a 13 inch ‘portable’ LCD HDTV.  Now, when I see ‘portable’, I think AC/DC.  I was looking for a set that ran off of batteries as well as AC.  So, I go back to the store to buy the set.  This time, however, my experience was completely different.  NOT ONE PERSON who worked for the store offered to help or even acknowledged my presence.  To be fair, the store was very busy and there were lots of customers being helped by store employees.  However, when I actually tried to get help, I was either ignored or not heard-I am not sure which.  At any rate, I was there for about twenty minutes and never got any help.  And I was prepared to spend money.  I did find the set that I was looking for, but was not able to determine if it would fit my needs since there were no boxed units on the showroom floor and the display model was chained to the shelf so I could not pick it up and examine it.  All in all, it was a bit of a frustrating experience and has soured my on this new-to-Richmond store.  So far, I am less than enthused about this particular retailer.  I’ll give them one more chance, they are new to this area and I’d hate to see competition to Best Buy whither away.  They need to do better, though.

Chrome OS, take two

Been thinking about this a bit more since I wrote about the pre-alpha ‘release’ that GDGT made available last week.  My initial impression of the ‘new’ operating system was a bit harsh. I think I may have misunderstood the whole purpose of the operating system.  I’ll stick by my thoughts that it should be targeted at low cost computers, but I’ll broaden my opinion of its usefulness.  I still think it belongs in computers priced under a hundred dollars (US) and a tablet style would be perfect.  A tablet style computer, running Chrome OS and priced under a hundred bucks is perfect for casual browsing and light work.  Such a device, with a seven to ten inch color screen and an optional Bluetooth keyboard would sell like crazy.  If these things were marketed not as a computer but as an Internet browsing device, then expectations of what they can do could be better managed than if sold as a computer.  If I buy a device that is called a computer, then I expect it to act like a computer and be just as useful, regardless of price.  I expect my six hundred dollar laptop to do pretty much everything a laptop that costs twice as much can do.  But, if I spent, say, seventy-five dollars on an Internet browser device, then I would only expect it to be able to do whatever I can do in a browser-including Flash and Silverlight support-but not, say, play Crysis.  Chrome OS can fit this bill very nicely. 

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