So I got my first chance to play with the Zune HD at the Best Buy promotion last weekend. It is a very well laid out device, and the capacitive touchscreen rivals the iPod touch in feel, while completely obliterating it as far as brightness and viewing angles go. OLED screens are awesome, no lie. Videos look fantastic on the 3.3" 480x272 display, and the 33/8.5 hour music/video battery life is unparalleled by anything Apple has on offer. There will be an App store in the Zune Marketplace, with games (such as Burnout, as seen in the promo video) and other things on offer, but not much information will be available until the September 15th launch date. XNA (Microsoft's game development studio) already got an update to take advantage of the Zune HD's nVidia Tegra processors. The Zune desktop software is also getting a major overhaul, due again to the app store and associated changes in the Zune ecosystem.
I still quite like the Zune UI, and it's surprisingly good for touch-based navigation. It's very different from the iPod touch, but it works well in its own right. The IE-based browser is nice and is powered by Bing search. It appears to work well, with smooth scrolling, but the virtual keyboard is smaller than the iPhone's and is thus not as nice to type on. In portrait mode, especially, the smaller screen makes a difference in the usability of the keyboard. However, with no email or texting, the keyboard will mostly only be used in the browser, so its not as big an issue as it first seems. Codec support is pretty solid - MP3, WMA/WMV, AAC, MP4, M4A - the standard stuff is supported, and with the Xvid/DivX support in Windows 7, those two formats are automatically transcoded in the Zune software. This is AWESOME. I would buy a Zune HD over an iPod touch for that reason alone (...but not an iPhone 3G. More on this in a minute.) It makes the Zune HD perfect for all kinds of downloaded video content that Apple and other mainstream manufacturers have been happy to ignore. So, gotta love that.
Now, with that said, I'm not getting one. It looks fantastic, and the only minor criticism I can level at it right now is the smaller touch keyboard. With that said, its a Zune HD for $219 plus tax, or my friend's lightly used, perfect condition iPhone 3G for $200. Considering that the iPhone is a full convergence device that replaces my phone and requires no adjustment to my current computing life, along with charger that I get with the iPhone vs having to purchase one separately with the Zune, and monetarily, the iPhone starts looking a lot better. Plus, its not like I absolutely need Xvid support, its just that without Xvid, I probably won't watch many videos on my device. Its a purely convienience thing. And in the end, the iPhone has more of those conveniences, which combined with the lower price, gets me to buy. If the Zune HD had a GSM radio, we'd be having an entirely different conversation (and I think I'd have found my ideal device....) With Zune and Windows Mobile combined into one division, one can only hope that future Windows Mobile devices will get closer to the Zune HD in terms of industrial design and multimedia features. By that time, I'll be ready to switch from iPhone to something else.