Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Microsoft Zune Software Review

Its been some time since the last post. Well I was kinda busy with my family(holidays are on), my new phone(Motorola RAZR) and Assassin's Creed.


Microsoft Zune(not to be confused with the software) is a portable media player and is Microsoft's answer to the popular iPod line of media players by Apple.


This Microsoft Zune Software was designed with good looks and functionality in mind. Apart from managing the Zune media player, it also functions as a music player for the PC(much like iTunes does). Microsoft also added support for Windows OS based phones.


This is a review/analysis of the Microsoft Zune Software version 4.8

THE MICROSOFT ZUNE SOFTWARE

Zune is a complete media management solution capable of audio and video playback complete with a marketplace for discovering and downloading new music. It has pdocast and music channel support. It can also add pictures to its libraries and can play slideshows.


The performance is great. No audio/video stuttering issues whatsoever. I've been using it for quite some time now and I have not encountered any bugs/problems till now.
The interface is fluid and slick. The transitions and mouse over animations are nicely done.


SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS

  • Windows PC running Windows XP SP3 or higer
  • 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor
  • 1 gigabyte (GB) RAM (32-bit) or 2 GB RAM (64-bit)
  • Broadband Internet connection

A wi-fi network is necessary for you to wirelessly sync your Zune device to your computer.


INTERFACE OVERVIEW

Before we dive into the specifics...


There are four main tabs located on the top left corner of the screen. These are
  • Quickplay: Recently played media
  • Collection: The media library
  • Marketplace
  • Social

INTERFACE SPECIFICS: Quickplay


Zune welcomes you with an attractive opening screen, know as the "Quickplay" screen. This screen has three subsections
  • PINS: You can pin your favorite content to this area.
  • NEW: Displays recently added content
  • HISTORY: Displays recently played/viewed content

Quickplay

Below these three sections is another row of faded tiles. Clicking these tiles brings up the Smart DJ playlist section. Smart DJ automatically creates playlists based on music that is close to the kind of music you select as the base for the playlist. This allows you to explore new music. The playlists can be saved or discarded. These playlists are not static i.e. each time you play a Smart DJ playlist the songs are changed(even with the same artists). So you'll never listen to the same music.


CD/DVD burning,ripping support, device management and playlist creation are accessible via the icons at the bottom left of the screen.

Smart DJ Playlists
INTERFACE SPECIFICS: Collection


Think of this screen as the library screen in Windows Media Player. Here you can manage your entire media library. This screen has five sub sections
  • Music: Manages the audio files. All the standard audio sorting features are included.
  • Videos: Simple video browser.
  • Pictures: Simple Picture browser
  • Podcasts: Accessible through the Zune marketplace
  • Channels: Accessible through the Zune marketplace
Music
Video


Pictures

Podcasts

The Interface here too is generally very clean and the all the album art and videos are shown in the form of tiles. On the upper right part of the screen are the sorting categories which are available for the content you have selected.


INTERFACE SPECIFICS: Marketplace

The Zune Marketplace allows you to buy new music and download apps(for Windows Phone 7 only), podcasts and music channel episodes. It also gives music suggestions based on the music you play.


The Marketplace, cool right?
I'm not gonna dive into the specifics here, since I'm concentrating on the music player here not the marketing features.


INTERFACE SPECIFICS: Social


The Social feature sets up a Zune profile for you. Then you're on the Zune social grid. Its pretty standard stuff. You can add friends, send messages, listen to their music etc. Zune will suggest people with similar music interests.


Social, that's my Zune profile!
As you play music, the number of total plays will be recorded and will be displayed right next to your profile name in the extreme top right corner of the screen. You will also be awarded with badges for achieving a minimum number of plays for a given badge.


INTERFACE SPECIFICS: Now Playing


The Now Playing screen is the probably the best looking screen I've ever seen on any media player. Its a mosaic of all the artwork images present in the library. The artwork tiles keep changing the artwork and the color overlay varies.


The Mosaic

After sometime background changes to a more artist-centric one. This one shows single pictures of the artists with random generated text giving the user information about the current artist/track.

Single Artist Now Playing

INTERFACE SPECIFICS: The mini-player


The mini player, really small yet functional and good looking. It accesses your Smart Lists and Pins when not playing music. Or you can just go ahead and shuffle all your music.


When playing music, it allows you to play/pause, skip track and access the current playlist.
That's it for the interface.


AC/DC FTW!

To access it just click the button right next to the minimize button in the full player.


ALBUM INFORMATION DOWNLOAD:


This is something most media players lack. Its a really useful feature through which users can download appropriate album information for their music. Hence getting correct file names, track numbers, genre, artist and album names and artwork.


This feature is not clearly highlighted by the Zune software itself so some people might not find it.(hence the need for a special section just for it)
To access it, follow these steps
  • Right click any album tile
  • Click "Find album info"
  • Now, if you manually want to edit album information click "Edit Info". If you want Zune to give you predefined lists from which you can choose, click "Search". If you want to add some special keywords, you can do so in the text box above the "Search" button.
After Clicking the "Find Album Info"
Manual
Automated


PROS
  • Metro UI (Most of it is tiled)
  • Clean(like really really clean)
  • Awesome eye-candy! :D
  • Easy media management
  • Access to new music, via the Marketplace
  • Social Features
  • Auto metadata and album art download
  • Media sharing support for Xbox 360
  • Integrated media ripping and burning
  • Lag-less. Runs like a charm on fast computers. (I dunno about slow ones since I have an i7)
CONS
  • High system requirements
  • Limited format support. (Don't expect it to play stuff like VLC does!)
  • Huge filesize (The RTM version is 470MB)
  • Doesn't any device other than Zune and Windows Phone 7 devices
FORMAT SUPPORT
  • Audio: m3u, m4a, m4b, mp3, wma, zpl
  • Video: m4v, mp4, wma, mbr
  • Picures: jpg, png
VERDICT
  • Look and Feel: 5/5
  • Performance: 4/5
  • Format Support: 1/5
  • System Requirements: 2/5
  • Compatibility: 3/5
OVERALL - 2.5/5


Its not that this software is bad. Microsoft did a wonderful job with the design and interface as well as the performance optimizations on this. Its just the limited format support and high system requirements that bring the overall down. I've been using it for quite some time and I'm higly satisfied with it. Its aimed at a specific type of users.




Thanks for reading folks!


PS: Suggestions for new blog posts would be welcome! Please, I really need some ideas right now! :O  

5 comments:

  1. Dude the file size is around 100mb not 470!

    ReplyDelete
  2. The RTM version which is like standalone installer is 470MB. I don't know what you're referring to as 100MB.

    Check this link

    http://www.softpedia.com/get/Multimedia/Audio/Audio-Players/Zune.shtml

    ReplyDelete
  3. the regular installer is just 100mb... which is all you need if you have all the latest windows updates..

    ReplyDelete
  4. Nice review dude, I think it does actually take up alot of the processor, Think ill have to stick with Winamp. It never fails for me :)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks for providing such a great article, it was excellent and very informative.
    as a first time visitor to your blog I am very impressed.
    thank you :)

    ReplyDelete