Zune comes to Canada – and we’re testing it!

Zune in Canada

You might have heard of the Zune – Microsoft’s “iPod Killer” that came out in the US in 2006. Many wondered when (and if) this media player would cross the border. Well, now we have an answer: Some time this spring (“spring” defined as between March and May so I’m guessing late April). But what is the Zune? And is it better or equivalent to the iPod? We sat down with a rep from Microsoft to get the lo-down.

Media On The Go
The Zune comes in three versions: 4, 8 and 80GB. The 4 and 8GB models are small and thin (like the old iPod nano) and have built in flash memory. The 80GM model is large (like the iPod Classic) and has a built in 80GB hard drive. All models feature three buttons; a “back” button, a play/pause button and a touch-sensitive “Zune Pad” that works both like the regular directional clicker you’ll find on a cell phone and also as a touch-sensitive pad you can slide your finger across to scroll through menus. This is the Microsoft alternative to Apple’s “Click Wheel”.

The Zune is meant to be an extension to your personal media library. It plays music (mp3, wma, aac), plays videos (wmv, MPEG-4, h.264), displays photos and graphics, plays podcasts (both video and audio) and even has a built in radio. All this content is uploaded to the player either through a USB cable, wirelessly from your network or shared wirelessly from other Zunes nearby. And that’s where the Zune differs from the competition. As it’s tagline “Welcome to the Social” indicates, everything about the player revolves around the social aspect: Sharing music, graphics and images from device to device, sharing favourites through the Zune Social website and discovering new songs and artists by finding like minded listeners and related tracks.

Think of it as FaceMusicbook
On first impression it is the social aspect that really stands out. The player itself is on par with the competition (read iPod Classic) both in terms of price (Canadian price TBA), quality, functionality and ease of use. But the “Social” concept could become a major selling factor. Here’s why: In the Zune marketplace you have two options: Either buy each track or album individually or subscribe to the entire library for a set monthly fee. In the US this fee is around $14 and one would expect a similar price for the Canadian users. With the subscription in place you can download as many songs as you want and listen to them for as long as you pay for the service. So when you find an artist you are curious about through Zune Social you can download the tracks without any added cost and check them out. If you like the songs, you have them on your computer. If you don’t like them, it didn’t cost you anything. And it’s all legal! For music fanatics like myself constantly on the lookout for new and interesting (i.e. obscure Islandic) artists, this is a dream come true: Pandora without the crappy sound quality. And just imagine what this would do for a house party. The guests can log in, download whatever they want to listen to and then play it.

Unfortunately the Zune Marketplace (and with it the subscription service) will not be available in Canada until the fall of 2008. But Zune Social will be up and running and with it the ability to discover new artists, share your playlist and become a musical trend setter. And in the interim you’ll be able to purchase tracks from Zune Social through other online music retailers.

Is the Zune for me?
Good question. And we’ll help you answer it. Microsoft was kind enough to give us two 80GB Zunes to test, and we will. We’ll upload music and pictures, watch movies and TV shows on the SkyTrain, share files with other Zuners, stream content to our XBOX360 and really put the device through it’s paces to see if this is something you should buy. At the same time we’ll pressure Microsoft to get the Marketplace – or at least the subscription service – up as soon as possible. So check back here and on our sister site Dabbler.ca to see what we think of the new toy.

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