If you still want to buy a Zune after reading our review, you’d better not count on filling it with music from Microsoft’s Zune Marketplace. While our view of the 30GB player is a matter of opinion, the tiny inventory of music that Microsoft has on tap is a sad matter of fact.
Aside from its large, excellent display, the Zune’s most prominent physical feature is a control mechanism that looks remarkably like the iPod’s scroll wheel; unfortunately, Microsoft’s “wheel” doesn’t spin. It’s actually four buttons arranged at compass points, with a fifth button in the center, but as you’ve probably guessed, the very first thing every person did when we wordlessly handed them the Zune was try to spin that nonexistent wheel.
One of the Zune’s most hyped features is its ability to wirelessly transfer tracks (and pictures) to another Zune. Don’t get too excited about the music-sharing half of this equation: You can transfer tracks you’ve purchased or ripped, but the recipient can play them just three times; the tracks expire after three days whether they’ve been played or not, and they can’t be resent to the same player (although we’ve heard of a hack that disables this limitation). The Zune’s wireless-networking capabilities are more interesting, but you’re limited to streaming digital audio, video, and photos to Xbox 360 consoles sitting on your wireless network.
The Zune’s not a terrible first effort—it sounds good and Microsoft outfitted it with a fine screen—but it seems to us that the features that could have set it apart from Apple’s iPod are really designed only to tie the Zune’s users into buying other Microsoft products.