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The Zune has a 3x2-inch (320x240 pixels) color screen and a 30 GB hard drive. Its circular control is a 4-way switch and the centre is a push-button. There are two smaller Back and Play/Pause buttons. At the base there is a docking socket and at the top is an earphone socket and a lock. The only accessories that you get are a soft pouch, earphones and a USB connector. The two earbuds are magnetized, so they snap together when not in use and do not get tangled up.
There is built-in WiFi, but it only communicates with another Zune, with which you can transfer music (not video). These shared tunes only last for three days and you can only play each one three times. Once you name your Zune (its "tag"), you can participate in the community of nearby Zunes within WiFi range and share your music or let them see what you are listening to.
How much can you fit on the 30 GB Zune? The official estimate is about 30 hours of video, 25,000 pictures, or 7500 tunes. Some people have hacked it to take an 80-100 GB drive, but this will void the warranty.
I tried the 14-day free trial (included in the box) of the Zune Pass, which normally costs $14.99 per month or $44.95 for three months. You can download all the songs you want and they can be played while your subscription is current.
The Zune software found all music, video clips and pictures on my PC - there wasn't a lot to begin with, so this was quick. I found a couple of CDs and some music clips online and synchronized them with the Zune. There is still 27 GB free so I might get a converter program that will let me load some full-length movies that I could watch on a round-the-world flight later this month.
The Zune's ability to store digital images and home-made videos makes it easy to bore your relatives and workmates with your family's latest activities and archival footage featuring at least four generations! Think about it - if you lost your home in a fire or flood, wouldn't it be great if you had transferred all your pictures and home videos to the Zune?
I am more of a radio listener than a pure music listener. The Zune displays the radio frequency in a large font so you'd need to be almost blind not to read it. My favorite FM station supports the Radio Data System (RDS) which is also known as the Radio Data Broadcast System (RDBS) - this means the name of the song being played and the performer are displayed on the Zune.
You can store song lyrics if you have them, but you cannot see them on the Zune screen. In the future we might see synchronized lyrics but I am not sure if there will be a bouncing dot to go with the words.
I noticed a clever feature when listening to music and I pulled out the headphones in the middle of a tune. The music pauses - so you don't lose your place and it can be resumed when you plug back the headphones.
Audio quality is fine, at least for what you can expect from basic earphones. I didn't test the battery capacity but most people report about 11 hours with the WiFi switched off.
My next nag is the inability to connect to the Internet with the built-in WiFi. This could be a future possibility. Closely related is the inability to get podcasts into the Zune easily. The latter is easily solved with the free, third-party program FeedYourZune, which is also an RSS reader.
You cannot use the Zune as a data storage device and so it is not visible through Windows Explorer. It would be handy if we could use it for occasional data storage. I had to use a third party hack (to my Windows registry) to achieve this.
• Zune Insider - Cesar Menendez (MSFT): http://zuneinsider.com
• Zune Guy - Bill Wittress (MSFT): http://zuneguy.com
• Zune User Group: http://www.zuneusergroup.com