Microsoft is not a company of fools. It knew the Zune was
going to get pummeled by the iPod – and it knows that the Zune HD will never
knock the iPod Touch or iPhone off of their throne. But it also knows there are
a lot of people more interested in a good personal media player than an
all-in-one device – and for them, Microsoft has hit the sweet spot.

Zune HD

While the Zune HD isn’t quite a home run for the company,
it’s a solid triple – and has quickly become the strongest competitor on the
market to Apple’s PMP empire. Priced fairly at $220 for the 16GB model and $290
for the 32GB one, the device is stylish, ultra-light and ultra-powerful. It
boasts a solid battery life. And, come mid-December, it could be a tough item to
find on store shelves.

One of the Zune HD’s major attractions is its 3.3-inch OLED
screen, which offers a sharper picture than anything you’ll find on the iPhone.
Like many competitive devices, the screen is touch sensitive and offers a 16:9
(widescreen) ratio. Ironically, videos shown on the Zune HD itself do not
appear in high definition.

Most people won’t realize it, though. Video on the player is
crisp and clear. As with  a high-end TV,
though, it’s best watched in a darkened room. The Zune HD’s highly reflective
screen makes outdoor viewing (and some indoor viewing) a bit challenging – and
sometimes impossible.

To get true HD from the Zune HD, you’ll need a $90 dock
(sold separately). With this, users can output 720p video from the device to
their HDTV. The functionality is a big selling point for the Zune device – and
it’s a feature that really shines. Videos look spectacular – and the interface
works surprisingly well on the big screen, despite its shortcomings on the
player itself.

The player’s interface is one of the Zune HD’s more notable
stumbles. It’s minimalist, but perhaps a bit too much so. Figuring out how to
navigate among choices isn’t as intuitive as some competitors, including Apple.

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