A Zune HD in 2017

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Having found a Zune HD in near-perfect condition online for 30$, I figured this was too awesome a deal to pass, so I now own one ๐Ÿ™‚

I did have a Zune 30 about a decade ago and this improves on it in (nearly) every way.

Some impressions of it so far:

– The hardware design is truly beautiful, if you think about the fact that it appeared at the same time as the 3rd gen iPod Touch or (in my opinion its more direct competitor) the 5th gen iPod Nano, I really think it out-Appled Apple.

– One hardware decision does truly baffle me, though: what the hell were they thinking with button+touchscreen volume controls? I don’t recall a single device that I’ve ever owned that could play music and didn’t allow you to change the volume in some hardware-only manner. Crazy!

– Sound quality is competent, or at least I have no complaints using my 30$ earbuds. 

– Screen is only 480×272, but OLED. It looks quite good given the dark-themed Zune interface, but switching to the Samsung S7 in my other pocket exposes a rather glaring difference ๐Ÿ™‚ Again, though, given that its context in 2009 was an iPhone 3GS with a larger screen that ran at 480×320, it must have been pretty awesome for its time.

– I still think the Windows Zune software is one of the best (if not the best) personal music management solution out there, so using it even in 2017 is still an excellent experience. Since subscribing to Google Play Music I had moved on from a personal mp3 collection, but figured the “Rolling Stone Top 500 Songs Of All Time” would be a nice pack to try out. Getting album art for most of it and syncing it took less than an hour, good stuff. 

– It is apparently one of only 2 portable players ever released (the other one is a Best Buy house brand one ๐Ÿ˜€ ) that support HD Radio and amazingly there are 4 such stations here in Romania. The “HD” name is a real mistake, though, since in this case it stands for Hybrid Digital with no enforced quality difference over regular FM. The format supports things like surround sound and album art, but they are completely optional and as such not used over here in FM/DAB-country. It’s funny how when the signal starts dropping out, instead of the FM static you hear things more akin to a CD skipping ๐Ÿ™‚

– Formatting a Zune in 2017 leads to a fun process in which it wants to reload the firmware from a Microsoft server, which of course no longer exists. Thanks to the wonderful people on Reddit, a firmware dump, a localhost web server and a HOSTS file modification later, I was sorted.

Overall, with battery life a solid 30ish hours, I might get more than just novelty value out of this device, with usage on planes/trains so that I don’t drain my phone’s battery a strong possibility.

Comments (4)

4 responses to “A Zune HD in 2017”

  1. Brad Sams

    Love this, thanks for sharing.

  2. rameshthanikodi

    Would love it if the Zune(s) worked more like a MTP device rather than needing to do a proprietary sync. Would definitely love to be using one now. I still continue to use my old Creative ZEN player in the family van where everyone is able to load up their favorite songs easily.

  3. ABT

    I recently sold my Zune HD. You got a pretty good deal, I would consider buying another if I ran across one for $30. Very much agree about the high quality of the software. It blows away Microsofts subsequent attempts at music and media management applications.

    Honestly, the primary reason I got rid of it was the lack of storage and proprietary charge cable. A cheap Lumia 635 running wp 8.1 allowed for 64 GB of music and charged with an always handy micro USB cable.

    There are definitely days I miss the Zune HD though. It was an excellently designed device; compact form factor and great software were a killer combo (although ignored by the broader market).

    An updated product with bluetooth support, micro-usb or usb-c, and MTP device type support would bring me back to ponying up cash for microsoft hardware (knowing full well they'd stop supporting it after 3 years).

  4. lecter

    I feel that a large reason for the Zune being ignored is the crap global availability of certain Microsoft devices and services. There were very few countries where you could buy a Zune and even fewer where you could use the Marketplace.

    Microsoft finally allowed payments in their various stores via Paypal (thus opening a loophole for people like me to pay with a local credit card in the US store), then stopped allowing such payments (I now get an error if trying to pay via Paypal). This simply never happened in the Apple and Google ecosystems.

    I think Zune Pass was also the first broadly (well, US and Canada :P ) available music subscription service, but it arrived before decent 3/4G connections were commonplace and they didn't think to do what even Apple did, i.e. make it available on other major platforms from Day 1.

    It would have also been nice if its file format support was better, by 2009 I think audiophiles were already one of the largest groups that were still buying a dedicated PMP and all you can get on it is WMA lossless, instead of the much more popular FLAC.

    I also don't understand why they didn't go for MicroUSB for the Zune HD, it was already a very well established standard and there must have been very few people with existing Zune accessories to justify any kind of backward-compatibility reasoning.

    Nevertheless, as a piece of single-purpose technology like the Kindle it works very well and manages to look great even after 8 years, so kudos to the team who made it, I feel its success was hampered by forces outside their control.