For the few, the proud, the Zune HD users, there is Zune HD and then there is nothing else. But what do you do when a Zune HD gives up the ghost? Is there an acceptable modern alternative?
Why yes. Yes, there is. I thought you’d never ask.
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Larry S. asks:
My beloved Zune HD is finally becoming less than useful. And, with Windows 10 on the horizon, I don’t know if I’m up to getting the Zune desktop working once I upgrade. License sync is also becoming a bit of a pain. I’ve been on the music subscription since I bought the Zune HD and don’t plan on cancelling it. What would be a good device to dedicate to media playing, really just music?
If you love Zune HD, there is only one alternative, and it’s a good one. Just buy a low-end Windows Phone handset and use it with a microSD card (also inexpensive) and Xbox Music. I have used a variety of low-end Lumias over the past few years like this, including a Lumia 520, 635, and, most recently, a Lumia 535.
Financially, the best deal right now is a Lumia 635: you can snag this wonderful little phone in no contract form from Amazon.com for just $47. You do not need to use AT&T’s network or sign-up for any cellular service, it will work just fine out of the box. (If you intend to use Maps/HERE Maps/HERE Drive+, I recommend leaving the SIM in the phone, since this will enable you to download maps from anywhere in the world.)
(If you want a step up, the Lumia 535 has a bigger screen, more RAM, and is thinner. But it costs $123 in unlocked form on Amazon right now.)
You will also need a microSD card, since the Lumia 635 has only 8 GB of internal storage. Here, of course, you have multiple options. I recommend getting at least a 32 GB unit, and there is a nice sale at Amazon right now that almost halves the normal pricing on SanDisk cards. So a 32 GB microSD card is just $16, a 64 GB version is $33, and a 128 GB version is $95 and is not on sale). Looks like 64 GB is the sweet spot.
When you get the handset, you will need to install the microSD card and then configure the phone to use that for content storage. So navigate to Settings, System, Storage Sense and change “Store new music, videos, and podcasts on my” to SD Card. (You will also want to configure other options, like photos, apps, and downloads to use the SD card as well, given the limited amount of built-in storage.) Then you can start up (Xbox) Music, sync your collection, and choose music to download to the device for offline use. Remember, too, that Windows Phone 8.1 has separate Podcasts and Videos apps too.
The best part about this transition, in some ways, is that the (Xbox) Music app in Windows 10 is even better looking. So while you will have a high quality experience right away, it will get even better when the Windows 10 upgrade hits later this year.
And don’t forget the games. Since you’ll be using Windows Phone now, you can check out the Store and see what’s available there as well. You may be pleasantly surprised.