Zune Reviews: It's OK, But No iPod

NEWS ROUNDUP When the Zune arrives next Tuesday, Microsoft was hoping to make a big splash. However, it won't be getting any help from the technology media, which have for the most part passed over the so-called "iPod killer" in lackluster reviews.

The bad news begins with the Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg, who called the Zune's hardware "rushed and incomplete." He pointed to both the fairly significantly larger size and poor battery life. He also notes that the larger screen doesn't mean better resolution than the iPod - just a bigger picture.

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Additionally, Mossberg points out the smaller size of the Zune music store, and its lack of TV shows, movies or music videos as well as audiobooks and podcasts as drawbacks. Mossberg also criticized the Microsoft Points system, which is required to make purchases for the Zune, calling it deceptive.

"Songs are priced at 79 points, which some people might think means 79 cents. But 79 points actually cost 99 cents," he lamented. In addition, users can only purchase points in $5 increments rather than simply being charged for a specific song they wish to download.

Of the device, he said: "The iPod is thin, sleek and elegant looking. The Zune looks big and blocky, sort of like a prototype for a gadget, rather than a finished product."

For the most part, David Pogue at the New York Times seemed to agree. He points out that Zune leaves those who bought into Microsoft's PlaysForSure services behind, although the company maintains it will continue to support the technology through third parties.

Pogue called the fact that Zune users cannot fill their devices using Windows Media Player and rather must use a separate application "a ridiculous duplication of effort."

Both Mossberg and Pogue criticized the wireless sharing features and new digital rights management structures, calling them too restrictive. Also, they said the Zune misses many of the extra features that the iPod has, and is incapable of being used as an external hard drive like most other MP3 players.

Bloggers who have seen the Zune up close seem to agree. "For now, I'd stick with an iPod. Microsoft hasn't given us a killer feature yet that is easily demonstratable for why we should buy a Zune instead of an iPod," blogger and former Microsoft employee Robert Scoble wrote recently.

However, not everyone has been so harsh on Microsoft's first effort. Jason Chen of the Web log Gizmodo gave the player generally high marks.

"Overall, this seems pretty promising. I can't find any mis-steps or anything where I have to ask "wait, this is dumb, why did you do this?" in both the player and the software. The Zune itself is very sexy, and feels nice to the touch - not too heavy," Chen wrote.

AOL's Engadget, which is apparently on the reading list of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, seemed to agree. "It may be a little early to give final impressions, but let's just say what we saw is a very decent start," blogger Ryan Block wrote.

BetaNews will have its own in-depth review of Microsoft's Zune player next week.

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