This is Commander Lock’s submission for the HP Magic Giveaway. Feel free to leave comments for this article as you see fit – your feedback is certainly welcomed! If you’d like to submit your own how-to, what-is, or top-five list, you can send it to me. Views and opinions of this writer are not necessarily my own:
WARNING: There are opinions in this article which critique popular products under the Apple brand. This warning is for your own consideration. Though everything in this article is for entertainment purposes, all the opinions stated below are my own, and if you want to try and convince me otherwise, please do, as I appreciate other’s opinions. And please, hold the virtual tomatoes until the end. Thank you, and enjoy.
- The way Apple ported iTunes for Windows was done quite poorly. It loads slow, takes up lots of resources, and is a pain in general. The store is nice, and I’ve bought songs and games from it, but the software itself is not getting high marks for performance or looks. ITunes has one color, no customization of appearances, and when not in its native OS X environment, it looks drab and a bit out of place. This is not to say it’s a bad-looking application, as I’m sure in OS X it looks fantastic with everything else having the same “Aqua” style – but in Windows OSes, specifically Vista and its Aero interface, it looks cut-and-paste from the OS X version, with little effort used in the transition. Performance of iTunes in Windows OSes has been pretty dismal for me, too. It takes a while to load up, pretty slow at importing songs and ripping CDs (sounds weird, but compared to the Zune, iTunes ripping is slow as molasses on a cold February morning), and so on.
- The Zune device itself, specifically the 16GB 3rd-gen Flash model, is pretty appealing right now. On Amazon, this model costs only $165.51 without shipping & handling rates, and I will admit I am a sucker for low prices. Getting back to the device itself, I have used Zunes in passing before, when the Flash models came out. The touch features are pretty easy to get used to and the interface makes sense, since things are no longer “buried” beneath menus like in iPods; it is much more “fluid” and smoother than the iPod’s “Aqua” style overall.
- The much-touted Wi-Fi features of the Zune is something of a big slap with a massive fish to Apple’s R&D team as it just makes sense – why the need to plug in your device just to put on a few songs or update a podcast? This is especially cool with the new “Marketplace through Wi-Fi” features on the device itself – all Zunes get this with software updates. So yeah, pretty cool device by itself. Missing an audio recorder, but I have yet to see one on an MP3 player that’s actually good. Automatic playlists, you may say… I like knowing what I’m going to listen to next. It’s like a movie theater making you pay $8 for a random movie. I don’t want to end up watching what some algorithm says I want to listen to.
- The Marketplace on the Zune software is impressive – it works well with barely a hitch, and same with the on-device Marketplace over Wi-Fi. In iTunes, the Store is in stark contrast with the style of iTunes – blue background, squares for all the art, and it is a bit slow in comparison. The “Mixview” feature of the Zune Marketplace is awesome – it shows the artist you’re looking at, surrounded by suggestions and why they were selected, like influences / inspiration of other artists, related, similar genre, etc. The “Social” aspect of the Zune software is integrated nicely, and since I already have an Xbox Live account to link it to, getting it up and running was easy. Microsoft is really pushing the Social part of this franchise, but I’m only in it for tech support on their forums if I ever need it. The “Microsoft Points” system used on both Marketplaces (Live and Zune) was a good idea – leftover points from purchases on Live can be used on Zune, and vice versa. Granted, I’d still have to buy the bundles of points, but I’m used to that.
- Of course, buying off the Zune site allows for custom artwork, something the iPod (as far as I can predict) will never do, as to invade the iPod’s serene blankness that looks all too bleak and boring to me. A Zune with the artwork and text would be unique to me, unlike the millions of identical iPods, skins or without skins. It is all still the same recognizable shape and design, including the iPhone /iPod Touch. I want to be more than the average – dare I say it – sheepish iPod user. I can honestly say that most of my friends who have MP3 players of some sort have an iPod or want an iPod, thinking of it to be in this magical, higher echelon of technology and grant passage into the grandest heights of their social ladder on Facebook. In short, I don’t give two *bleeps* about the social ladder and the iPod hasn’t gotten me any girls, so I guess it’s too widespread to have its “you got an iPod?!” charm anymore.
- Zunes are no longer the oddball player in the MP3 Player market, which by now is more like the “Who will make the iPod Killer” market. The Zune is, as it turns out, getting closest to being the iPod’s main contender. Though certainly the iPod’s appeal as an already “established” device will be very hard to overcome for Microsoft, let alone the rest of the companies like Archos, Sansa, Samsung, Sony, and many others that have quality MP3 players in their product line-up but seem to fade away when in the same store aisle as the iPod. I think if more people bought these “iPod contenders,” we would see the fruits of healthy competition arise; better quality products, more bang for the buck, and hoping for brand-making features, like the fantastic feature of the 4th Generation iPod Nano to… well… shake and bake shuffle? Apple needs to think beyond gimmicks and really get some innovation going on here. I think it’s ironic how Apple’s motto used to be “Think Different” while the majority of MP4 players are iPods. By me, “thinking different,” I’m seeking to ditch the iPod, iTunes, and getting their rival’s player instead. It is a funny world we live in, isn’t it?