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Microsoft was kind enough to get us some hands-on time with the Zune, not batting an eye as we eagerly slided the player down our pants, enjoying the material it was made out of. Our thoughts first, then a gallery later.

The outside is made out of a rubberized plastic, which goes through an interesting process where they paint the inside a different color than the case—this gives the Zune a two-toned look which both looks and feels great. The corners (meticulously selected down from hundreds of minutely different corners) look like they glow, which is called the “doubleshot effect”. This comes from the inside radius being different from the outside radius.

So the big news: The Zune will be upgradeable. How? Let us explain…

Microsoft’s put in WiFi on the Zune, which even though it doesn’t seem to be a big draw to consumers now. The hardware paves the road for them to do various other “scenarios” with the Zune. In the future, via software update, the Zune should be able to possibly do stuff like share songs over the internet, wirelessly sync with the computer, stream music/video to other devices, and much more. The hardware is there, but it just needs to be activated by software. Microsoft’s decided to focus (wisely) on making the Zune simple to use and intuitive for people to pick up. Something that we think they’ve achieved.

zuneui.jpg  The UI is snappy and has lots of zooming, sliding and various cool effects when you’re navigating. Luckily, the eye candy doesn’t get in the way of usability. The click-pad isn’t too bad to use, but it’s not touch sensitive like the iPod wheels. The community menu options like sending files and pictures are all over the place. If you hit the middle button to get the context menu, you’ll most likely notice an entry called “send”, where you can send what you’re currently listening to to nearby Zunes. Overall the UI is pretty well designed, and iPod users shouldn’t be lost if they decide to migrate.

The Zune’s screen was bright even outside, and had pretty much zero glare. Movies and pictures played back smoothly, and the display transitioned automatically to landscape mode when you start a slideshow/movie. Pictures are auto-cropped to display large on the screen, and will be auto-resized down from the original whenever you send them to your friends over WiFi. The Zune was easy to hold in both landscape and regular modes—no problems at all.

There are also two new concepts: inbox and flagging. The Inbox is an area separate from your library where pictures and songs come in from other Zunes. You play your received songs from here, and once you sync, the songs will be uploaded to the Inbox on your PC. Flagging is similar—whenever you flag a song, the song will show up flagged on your PC after syncing for later reference. What was the 5th song I heard in that big random shuffle I listened to on the train? Oh right, I flagged it. It’s useful because you can’t go on your Zune Marketplace after you sync your songs and see your “recently played” list like you can on iTunes…..

Finish this review at the source:  GIZMODO


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