Zune HD UI
The Zune HD UI is nice and clean, but a little bit of a pain to get used to. The reason for this is also tied in with its coolness (is that a word?). When you navigate through the Zune HD you are looking at mostly text based menus. As you tap on a menu item the UI seems to zoom into the menu and you can see part of the next level up at the top of the screen. Now this is a cool effect (as are the flip over menus), but they do not give you any indication of how to get back up. Most people that I let play with the Zune HD just hit the home button (thank you Apple). After seeing them do this, I explained that to get back to the last level you simply tap on the partial image of the menu label or the bottom of the album that was visible at the top. Most people thought this was a very cool way to navigate and spent a few minutes just trying it out.
Still, once you get past the new and interesting navigation you come to some very nice features. One of our favorites is the Quick Play menu. When you are looking at the Home Screen you will see a row of icons just to the left of the main text headers. This is the Quick Play menu hanging in the background. To access this you can either click the home button again or swipe your finger across the screen to the right.
Once in the Quick Play menu you will see why it is such a nice feature. Here you can see what you have playing now and also view things you have recently played, view pinned favorites and see anything you have recently added to your Zune HD.
The music and video sections are also very interesting and well done. In the Music area you can select how you want to view your albums. You can sort by; Album (default), Artists, Playlists, Songs and Genres. In each of these modes you can also quickly find media by using any of the lettered icons. This will bring up a panel of letters and a # sign. Clicking on a letter will bring up a list of all media in the sort type that begins with that letter, while clicking on the # will bring up any media that begins with a number (the search does not see the word "The").
After you get to the album you can either play it by touching the album icon or you can also touch to the right of the album and pull up a track list and select the song you want to play. When viewing the track list a couple of additional options pop-up. You can now select play, add to now playing and even e-mail this album to someone that you think might like this (a great integration of social networking).
If you use this e-mail option you can send this either using a Zune Tag or a real e-mail address. The player cannot send the e-mail out all on its own, you have to sync up your player with the Zune Desktop before it goes out (which is another reason wireless sync is great). The e-mail that is sent is pretty informative and is a nice little extra touch.
Moving down the list, we find one of the unique features of the Zune HD. This is the HD/FM radio. This is a great feature and one that I find myself using most mornings as I am driving into work. It is a very simple interface. You see the major headings for the channel dial and can move the tuning point back and forth along this with either your finger or using the media button to bring up the quick controls.
Below this is the Marketplace. Here is where you can purchase music and apps that are available to your account. If you have a Zune Pass you can download free music, but you will also see music that requires points to buy. The problem is that the player is not going to tell you these albums cost points; you only have the option to play or put it in your cart. Of course, once you put it in the cart the download will fail if you do not have any points.
The social is interesting as it allows you to maintain communication with your Zune Friends through the Zune HD itself. You have to setup your list of friends and items in your inbox through syncing with your Zune Desktop. Once you have that setup you can see messages sent to you, but to actually read them you have to open it up in the inbox on your PC.
Next is your internet connection. This is not much more than a scaled down version of Mobile IE. While it renders nicely, looks great and supports all of the usual multi-touch gestures, it has a few problems. The first is a lack of tabbed browsing. This is quite a disappointment; we only hope that this feature shows up in later software updates. The next issue is a lack of a browser history, again something that should have been included.
The last is not just about the browser, but a general problem. This has to do with the keyboard. Although I like the keyboard that the Zune HD has, there are a couple of quirks that bug me. For one, you cannot rotate to landscape mode if the keyboard is open. You have to close it and then rotate the display. Next is that even in landscape mode the keyboard does not expand to cover the whole width of the screen. These are not deal breakers as the keyboard is very nice and functional; but still, it is something that I hope Microsoft takes care of in later software updates.
We mentioned the Media Button above; well this button is meant to call up media controls onto the screen. When you press it you see a Play/Pause icon, track/fast forward and reverse as well as volume up and down. While this is cool at first, its novelty wears off pretty fast. After a while I found myself wanting a regular volume rocker on the side instead of the media button; this becomes even more of an issue if you are using it connected to your car stereo.
Overall the Zune HD's new UI is clean and simple. After playing around with it I found that I liked it better than the UI on the iPhone/iPod Touch.