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Briefly: Reflections on some time spent with Zune

After having run smack into a Zune beta tester, one AppleInsider correspondent recently had the opportunity to toy with a pre-production unit of the much-hyped iPod rival.

Though the correspondent's session ended abruptly (with the Zune's battery running out of juice), he found the device to be a viable attempt at the iPod with some glaring pitfalls.

Some key take-aways from the hands-on session with Zune follow:

  • Operating System:  The primary Zune menu includes "Music," "Video," "Photos," a few other typical options, and "Community."  Under "Community," there is a submenu with several of options, including one for nearby Zunes (and it appears as if users can also exchange messages with nearby Zune users). 

    The Zune's software interface is laid out in such a way that it prompts the user to make a selection from a vertically listed main menu. It then displays a horizontal menu across the top of the screen, which comes off as "a bit clunky."

  • Mechanics:  Zune's circle navigational mechanism is only responsive to clicks and is not scrollable (because Microsoft does not hold the patent on such functionality).  "While my fingers intuitively wanted to scroll, I kept having to click up/down/right/left and found this frustrating," the correspondent said.

  • Battery:  According to the tester provided with the Zune, its battery is far less robust than the iPod's. However, Microsoft has reportedly vouched to make improvements to this area in future versions of the device. Ironically, the battery died during the correspondent's hands-on session.

  • Casing:  The Zune —at least in pre-production form —is enclosed by a "sort of hard rubber (not quite plastic) material" that appears to be somewhat durable.  "However, the whole unit was rather thick in my opinion; certainly thicker than our latest iPods," the correspondent said.

  • Marketing:   Finally, it appears that Microsoft is attempting to swipe a page from Apple's marketing prowess —on the rear of each Zune, in small inscription on the bottom next to the serial number, is a message: "Hello from Seattle."

  • Zune, which comes with 30GB of storage, will retail for $249.99 (about 99 cents more than the iPod) when it goes on sale Nov. 14. Similarly, songs will be available for download from Microsoft's Zune Marketplace service for about 99 cents a song, on par with prices at Apple's iTunes.

    Although the iPod rival is somewhat bulky and lacking in appeal, analysts believe it is likely to see "some modest success" due to Microsoft's vast resources and its willingness to take a loss with each unit it sells. It's estimated the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant will incur an approximate $50 operating loss on each Zune.

    Sources in the far east have indicated that Microsoft hopes to sell as many as 3 million of the devices between Nov. 14 and the time Christmas rolls around in late December.