Living With The Zune

I've had my Zune for about 6 months now and wanted to revisit my thoughts on it since I first got it.

First, the hardware is great, there is only one issue I have with it (bookmarking) and I consider that more of a software/firmware issue than a problem with the actual device. The interface is great, navigation is fast and easy, the screen is great looking, the matte finish has prevented any scratches and I find I like it's over-all look more each day.

The software, ahh, the software. Ever had an itchy shirt tag or a pebble in your shoe that at first you thought you could live with but after a few hours you feel like you're being tortured and you'll tell all secrets just to get rid of the agonizing pain? Yeah, that's been my experience with the Zune's software. Here are the "pebbles" that have grown into throbbing pains in my arse:

Metadata and Tagging

Almost everything about the tagging support bothers me and I have a whole list of items.

  • Copying songs from Zune to PC results in any songs that don't have their "Album Artist" field set ending up in "Unknown Artist" folder. Extra annoying because both the Zune and the software itself understand that you should fall back to Artist, a standard ID3 tag, when Album Artist, a non-standard tag, is used. Why couldn't they extend the same logic to file copying?
  • Unable to set metadata for pictures or video. So while Vista supports tagging of photos forget being able to access that in the Zune software.
  • "Find Album Info" is painfully slow when trying to find missing album information. It's also not very robust and it's tied into a cumbersome wizard, song-by-song approach. It should be tied directly to the Marketplace so you can find the album or song and say, "see these songs I've selected? map their info onto these other songs I have in my library, including album art."

This is the only the tip, I could fill three blogs worth of posts with my issues with the tagging support.

Large Library Support

My 80GB networked library seems to almost choke the software. When I plug in my Zune it seems to take 5 minutes for it just to re-read everything that's on the device. There really is nothing snappy feeling about the software when it's loaded up with 80GB of music. Free software like Winamp does a much better job with large libraries.

No Bookmarking Support

This is an issue if you listen to long podcasts or books. I'll often want to mark an interesting place in a podcast or remember my position in an audio book. I should be able to set a bookmark, go play a few songs and then return to my prior bookmark in my audio book. I can think of a few ways this could be implemented, such as "turning on" bookmarking support for a track so anytime you navigate away it's position is auto-saved and if you press play again it auto-resumes. Another less fancy but still usable process would be bringing up a song's menu and selecting bookmark. Either way it's a sorely lacking feature and I curse the lack of it almost every day when I lose my place in my daily BBC podcast. Seriously, this should probably be my #1 annoyance.

Unable to Play Directly

If you want to play any music that's on your Zune via your PC you have to first copy it off the device. Obviously it's annoying because you have to take the time to copy it off, then it's doubly annoying if the Album Artist isn't set (see metadata and tagging above) because your songs end up in the great Unknown Artist folder. A subtle yet more insidiously annoying issue is that a lot of my songs go unrated because of this. Since I copy the music off in 'Guest' mode there is no syncing, because there is no syncing anything I rate in the Zune software on the Guest machine is worthless. If I want the rating to "stick" I have to manually copy it *back* to the Zune and that's a crapshoot, as sometimes it over-rights correctly while other times it just creates a copy. If I could just play the music directly I could avoid all of this.


The more iTunes widgets I see the more I realize that the Zune community is missing out. There is a huge database of information and I should be able to easily write plug-ins that both interact with the UI as well as mine the data for great Sidebar gadgets. Great community driven widgets and plug-ins can really add to a product. For example CoverFlow, the lovely ability to flip through album art in iTunes and the iPhone, started out as a plug-in created by a third-party, not as some great Apple genius.


The little bits that annoy:

  • Unable to see album art in the software for songs on your Zune.
  • No global hotkeys.
  • When using a media keyboard to control volume the volume slider doesn't adjust up or down in the software.
  • Recalculates remaining Zune space when you're copying music *off* the Zune. How is that going to affect the available remaining?
  • Marketplace landing page takes too long to load.
  • Limited file renaming choices.
  • No way to tag a song or album as "download for later" or "interesting" in the Marketplace.
  • Zero community or "social" aspect built into the software. Where is the playlist sharing? The user reviews?

The Rest

It's worth mentioning that I'm *not* annoyed by the lack of people to "squirt" songs to or lack of greater wifi abilities. All the little feature some people want, like a calendar, alarm and clock don't phase me. Podcasts? I use FeedDemon to download them. My first desire is a robust music player and music *manager*. It used to be you could have an amazing hardware device and the software could suck since you could manage the device in a number of ways. Take a Creative Zen, you can either copy files directly, use their software, use Media Player, Winamp or a handful of other utilities. Create's music management software could suck all day and it wouldn't really matter. Now, with the software/hardware lock-model of the iPod and Zune the software has to be *at least* as good as the device. Currently the Zune hardware gets a "B+" while the software gets a "D-". I'm really hoping a new version comes along soon that fixes some of these issues.

With all of that being said though don't confuse constructive criticism for dismissal, I still really like the Zune and it's still a joy when it comes to doing the one thing it was really meant for, playing music.