Sunday, December 9, 2007

ZUNE 80 Versus iPod Touch

Is a Zune better than an iPod Touch?
I've now owned both media players for more than a week. I started with the Touch and added the Zune 80 as soon as I could find one locally. My Touch is an 8 gig version. Obviously the Zune has more media capacity. Ten times more to be precise. So are the added capacity and unique features enough to make the Zune a better device? I'll answer that question eventually. For now I want to concentrate on how easy and how well each device plays media.

The Touch with it's touch screen has direct access to each function. The Zune may require scrolling up as many as 6 items before you can click on MUSIC. The touch pad on the second generation Zune allows an upward swipe to move the selection all the way to the top, so two actions at most are all that are required to open the music application. The iPod Touch wins but only by a hair with it's one-tap access.

Each player has sorting categories within the MUSIC application. On the Touch you can one-tap select from Playlists, Artists, Songs, Albums, and More. Selecting More brings up Audiobooks, Compilations, Composers, Genres, and Podcasts to choose from. Seven Explicit Music categories.

The Zune has Playlists, Songs, Genres, Albums, and Artists you can select from by clicking right or left within music app. There is a seperate application on the main menu for Podcasts. The Zune also has an FM Radio option that the Touch doesn't have. Five Explicit Music catagories.

Considering just the songs you have on either device, the Touch with it's Composer and Compilation sort option has the edge on finding your song by category. I've got three Christmas albums on both devices. Using Genres to find them, the Touch took 5 taps to display just Christmas albums from the Home screen. The Zune took as few as 3 clicks from the main menu, but took up to 7 clicks if the Zune was not already on the Music/Genres options when starting the search. To play a specific song from a specific Christmas album took two taps on the Touch. On the Zune it took four clicks at minimum assuming your were polished at scrolling with the Zune's touch pad. The Touch wins again as a quicker way to get a song to play.

Finding a song from the alphabetical song list is much easier on the Touch. Only 8 songs are visible on the Touch at one time. The Zune shows 12. The Touch has the complete alphabet along the right side of the screen. Tap on any letter and you are instantly moved to the songs beginning with that letter. One more tap is all it takes to begin playing any song listed on the screen. The Zune has no direct way to jump to a beginning letter group, and as such may take several swipes of the touch pad to just get close to the song you want. The Touch wins here again, thanks to the touch interface.

Once a song has been selected to play on either device, the large screens both show the cover art. The Touch has a Volume slider on the screen that you can slide with a finger. The Zune lets you control volume with upward or downward swipes across it's touch pad. The Touch has a software PLAY arrow on the screen you touch to pause and again to play. The Zune has a dedicated hard Play/Pause button. Both players will shut off their screens to save energy while still playing a song. You have to wake the Touch up with a button press and unlock it with a slide to get to the controls. The Zune wins this comparison with it's hard button controls that don't need the screen on for access.

The Zune seperates video into Music Videos and All Videos categories. The Touch seperates Video Podcasts from Movies. Within iTunes you can add cover art to DVD movies you've converted to sync to the Touch. The Zune software found and synced the same movies to my Zune, but there was no option I could find to add cover art. As such, movies are easier to spot on the Touch. The Zune grabs a video frame to use as art, and depending on the frame chosen does not always make it easy to spot the movie you want to select from it's artwork. Both players play videos horizontally. The Zune screen is a 4:3 ratio and the Touch screen is a 16:9 ratio. Playing the full screen movie Borat, the Touch appears to stretch the image a bit to fill the screen. The Movie looks great on both devices, though. The Zune screen is brighter, with what appears to be a higher contrast ratio than the Touch. The Touch screen has a higher native resolution, and is easier to see fine movie detail on. The wide screen movies Duets appears full screen on the Touch but with bars top on bottom on the Zune. Wide screen movies are 20-25% smaller on the Zune screen than they are on the Touch. Ouch! Titles/credits on the Zune screen are too small to resolve. The same can be easily read on the Touch. I'll call the Touch the winner for resolution and detail, but the Zune wins, especially with 4:3 movies, on contrast, brightness, and black blacks. Black colors on the Touch appear a little brown/gray, but it will play both 4:3 movies and 16:9 movies full screen.

The Zune has the brighter display. The Zune software also puts demo pictures on the Zune by default, and as they are the only photos I've got on the Zune I added them to my PC's collection using the Zune software, then copied them onto my Touch using the iTunes application. Both devices let you select individual photos to display and also let you play a slideshow of all the photos in a group. The default time between photos seems to be about 4 seconds on both devices. The Touch and it's multitouch screen moves ahead at this point. Any photo on it's screen can be zoomed in on and panned around on to bring small detail up close and centered on the screen. An icon tap on the photo screen brings up an option to select "Use As Wallpaper" and "Assign To Contact". Photos on the Touch also rotate as you rotate the Touch itself. Photos that don't fit the screen ratio in one orientation will rotate and enlarge to fill the screen in another. The Touch makes a more versatile little photo viewer than any Photo picture frame I've yet seen. Photos on the Zune have a limited zoom and pan with a click on the touchpad. A picture can also be selected to be the background image, but a portion of a picture cannot. The Touch wins this category thanks to it's more versatile ability to manipulate the photos. When full screen on either machine the photos appear more vivid on the Zune. So I'll give the Zune a 1/2 win here.

The iPod Touch steps away from the Music player pack now, mainly thanks to it's wireless internet access. It also has some PDA functionality with Calendar, Clock, Contacts, and Calculator. Apple will soon release the software development kit for the iPhone and iPod Touch, and once that happens there will arrive all sorts of 3rd party applications that can be added to either device. Given theses added features, the Touch wins this overall comparison easily. When you ignore them and consider only the common media playing features, the Touch still wins 6 to 2.5.

Both devices have wireless capabilities. The Zune's wireless is limited to syncing and limited sharing of songs to nearby Zunes. The Touch's wireless with network and internet access opens up far more potential. Internet applicatons like and Tversity on your PC mean you don't have to put every song you own on your Touch, yet you can stream nearly any song out there including your own songs that are shared on your home server. You can play any MP3 or quicktime file you can find on the internet without needing it physically installed on your device. The 80 Gigabyte advantage of the Zune melts away when a Touch is within range of a wireless internet access point.

So is a Zune 80 a better media player than an 8 Gig iPod Touch? Perhaps it's a little better at video. The bright and high contrast screen of the Zune looks better and the hard drive space will store considerably more videos. But for music, even with it's limited storage space, the Touch wins hands down.


  1. I think you should include a few comparisons concerning the current "hacks and mods" offered for both devices. Overall a fair and un-biased comparison.

  2. Of course the touch wins, the Zune 80 was not made to compete with it. It was meant to compete against the iPod classic models. I have 32 movies on my Zune and 6000 songs all at 256-320kb. I could only fit 3 movies on my iPhone and 1000 songs at 320kb. I carry both on me for the simple fact that the iPhone is a phone and web browser, while the Zune 80 is my MP3/video player. The 8GB iTouch is useless to me because of its space limitations. The 16 and 32GB iTouchs are just to expensive for my liking.