At this point, it's basically a given that I use an iPod. Apple has sold 220 million of 'em, almost one for every American of music-liking age. We jet out our doors each morning, press play and put the machine in our pocketrarely realizing that the Miike Snow album we're listening to is actually coming from the gadget, not from inside our heads. The iPod and humankind are inseparable.
But lately, the Techtonic Shifts bloggers have tasked NEWSWEEK's writers with turning in their beloved tech products for a direct competitore.g., making one switch from Firefox to Internet Explorerand documenting the results. I was forced to stick my cherished iPod in a drawer for one week ... and use the new Microsoft Zune HD.
The Zune gets a bad rap, but I wasn't too worried. Music is music, right? Before I had an iPod, I had one of those archaic MP3 playersthe ones that took compact flash cards—and I could drag, drop, and dance to my pleasure's content. Uploading was a snap. Sound quality was fine. Mainly, I was just glad to get rid of my candy-apple-red Discman. But now that I've had an iPod for more than five years, it's become about something more than music. It took having a Zune to realize that.
Sure, when I'm merely listening, the Zune functions in basically the same way my iPod did: I put on a song, I put it in my pocket, then another song comes on. Soon enough, though, minor but annoying snags began to pile up: since the new Zune has a sensitive touchscreen, songs would often switch when my finger brushed the product. That happened a lot, because the screen lock is inexplicably the same button as the on/off switch—something I didn't find out for a few days because I refused to check the manual. With my iPod, I never read the instructions. It just intuitively worked.
In fairness, I probably didn't get the most out of the Zune's subscription model of music, which gets you unlimited songs (sort ofsome cost extra, and they're priced in the ridiculous "Microsoft Points" currency), as long as you keep forking over a monthly payment. When you stop paying, all those tracks and bucks are gone. That makes little sense. A bigger problem was that my Zune wasn't compatible with my MacBook. That meant I had to load the player using my locked-down work computer.
I never thought a music player could create embarrassing situations, but the Zune proved me wrong on several occasions. It also managed to cut me: unlike the iPod with its sleek round corners, the Zune has a trapezoidal shapeand the expensive-looking metal can create sharp corners if you drop the product on the street.
Even if my iPod cut me, I would still love it. The Zune simply didn't wow me. Yes, it has HD radio—but the stations aren't that compelling. Yes, the Zune has a Web browser. But the screen is smallish, and with no 3G antenna, it mainly works indoors, when I'm likely near a real browser. Yes, the Zune can download apps—but even the dinky calculator takes 30 seconds to load.
And yes, you can sign up for Zune Social, which allows you to link up with friends and share music. More than anything else, that explains the problem: none of my friends has a Zune to get social with. I've never even seen one in public, which perhaps explains why I got so many weird looks when I pulled mine out on the subway.