One of our most positive initial reactions to the Zune HD was that we haven’t seen a better OLED (organic light emitting diode) display. At 3.3 inches, the display (480x272 pixels) is crisp with great colour. The device is built well, and owing to its slimness and a brushed-metal rear cover, feels pretty solid. There are only three keys on the device: a flush-fitting power button on the top, a (very useless) media navigation button and an elongated menu button just below the display. Start-up is quick, thanks to some new hardware courtesy NVIDIA. There’s an HD video processor, an audio processor, two ARM cores and a graphics processor. The specific Tegra solution used is the APX 2600 and this system-on-a-chip (SoC) is based on a 65-nanometre fabrication process. Thanks to this, there’s an HD video-out capable of 720p, although the cable for the same is a separate purchase.

Multiple uses: The Zune HD’s interface allows you to perform more functions.

Game on

Thanks to Tegra, the Zune HD is amply powered for every multimedia usage scenario one can think of, and menu responsiveness and activity animations are super smooth with no delays whatsoever. Microsoft has promised 3D games for this platform, which means what we’re seeing in terms of performance is probably a cakewalk for the APX 2600, and it is only 3D applications that might better utilize the jawdropping hardware under its hood.

User (interface) alert

The interface is a lot more complicated than Apple’s simplistic one and you will take an hour to get your bearings. The device has a good, clean menu system. Comparing it to the iPod Touch, its obvious competitor, we find Apple has a much simpler, better-defined menu structure where it’s difficult to go wrong. But to some, this soon becomes boring as it involves mostly list-like menus. With the Zune, you will perform many more functions.

Browser power

The Zune HD ships with a tweaked version of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer for WM (Windows Mobile) devices, pretty much necessary for a device with Wi-Fi support. It’s a little feature-light, missing out on a history feature and Web page viewing is not as snappy as it is on Apple’s Safari-based iPod Touch, for example; however, this is not a hardware fault, but rather a problem with browser optimization.

While on the topic of browsing, the Zune HD features what initially looks like a small on-screen keyboard, but one that is fairly accurate and on the whole works very well.

Audio, video, interface

Videos look sweet, with good colour, detail and contrast.

In terms of audio quality, the bundled earphones are mediocre, but the device’s audio quality is good. You can directly download songs to the device without need of a computer.

That was close!

Now for the downside: The Zune HD isn’t available here!

Sad, because this is surely Microsoft’s best attempt yet to nuke what can only be described as Apple’s utter domination of a segment.

No, we don’t hate Apple: It’s just that a healthy dose of competition is good for us all. In its current avatar, the Zune comes close, with brilliant hardware and a very good interface and performance all round; but the iPod Touch is a tough act to follow.

Price: $219 for 16GB, and $289 for 32GB

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