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iPod Nano Adds FM, Video; Zune Tunes Into HD Radio

Thanks to Apple's new iPod nano, I know that walking from my porch steps to the top of the escalator at my Metro stop involves 949 steps and burns 41 calories. And thanks to Microsoft's new Zune HD, I've listened to some old '80s alt-rock songs that I never thought I'd hear on the air, thanks to the "HFS2" HD Radio channel aired by the otherwise unremarkable WTGB 94.7 FM.


It's amazing what you can pick up in this line of work, no?

But the bottom line of today's review was less of a surprise: The longstanding virtues of the iPod line--simple operation, good battery life, compact design--allowed the new nano to ride out the defects of its video camera, while the Zune HD's substantially improved design and interface couldn't outweigh its historically subpar music store and compatibility issues.

Below, you can watch a clip of me using the iPod's video camera to show off some of the Zune's features and foibles. And after that, you can read up on a few finer points about these devices that I couldn't fit into the column:

* The iPod's camera comes with a somewhat hidden bonus feature: Hold down the center button of the click wheel to bring up a menu of 15 effects to overlay over the video (for instance, "Cyborg," gives you a Terminator's-eye view of the scenery). Practical? Not really. Amusing? Quite possibly.

* The iPod's shake-to-shuffle-playback option no longer seems to get set off so easily if you're air drumming (sure, like you haven't done that when nobody's looking).

* The iPod has a fractionally larger screen, at 2.2 inches (376 by 240 pixels) instead of the older model's 2-in. (320 by 240) display.

* The Zune HD's screen, in turn, uses organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology, which allows for better contrast and deeper blacks than the conventional LCD on the iPod. You can see the difference in quality--well, under indoor lighting--in the photo accompanying the review.

* Microsoft's current figures for the Zune Marketplace's inventory, as provided by spokesman Brian Eskridge: about 6 million songs, 10,000 TV episodes and 500 movies. Apple's numbers for iTunes: about 11 million songs, 50,000 TV episodes and 7,500 movies.

* To watch some of those TV shows and movies in high definition, you can connect a Zune HD to an HDTV with an $89.99 dock. Note, however, that the Zune's own menus don't show up in high-def.

* The setup procedure for the Zune was less than impressive. Installing its software required restarting a Windows Vista laptop; once connected to the PC, the Zune HD had to download and install its own software update. (Yet another software update was required to use that dock.)

* Microsoft isn't planning to open up Zune HD application development to most third parties, although Eskridge e-mailed that the company might collaborate with "a handful of chosen developers" down the line.

* The Zune HD's browser has no relation to the one in Microsoft's upcoming Windows Mobile 6.5 release (which seems like an odd waste of resources to me; maybe the Zune and WinMo development teams occupy buildings on opposite ends of the Redmond campus?).

Have you picked up either of these gadgets? I'd like to see your thoughts--post your $.02 worth in the comments below.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  September 18, 2009; 9:57 AM ET
Categories:  Gadgets , Music , Video  
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Your video and comments show that you haven't used the Zune HD much, and show a your bios toward Apple's products.

You don't have to press the button on the left of the Zune HD to adjust volume. You can just tap the screen once to bring up the controls. Also, you don't have to tap the + or - repeatedly to raise or lower the volume one step at a time. You can simply scroll up or down on the screen to adjust the volume fluidly.

You said, "Getting there and back on the interface can be a tad confusing sometimes." You should know that the black button near the bottom of the Zune HD is the Home button, and can get you back to the home screen from anywhere very quickly.

You said that "the Zune marketplace is a bit of a mess." I've never had any problem using the Zune marketplace. Perhaps you can tell us what your problem was.

"Oh, and now it's [the web browser] isn't working at all." It helps if you're in a good wireless area. My Zune web browser works fine. In fact, it just connected to the Washington Post online.

Thanks for showing that the HD Radio works, although you could have explained that the station you were on has three separate digital channels to show how much better it is than just an FM radio.

Posted by: rw-c | September 20, 2009 10:12 AM | Report abuse

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