Friday, January 16, 2009

Geek Toy Fridays

What better way to spend a Friday than writing about the toys and gadgets that make us uber-geeks drool? It is in that spirit that I am proud to introduce "Geek Toy Fridays". Every Friday, I will post an article about some gadget that has caught my eye. From the practical to the bizaar, from the old to the new, I'll do my best to cover it on Fridays.

So let's get started with one from my personal collection.

This little object goes with me where ever I go, right along with my cell phone and Pocket PC. It's an entertainment powerhouse, holding a good subset of my music collection, along with news podcasts and pictures of my friends and family. And it is NOT an iPod.

It is a Zune.

Yes, that's right. A Zune. Bill Gate's creation, with the intent to unseat the iPod as the king of pocket media enjoyment. "So?" you ask. "Does it?" Well, let's take a look.

I personally own the 8GB model. Microsoft's recent release upped the sizes of the small and large Zunes to 16GB and 120GB, respectively. Beyond the size differences, however, all Zunes are pretty much the same, offer the same features, and pretty much run the same software. So let's take a closer look at mine, which will give you a pretty solid look at all of the Zune lineup.

The attached image, which is taken directly from, gives you a good idea of what the menu system looks like. All navigation is done using the center, touch sensitive pad. This pad can either be used by "clicking" its edges to move the selection and pressing its center to select, or by "gliding" your finger up, down, left, or right to move the selection and pressing its center to select. The "glide" motion can be a bit difficult to get used to at first, but once you do, it is by far the easiest way to navigate your music and video collection.

From the menu shown in the image, you can see the Zune is capable of playing music (AAC audio, Windows Media Audio, MP3) and video (MPEG-4, QuickTime, Windows Media Center DVR, Windows Media Video), and displaying JPEG images. It is also capable of tuning into a playing your favorite local radio stations with a built-in FM tuner, as well as playing back your favorite podcasts.

Where the Zune truly outdoes the iPod is in its ability to be social. The "social" and "marketplace" menu items allow you to connect to other Zune owners via wireless 802.11g networking. The "social" menu item lets you share music with other Zune owners within range of you, and the "marketplace" allows you to purchase new music from the Zune online market from any wireless network. The built-in networking also allows you to synch your Zune with its paired computer via a home wireless network.

As I said above, I don't leave the house without my Zune. Like so many iPod owners, I've found my Zune to be a very useful addition to my portable electronics arsenal. I think it measures up to the iPod by any measure, and would recommend one to anyone who is looking for a higher-end MP3 player.

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