Preview: Microsoft Shows Innovative New Zune Software

Company boosts Zune hardware capacity, and updates software to add playlist auto-generation feature.

Microsoft quietly announced its third-generation Zune MP3 players and software last week, news that got lost amidst the din of Apple's "Let's Rock" event. As expected, Microsoft will offer a new 120GB hardware model and a 16GB flash model in new blue-on-silver and all-black color schemes. The models will be available for purchase on September 16; the Zune 3.0 media player software for Windows will be available for download that same day, and will work with all generations of Zunes.

A firmware update will also be available for first- and second-generation Zunes (third-generation firmware is preinstalled). The new models will replace the existing 80GB Zune and 4GB Zune, which will continue to be sold at US$230 and $130 respectively until they sell out. The 120GB Zune sells for $250, the same price as Apple's new 120GB player.

Microsoft hopes to outshine its competition by offering innovative ways for customers to discover music. Both Zune models integrate an FM tuner--a feature that no Apple iPods have. The Zune takes advantage of its tuner and its built-in wireless connectivity with its new "Buy from FM" ability. Have you ever heard a terrific song on the radio but failed to figure out the title and artist? Buy from FM will make tracking it down easy: Just tag the song you like, enter a Wi-Fi hotspot, and immediately purchase and download the song. If Wi-Fi isn't available, the Zune sets up a queue of songs you tagged ready for download.

Another appealing new feature of the Zune 3.0 software is MixView. Zune's MixView is Microsoft's answer to Apple iTunes 8's new Genius ability to generate playlists automatically. I saw a preview of MixView this week, and found it a visually stunning way to listen to and find new music.

For example, if you pick an album or artist in MixView, images of related content will blossom around it. Click on one of the surrounding images, and a new display will appear. Double-clicking on the image allows you to hear the full song and to purchase it.

Images of like-minded listeners from the Zune Social community will also pop up along with the recommended music. Connecting music fans to one another is a nice personalization feature. Like Genius, MixView makes recommendations based on songs within your library and the online store (the Zune Marketplace in this case, versus the iTunes Store for Genius). But the Zune algorithm engine also draws from the Social community, an element that Genius lacks.

Unfortunately, both Buy from FM and the full MixView experience--the coolest new Zune features--are available only to Zune Pass subscribers for $15 per month. Nonsubscribers can use MixView, but can hear only 30 seconds of the song.

Available to nonsubscribers is a new section in the Zune Marketplace called Picks, which suggests albums, artists, and tracks based on music the user has been listening to. It's also a way for users to keep up-to-date on new songs from their favorite artists.

Ultimately, Zune seeks to draw in new customers and iPod converts through its software. Zune 3.0 is a free download (Windows only) and many of its features are available to nonsubscribers and device owners. If you're tired of your current desktop media player, the Zune 3.0 player will be worth downloading if only for its nifty visual effects.

Zune 3.0 is certainly more aesthetically pleasing and offers a greater array of opportunities for music discovery and social interaction than iTunes 8. Considering that the iPod currently holds 70 percent of the MP3 player market, however, the new features alone are unlikely to be enough to make Zune an actual threat.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Ginny Mies

PC World (US online)
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?