Microsoft Zune player and software hands-on gallery

It's been a long, arduous trip prying our way into Microsoft's inner workings this past year, but we finally got a chance to sit down with all three Zunes and get some serious play time with the damned things. It may be a little early to give final impressions, but let's just say what we saw is a very decent start. The player was responsive and fast; all functions worked flawlessly and without delay. The software and storefront has a lot of new, unique features that make browsing and finding music a more engrossing, enjoyable experience. Obviously Apple is the game to beat -- and a tough game at that -- but something tells us this little player's got some fight in it. We're not going to talk too much about the device itself, namely because we'd rather show you; later today expect a walkthrough of every nook and cranny of the device, and a demo of its wireless functionality. But in the mean time, click on for loads more high res shots of the Zune family, software, Marketplace, and, um, executive briefcase.

White, black (with blue double-shot), and brown (with green double-shot). You'll be seeing a lot more of that detailing momentarily.

So what was hardware revision 1, anyway?

Another picture which helps illustrate that double-shot effect; the translucent white was nearly as good as the brown/green.

The white happened to be the most photogenic, but we'll have plenty of shots of all the devices.

The double-shot kind of makes you forget that it's a little thicker than you might like it to be. Sorry, that'll be the last time we mention the double-shot.

The rear, as you may know, has a small circular indentation exactly opposite the circular d-pad on the other side. Supposedly it's so your hand feels the symmetry and is more comfortable when it's in portrait mode.

P.S. -"Hello from Seattle."

The matte finish is very good at reflecting fingerprints, and overall the body feels extremely solid. It's not a metal body, but it doesn't really need to be.

So it was pretty obvious they had to do a stark white Zune, right? We're going to go out on a limb with the iPod lovers in the house and say we liked it more. Again, the body repelled fingerprints, and felt solid and scratch resistant. We were happy to learn the back and play/pause buttons to the left and right weren't touch-sensitive (ala the 3G iPod), but were actual buttons with tactility. Bullet dodged.

The dock connector was hard to capture, but what do you need to see? It pretty much looks like every other dock connector out there.

The top of the unit is very minimalist: hold switch and headphone jack and that's it. Refreshing, considering the only thing we didn't like about the Gigabeat S was the bevy of buttons wrapped around every side and corner.

We're not done.

Here we've got the ZuneCase. It's a ZeroHalliburton; we asked if the combination was 007, but we were fed the standard-issue "If I told you I'd have to kill you..."

Precious cargo. Do you have any idea what these would sell for on the black market?

Let's move on to the software.

So we got a chance to play with the very media-heavy Zune software and Marketplace. At first blush it looks a lot like your usual PlaysForSure operation, but the devil's in the details. Outside the obvious differences (photo and movie manager, etc.), Microsoft's attempted to take the music store to the next step. We didn't get to the downloading-syncing-loading-listening part of the process, but what we did see we liked.

You've got your highlighted content, top artist / album / song, etc., dynamic leads per genre, recommended music, the usual fare.

Drilling down a little further, however, you can get some more interesting categorizations. Styles, year, playlists, and new releases are some of the methods one can use to get in good with the Zune store's content.

From here things look familiar enough; snag the track for X or Y amount of dollars/points, track info, etc.

But start looking at artists, genres, albums, and what have you, you'll see "depth" per stack based on how much content is available. It's an interesting and remarkable new way of quickly visually assessing where your content is (and isn't).

Finally, in here we've got the cached index of shared tracks between Zunes. Convenient for a) you remembering a song someone sent your Zune, and b) Microsoft remembering a song someone sent your Zune. Kinda makes it hard to get sent that song again, or to stay away from aggregate statistical customer analysis.

Generally the software seemed very responsive, especially search. This may have had to do with the fact that the Zune software stores an index of every artist, album, and track on your hard drive for faster access (don't worry, they say it's minuscule, which we've got our doubts about), as well as all the images you pull up while browsing.

As for the hardware, again, we'll reserve judgment here and let you see for yourself in our forthcoming Zune video. There isn't much we can say at this point about the crippled functionality of the wireless, but if you haven't already come to terms with what features the Zune is and isn't launching with, then you might want to try and look at it for its merits as a player (while ignoring the wireless) -- or simply keep looking for another device. See you in a few!