After having already seen photo galleries, video walkthroughs, and endless spec sheets focused on Microsoft's upcoming Zune player, there's no real need to hear Walt Mossberg's and David Pogue's take on the attempted iPod-assassin -- but we'd be lying if we said that we had absolutely no interest in learning the opinions of two of the day's most influential tech journalists with regard to one of the most hyped consumer electronics products of the year. In their thorough write-ups, both Pogue and Mossberg tell us what we pretty much already knew about the device, and which can best be summed up by this variation on a famous political retort: "Mr. Ballmer, I served with the iPod; I knew the iPod; the iPod was a friend of mine. Mr. Ballmer, your Zune is no iPod."
Specifically, each of these esteemed reviewers found the Zune lacking in terms of portability ("The Zune looks big and blocky, sort of like a prototype for a gadget, rather than a finished product," said Mossberg), battery life (less than the iPod's, or even Microsoft's own claims), and content selection (there are currently no movies, TV shows, or podcasts available on the Zune Marketplace, although a last-minute deal with Universal does bulk up the offerings somewhat). Furthermore, Zune's one potential "iPod-killing" feature -- music sharing over WiFi -- is judged to be a complete dud; instead of truly helping the consumer discover new music, Pogue opines that "you can't shake the feeling that it's all just a big plug for Microsoft's music store." Mossberg goes on to knock the Marketplace's point system -- you can only buy points in $5 blocks -- and both gentlemen lament the dearth of accessories and the perceived "screw you" to all parties who have already invested in the PlaysForSure microcosm.
So, is there nothing positive to say about the ol' Zune? Of course not: the device gets high marks for its smooth syncing, polished GUI, intuitive navigation, ability to dock with an Xbox 360, and solid build quality. The problem is, these niceties don't outweigh the missing or frustrating features -- so although it may be a decent player on its own merits, it falls far short in the inevitable comparisons to Apple's darling. Still, we're reminded once again that this is only the first generation of Microsoft's entry into portable audio hardware, and like so many other products from Redmond, it promises to only get better with time.