Zune's fascinating potential


The main menu offers the top-level options such as access to music, videos, images and FM radio (which is one of the few features the Zune has that iPod doesn't). To move through the list, you press the up and down arrow buttons in the circular central controller, then press the larger button in the middle to accept the option.

If you select music, for example, a list of all CDs appears on-screen with additional options, such as switching to a list of artists or genres, that are displayed horizontally at the top of the screen. You use the right and left arrow keys to cycle through those options. The end result is that you can move through a specific path of options a bit faster than you can with an iPod, which requires you to cycle through more separate screens.

The transitions between screens are an attractive combination of fades and effects, and the screens themselves are quite visually appealing. When you play a song, for instance, the album cover is far larger on-screen, providing more of a connection with the album.

The visually attractive interface is made possible by Zune's 3-in., 320 x 240 resolution display, which is larger than the 2.5-in. screen of comparable iPods. For the moment, Zune's display is another strong advantage -- at least until Apple unleashes its next-generation device, which, according to rumors, will have a larger touch screen and Wi-Fi. Of course, while playing the videos that come preloaded on Zune is enjoyable, your selection is highly limited, since Zune Marketplace doesn't yet sell video clips.

Mixed look and feel