Prizefight (week of September 30)
Zune HD vs. iPod Touch
Zune HD vs. iPod Touch
This year's iPod vs. Zune Prizefight is more closely matched than ever, showcasing a Zune HD that has been pleasantly surprising critics from all over the tech world, and a third-generation iPod Touch that is known more for what it doesn't have (a camera) than for the few new features it brings.
As always, our Prizefight judges are some of CNET's most opinionated when it comes to portable media players. So strap yourself in, suspend your own judgments for a few minutes, and let our CNET editors do the work for you as they argue over which device is worth your money.
Round 1: NavigationIn round one, we examine the interface of the MP3 player. Touch screens are cool, but making them intuitive and responsive is harder than it seems. Both the Zune and the Touch take advantage of similar capacitive, multitouch screen technology, but the user interface on each is quite different. Which interface makes more sense?
|Zune HD (32GB - platinum)||5Being able to match the iPod Touch is amazing enough, but for including innovative navigation features such as Quickplay, Pins, History, and on-the-fly playlist creation, Microsoft deserves big praise. Plus, the overall experience is more playful than the iPod.||4The Zune HD interface is really, really cool looking, and I love the scrolling text and artist photos on the playback screen. But it's not quite as intuitive as the Touch interface. There's no shuffle all playback option or dedicated volume--kind of important for a player that stresses music so much.||4Navigation the Zune HD is great, but it's just not as easy as the Touch--but by only a smidgen. Also has multitouch functionality.||4.3|
|Apple iPod Touch (third generation, 32GB)||5Navigation on the Touch is brilliant, fast, intuitive, fluid, methodical, and consistent from menu to menu. Compared with the Zune, though, the experience is a little dry.||5The iPod Touch interface is a no-brainer. It doesn't have the "wow" appeal of the Zune HD, but it's exceedingly straightforward and I appreciate the dedicated volume switch. Plus, the option to have tactile playback controls built into headphones is a nice touch.||5Still has the best navigation for every function from the operating system, to the media player with its multitouch.||5|
Round 2: SexinessYou don't want to throw $300 at a product that you're embarrassed to be seen with. It's almost assumed that any Apple product will take the sexiness round, but Microsoft may have finally have a hottie on the hands.
|Zune HD (32GB - platinum)||5The Zune is the hottest product I've seen all year, and it is one of the first touch-screen devices I've used that doesn't immediately conjure iPhone comparisons. The OLED screen gives me goose bumps and its aluminum body feels like it fell off the set of "Battlestar Galactica."||5Hawt. Love the brushed aluminum color options, superstylish Zune Originals etchings, and gloriously defined OLED screen. Plus, it's more pocket-friendly than the iPod Touch.||4Very attractive, with an industrial edge to it. Obviously took design cues from the iPod Touch after its first attempt. Have customizable back plates as well.||4.7|
|Apple iPod Touch (third generation, 32GB)||4The iPod Touch has a beautiful design, but it hasn't changed a bit from last year and still has an iPhone look-a-like vibe. You won't find a slimmer portable media player, but it won't turn as many heads as the Zune.||4No doubt about it: that ample screen and polished chrome backside make the Touch a hottie, but it, frankly, seems just a tad dull and dated next to the Zune HD.||5Top notch sexy. It's the slimmest, sleekest gadget right now.||4.3|
Round 3: CompatibilityThis is a subjective take on each MP3 player's compatibility with software, file formats, and services we like to use. The Zune and the iPod Touch are both known for their inflexibility when it comes to computer software. Relatively speaking, though, let's figure out which one plays nice with the most stuff.
|Zune HD (32GB - platinum)||2I know Macs still don't hold a major share of the computer market, but everyone I show the Zune to seems utterly heartbroken that it won't work on Mac. Even PC users have reason to be bummed that they can only use one program to load content. Give me Last.fm support and I'll add a point, OK, Microsoft?||4The Zune Marketplace is about as pretty as one could hope from a jukebox-music store, and like iTunes, it offers a fair amount of video content. Plus, you have that all-important subscription component. Keeping it from perfection is a lack of native Mac support.||3The Zune Marketplace is PC only, so they won't be winning over curious Mac users. AAC, MP3, and WMA support. Its catalog of media content is a lot smaller compared with iTunes. It has an excellent hybrid subscription service.||3|
|Apple iPod Touch (third generation, 32GB)||5The iPod Touch works with Rhapsody now (sort of), streams Internet radio, works on Mac or PC, and has a few million accessories to play with. It can't play WMA or WMV, but personally I don't care. Wi-Fi music, video, and podcast downloads make software limitations less of an issue.||4iTunes 9 is a big improvement over its predecessor in terms of look and feel, and I certainly appreciate its vast music and--more importantly--video catalog. Plus, it's compatible with my Mac. However, limited file format support and no subscription music option take it down one notch.||4Apple is closed off with the iTunes software for iPods and nothing else. But does it matter with its market dominance and the largest media catalog? It supports major file formats, but not WMA.||4.3|
Round 4: Sound and scienceIn the fourth round, we consider sound quality, storage capacity, bonus features, battery life, and any other wonders of science.
|Zune HD (32GB - platinum)||3The Zune's sound quality can hold up to the iPod Touch, but it doesn't do anything to push beyond it. I mean, even a $40 Sansa Clip offers a 5-band custom EQ. No Bluetooth, but just look at that awesome OLED screen.||5It's true that the Zune HD's screen isn't as big for video-viewing purposes and there is a very limited selection of apps, but for me, this is a music player and it does that exceedingly well. It has fantastic audio quality and solid audio battery life.||4Zune had a slight edge in sound quality. Web browser is very good, but not at the Safari level. FM radio still works great and being able to dock it with your TV is nice, even if it's a $89 add-on. There's no app store here.||4|
|Apple iPod Touch (third generation, 32GB)||3Neither of these players really affords much in the way of tweaking the sound, nor do they include good earbuds. The iPod Touch does offer Bluetooth support, though. Also, I like how the light sensor can automatically adjust screen brightness.||5Maybe its sound quality isn't the greatest, but I don't use the iPod Touch for music. The selection of videos, games, and other apps really takes it home for me, and its battery life is decent for all of that. Plus, there's a 64GB option, which is great.||5More than a media player, it's a pocket-computer with best mobile Web browser. There's voice control and recording, and the App Store and quantity of apps...no contest yet.||4.3|
Round 5: ValueLast, but definitely not least, we consider the price of the MP3 player measured against its features, design, and performance.
|Zune HD (32GB - platinum)||3Without a 16GB iPod Touch from Apple, the Zune HD's $219 model is sitting pretty next to the $199 Touch with half the capacity. But without the near-infinite extensibility of the iTunes App Store, the Zune HD won't retain its value as well as the Touch.||5More gigabytes for your money gives the Zune HD an edge in my book. And, yes, you do have to pay $15 per month for a Zune Pass to really appreciate the device, but considering that includes 10 song downloads per month you get to keep, I think that's pretty much a steal.||4At $289 for 32GB, the Zune HD doesn't have all the features of the iPod Touch, but it's still a solid value. The Zune Pass service costs $15, but you get 10 downloads per month--which one of the best. However, it adds $180 per year to the total cost.||4|
|Apple iPod Touch (third generation, 32GB)||4I know 8GB isn't a lot, but Apple's capability to bring an App Store-capable device down to $199 is a huge value. Even at $299, all those games, apps, movie rentals, and Bluetooth support add up to a great bargain.||4The iPod Touch is pricey, but you do get a lot for your money, so it's a fairly solid value. A good selection free apps helps it out.||4It's $299 for the 32GB with an updated processor and voice controls. Its functionality goes beyond what any other player on the market can do.||4|
The winner is...
Zune HD (4 pts)
Apple iPod Touch (third generation) (4.4 pts)
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