"Excellent Flash MP3 player w/OLED screen"5.0 starson by karmamule
Pros: Brilliant OLED screen; very lightweight and small, but not TOO small; versatile video capabilities including 720p out via dock; subscription music option; fun; can sync wirelessly; smart dj feature surprisingly good
Cons: Price should be lower to boost competitiveness; on-screen only volume controls; no 64gb size available (yet)
Summary: I've owned Zunes from each generation (first the 30gb, then the 80 and 120, and now the HD), and they've all been solid, capable players with a good set of features that stand up to any competitor out there. With the Zune HD a certain level of flair has been added that has been missing before, with a beautiful OLED screen, a slick and capable UI with some interesting features like the ability to 'pin' commonly used features to the front, and HD radio.
The player is on the lighter side, and may be smaller than you think if you've only seen it in photos by itself. It's very light and smaller than equivalent iPods, but the screen packs almost as much resolution as those larger players. Despite that, it doesn't feel cheap or flimsy.
The UI and player's design aesthetic is definitely different from the iPod, more angular for the player, and a much busier UI that nevertheless doesn't feel cluttered or cramped. Large bold fonts that don't always "fit" the screen feel right because the UI does a great job of having them fly in and out to be legible while given a certain level of style that past Zunes have lacked. It's the kind of thing you have to see in person to appreciate.
The expected tight integration with their 'Marketplace' software is as expected, with some nice capabilities others lack like wireless syncing with your PC, as well as the ability to stream and/or download subscription music wirelessly if within wifi range.
The subscription service, Zune Pass, is a key differentiator for me that led me to choose the Zune ecosystem instead of Apple's iTunes/iPod. iPods and iTunes are undeniably well designed, and work very well for most people.
However, as someone who likes to listen to a wide variety of music and enjoys finding new artists to listen to and appreciate, having the subscription service is a killer feature. For $15 a month you can download 10 MP3 songs to keep, and the other $5 goes towards the ability to stream and/or download from a huge selection of millions of songs. Unlike Pandora, LastFM, or other services you also have exact control over what you listen to, and when.
Many people seem to thinking buying or "renting" music is an either/or option, but if you can afford the extra $5 a month, then you can both buy your favorite songs above and beyond the 10 per month provided, AND enjoy the subscription music. It's a great combo, and is the primary feature that lead me to pick Zunes over iPods without a look back.
The Marketplace software itself is a worthy contender to iTunes, with a well-designed UI that has lots of slick features like 'mixview' to quickly see related artists and/or Zune users who are also fans of the artist, and also a surprisingly good Smart DJ feature that seems finally to actually work well and be of use, as opposed to past attempts. Inspired by Rhapsody's Channels (which came before Apple's Genius feature, and are similar in nature), the Smart DJ will instantly make a playlist from both your collection's music as well as music available via Zune Pass if you have it. This gives you a great way to mix in your favorites with new music discovery and I'm already having lots of fun with it.
Video and audio podcasts are available, as is a good selection of TV show episodes and movies available for both rental or purchase in most cases, in both standard and HD formats.
The built in web browser is surprisingly good too. This isn't too important to me, as I already have an iPhone, but it's good to have for fallback. It's not as polished as Safari on the iPod touch, but it came much closer than I thought it would.
In larger metropolitan areas like Boston the HD radio can also be an excellent feature. The sound quality isn't hugely better than regular FM in my opinion, but what is wonderful is that you have access to additional streams for each HD radio station. For example WGBH has 3 HD signals, so if you don't like what they're playing on one of them, try the other two.
The app store is the one feature that is no match for its iPod equivalent. There's a rather sad selection of a handful of apps at the moment, and is in no way currently a competitor to the vast and enjoyable Apple app store. Who knows what will come with time, but this certainly won't change anytime in the near future. If apps and/or internet browsing is a key feature for you, then an iPod Touch may still be your best choice.
But, if you are primarily concerned with using this player for music and video, then it's unique features make it something very much worth considering, with a unique and enjoyable combination of features and options that no other player has.