Having recently acquired an iPhone, I thought this might be a good opportunity to attempt to compare the iPhone with the Microsoft Zune and see how the two stack up against each other. Obviously, the iPhone is going to have some capabilities that simply cannot be matched by the Zune, but I think you might be surprised to see how they stack up when evaluated strictly as portable media players (PMP).
I do love my Zune, which will show through in this article a good bit. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I am not a Microsoft fanboy, nor am I an Apple fanboy. I do have a certain bias against the iPod (mainly because of the iTunes software), but I have tried to write this article as objectively as humanly possible. I am definitely open to comments about any mistakes, incorrect assumptions, etc. I make in the article. I am not, however, looking for fanboy comments from either side spouting subjective opinions about whether Apple is better than MS or the other way around.
In my personal life, I am almost exclusively a Linux user, which makes it difficult to truly enjoy either device. Keep that in mind as you read my opinions on the matter at hand.
The iPhone has a slight advantage in this category, since iTunes is available on Mac and Windows platforms. However, neither works in Linux, so there it’s a draw. There are rumors that someone is working on developing an interface that will allow you to perform limitied tasks with the iPhone on Linux, but nothing has materialized, yet.
Regarding the software itself, Zune is much less bloated than iTunes. The Zune software makes it easy to view your local collection, sync your Zune device, view the collection on your device and purchase new content. That’s basically all it does, and it does it pretty well.
The Zune is also fully compatible with basically the same formats as iTunes, but it seems to do a much better job of identifying new content in your watched folders. For instance, I downloaded two complete audio books from Librivox the other day (actually, I downloaded the packages from the Internet Archive, but they are Librivox recordings). I extracted the ZIP file into my watched folder for iTunes and nothing happened. I haven’t been able to get iTunes to recognize those files at all. The Zune software, however, picked them up immediately when I placed them in my watched folder for the Zune.
Number of Computers
iTunes only seems to allow you to sync your iPhone (and, presumably any iPod) with one computer. If you try to copy media from another computer onto your iPhone, the software won’t allow it. If you then try to tell the software to sync with your iPhone, you get a warning telling you that all of your current data will be erased if you choose to sync with this computer.
The Zune software, however, allows you to “guest sync,” which means that you can hook any Zune to any computer running the Zune software, and drag media back and forth between the device and the computer.
The Zune software also allows you to sync your Zune wirelessly with your computer easily and at no charge. This feature is apparently available for the iPhone, as well, but only if you purchase an extra piece of software from Apple and jailbreaking the phone. I haven’t actually been able to verify that, however, so I may be wrong.
Acquiring New Media
On the surface, it would seem that the iPhone has the advantage over the Zune, as you can access the iTunes store directly from your iPhone and download new media wherever you are. However, when doing so, you’re going to pay for every item you download. You can purchase an iTunes pass, which basically locks you into a set price for all of the related items you download. However, if you want to download something unrelated, you have to pay again.
You also have the possibility of downloading new media from other outlets (legal or not) and converting them for use on the iPhone, but the iTunes software won’t really natively recognize them.
With the Zune, however, you can download media from anywhere in just about any format, throw it in your watched folders and automatically sync it to your device.
You can also subscribe to the Zune Pass, which allows you to pay a monthly subscription fee to download all of the media your heart desires. As long as you keep your subscription current, you keep that media. When you decide to cancel your subscription, you do lose most of it, but not all. With the Zune Pass, you can choose to keep up to 10 items each month and add them to your permanent collection.
You can also permanently purchase additional media from the Zune marketplace if you choose.
Tagging Songs for Later Purchase
With various apps on the iPhone, it’s possible to tag a song you hear somewhere and mark it for download. I think this is one of the features available in Shazam, the free app that allows you to identify songs you hear on the radio, TV, etc. You can then easily download the song from the iTunes store no matter where you are (as long as you have an AT&T signal or are near a WiFi hotspot).
With the Zune, you can do something similar by tagging any song you hear on the FM radio tuner built into the device. You can even apparently download the song automatically the next time you get near a compatible WiFi hotspot.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the iPhone has it all over the Zune when it comes to a lot of the additional features. You can’t make phone calls, browse the Internet, check your e-mail, download apps or anything else like that on the Zune (yet, at least, though the potential for MS to add the ability to install apps, etc. is still remote). The games available for the Zune are still very limited, while games are abundant for the iPhone.
In fact, about the only thing I can think of that the Zune has that the iPhone doesn’t (other than the items discussed above) is an FM tuner. Storage space is also a big plus for the Zune. If you want to store a good-sized collection on your device, the Zune is much better equipped to do so, offering up to 120 gigabytes of storage in a device not much bigger than the iPhone (it’s slightly thicker, but it’s also slightly shorter). The iPhone itself only offers up to 16 gigabytes of space (while the iPod Touch is also available in a 32-gig flavor). The 16-gig Zune (and the four and eight gig varieties) is considerably smaller than the iPhone (good for portability, bad for video watching).
The screen on the iPhone is a tiny bit larger than the Zune screen, though it honestly makes very little difference when watching videos.
If you’re looking for a full-service entertainment and productivity device, you obviously should choose the iPhone or the iPod Touch. However, if you’re looking for a good PMP, the Zune might just be better than the iPhone. A lot of it obviously depends on your personal preferences. This article should show, at least, that if you are not a Mac user, the Zune stands up pretty well when compared to Apple’s behemoth.