Scott Hanselman

Zune vs. iPod Video vs. iRiver Clix

December 31, '06 Comments [15] Posted in Gaming | Movies | Musings | Reviews
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Due to a number of amazing events this last few weeks I somehow find myself back in the states with:

  • An iPod 80gig Video
  • A 2gig iRiver Clix
  • A 2gig iPod Nano
  • A 30gig Black Zune
  • A Playstation Portable (PSP)

Now I certainly don't need 5 things that play music and show pictures (and some show video) so I need to do some analysis to see which is right for me, and which is right for the wife (and brother, and parents, etc).


iPod Video

The iPod is usually considered the device to beat, but since iTunes 7 was/is such a phenomenal POS (on both the Mac and PC, there is virtually no one who thinks it doesn't suck exponentially more than the very reasonable iTunes 6) it's possible that the iPod is losing its status as "de facto MP3 player" as in "just buy an iPod."

I saw a skater kid in the Amsterdam Airport last week with a Brown Zune and I asked him "why'd you buy a Zune" and he immediately answered "because it's not an iPod." Apparently Apple is starting to feel like Microsoft has for years. Sucks to be on top, eh?

Good Stuff

Video: I'm using the Video feature way more than I thought I would. It made the 25 hours of flights (each way) tolerable. The screen is bright and clear.

Massive: The 80gig iPod is expansive to say the least. I've got my entire audio collection of over 6500 songs as well as 5 feature length movies and every digital photo I've ever taken on this thing, and I've still got 15 gigs free.

Easy: It's so incredibly easy to buy music off of iTunes and get it on the device. That's a +1 for the WAF. Buying movies and TV shows works great also.

Flexible: I bought a bunch of TV shows for pay-cable channels I don't have and took them with me to Tanzania this year. The iPod supports a standard Camcorder Video Cable (just swap the Yellow and Red RCA wires) and outputs PAL and NTSC. We used it as a one-way Tivo while we were there and had a blast. No less than three spontaneous dance parties broke out while using my iPod in Africa, and because I had my entire music collection with me, I was able to blow the minds of the folks who asked if I had Pitch Black Afro on my 'pod. I said, "please. Who are you talking to. Of course." and proceeded to party the night away.

Bad Stuff

DRM: The DRM can be confusing if you have more than one computer. I've personally gotten confused while "authorizing and deauthorizing" computers, especially during OS upgrades. There used to be a program to turn the songs you bought into MP3s, but it's not working anymore with iTunes 7.

Slow: It's pretty slow if you have 6000+ songs and you say "shuffle songs." It tends to lock up and scrolls slowly. iTunes is virtually unusable on Vista in the current version without disabling Vista indexing and a bunch of other crap I shouldn't have to sweat.

Battery Life: Video just sucks the life out of this thing. I have a "backpack" that has 4 AA batteries that at least quadruples the battery life. Still, a hassle.


iPod Nano

Good Stuff

Tiny: It's small. Not Shuffle small, but "wife's small purse; isn't that cute" small. I find myself using this device the most so far for around town, walking and such. It's just so a great size.

Bad Stuff

Storage: There's an 8gig version now, but most are 1, 2 or 4 gigs. I find the 2 gig one just a little cramped. Wife doesn't notice though.

No Video: A nit, and the screen is small, so it doesn't really matter. They included tiny photos though, why not video?


iRiver Clix

What a surprisingly fun little device! It's an odd size compared to the Nano, much thinker (like 3 times as thick) but comfortable. It feels familiar in its size, but I'm not sure what it reminds me of. It has a very interesting interface in that the whole front screen "click-tilts (my word)" in each direction to provide navigation. Right is "forward" and left is "back."

Good Stuff

Tiny: It's small and pocket-sized. Not as easy to drop in as the Nano, and not something you'd want in your front shirt pocket, but still, small.

Video: It's the smallest video player I've seen, and it's got a great screen. The video is about 15fps by my reckoning, and it's kind of complex to get video on to the thing in the format it wants. I'm still struggling with some obscure messages from Windows Media Player 11 about converting some of my video.

Photos: It's also a nice little photo viewer. Both Music and Photos - using Windows Media Player - are downsized automatically in order to squeeze as much as possible on the 2 gig version. The screen is very clear and Album Art looks great.

Radio: There's a built-in FM Radio that supports recording of the stream. A surprising and very nice feature, I say.

Games: It includes an implementation of Flash and there's a number of downloadable Flash Games to check out. Most are lame, but Sudoku is nice.

Windows Media Player: The Clix is perfectly integrated with Windows Media Player and was the easiest device to sync of all these. I just say "fill it up as much as you can with a random 2gigs from my collection." And it was handled. That's all I ever wanted from iTunes.

Bad Stuff

Storage: There's a 4gig version, as the 2gig is a little cramped, but if you don't mind 64kbps audio (many don't - do be such an elitist!) then you can automatically get a LOT more on as the Windows Media Player 11 stuff gets one thing right - auto squishing of audio while copying works great. That's about it. It's a great little device.

Urge: Urge is the music marketplace for everything but Zune. It's aight.

 


Zune

The OOBE (Out of the Box Experience) on the Zune is very familiar. It's iPod-like, but it does have a different, more organic gestalt. I like it. It's the bizarro iPod from another parallel dimension. The interface is similar to Windows Media Center, but different, smoother, faster, cleaner. I was, and continue to be, impressed. It's more intuitive than the roll/scroll interface of the iPod, and it's faster and more responsive with thousands of songs loaded.

Good Stuff

Decent Size: It's probably the same mass as an iPod, it's just a little less wide, and a smidge taller. The round directional button does beg to be rubbed like an iPod, but maybe that's me. The whole device has a nice texture that's very matte - not gloss like the iPod - so I suspect while the screen will likely scratch, the Zune itself doesn't show many fingerprints.

XBox 360: It plugs in and is charged by the Xbox360. Works great and the Xbox recognizes it as a Zune. Of course, the Xbox recognizes ALL the devices I've got here, but the Zune gets a cute little icon on the Xbox. :P

Screen: The screen is very nice, and is rotatable portrait/landscape. Album Art fills the screen and looks great. It comes with a clear sticker on the screen that I wanted to use as a screen protector, but they put text all over it, so that was a bummer.

Radio: The iPod requires an adapter for FM, the Zune has a tuner built in that includes RDS (Radio Descriptive Service) that gives you the name of the current song. The iPod also has RDS.

WiFi: The Zune will find other Zunes and you can send or receive music over them. While the music is shared, there's DRM added that lets the receiver only listen to the song THREE times, then it disables that song. They can later buy that song. Odd, but better than nothing. WiFi can be turned off to save batteries.

Zune Marketplace: Includes an all-you-can-eat feature where you get complete access to every song on the marketplace for a timed period. I'm doing the 14-day trial. A nice way to find new artists, like Rhapsody. iTunes should take notice to this.

Bad Stuff

WiFi: See above.

Odd Stuff

Software: The Zune software is Windows Media Player 11, but it's not. You do Zune stuff in Zune but you kind of know you're talking to your Windows Media Player Library. There's a whole separate Zune Sharing thing, but it's unclear if you're configuring standard Windows Media Sharing from an alternate interface. You can run both Windows Media and Zune thingie at the same time, but when I tried to sync the Clix in one and the Zune in the other at the same time, I had to reset them both with a paper clip. Not sure if that's USB or the software freaking out. Also odd, the Clix shows up in Vista in My Computer as well as in the "Sync Center" but the Zune is no where to be found in either. Note that you need an upgrade to the Zune software to work on Vista. The Zune desktop software has crashed twice for me in one day, so something will likely be fixed on Vista soon.

 


PSP

Good Stuff

Screen: Seriously, drink in the screen. It's amazing. Glorious. Perfect.

Wireless/Browser: It includes 802.11 and a very capable Web Browser, as well as support for Podcasts (RSS with attachments).

UMDs: The industry hates UMDs as a proprietary media, but I love their size and relative cheapness. If you spend a lot of time on planes, grab a few movies (or rip and squish DVDs) and you're set from LA to New York (or PDX to JRO).

Games: Of course.

Oft-updated Firmware: You can update the Firmware over wireless and it's always adding new features. It includes Sony Location-Free TV now, as well as a features for connecting to PS3s.

Homebrew: This thing is forever being hacked into, and you can run Linux and all sorts of MAME Emulators and such.

(added from comments from Laust M. Ladefoged) AUTO-Podcast Downloading:

I think you left out the single most important feature of the PSP and what basically sets it apart from the other devices in your list (at least for now), namely its ability to wakeup from standby and automatically download all the podcasts you have subscribed to via WiFi.

This feature was added with the recent v3 firmware and has completely changed the way I have access to my prefered podcasts.

My PSP wakes up about 6 in the morning, automatically downloads the latest podcasts, ready for my listening when I put it in my pocket on my way out the door - no longer any need for syncing with my computer anymore, so nice.

Bad Stuff

Music and Storage: You can get a 2gig 4gig memory stick and there are 4-8gig hard drive add-ons, but it's not a very great music player. It IS a great movie machine though.


Conclusion

I'd say this:

  • You want the ultimate media player? Get a Zune or iPod video and base your decision on a combination of your politics and the features. Both kick ass. The wireless social Zune stuff is slick, but I have only met one other person with one. That'll eventually change. Buying TV Shows and Movies on iTunes is fabulous and seamless. My Mom and Dad run around the country in their RV, and I think they could use an iPod Video as a "disconnected Tivo" very easily, connected to their little 13" TV. However, the screen on the Zune is larger and nicer than the iPod. Both a great. I'm still torn on this one.
  • You want a little media player?
    • You want video? Get an iRiver Clix. It's got a great screen, a smooth interface and long battery life. (I haven't run out yet).
    • You don't care about video? You might still get a Clix, unless you want a really thin player, then get a Nano.
  • You only care about the screen? You want games first, video second and music third? Get a PSP.
    • The PSP has a fantastic screen, but it's max 2gig capacity (unless you get an external hard drive) and poor battery life make it a niche device for geeks. Of course, I am a geek, so I take it everywhere as well. The combination of Videora and a DVD Ripper makes it nice for up to 4 feature length films.
  • You hate DRM and are concerned about using iTunes or Urge or Zune Marketplace? Don't use them. Buy CDs and Rip.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. I am a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Sunday, December 31, 2006 5:13:33 AM UTC
Great reviews. I'm in the market for a portable video player, and I just got an XBOX 360, so I really want to like the Zune but I haven't been able to commit to it just yet. iTunes is just so easy to use that I have a hard time not going with an iPod Video. If they don't release an enlarged screen version at MacWorld, then I just may go with the Zune. Thanks for taking the time to write this up.
Sunday, December 31, 2006 7:47:51 AM UTC
Great reviews. By the way, I think you forgot to clean up a cut and paste job on your Zune description. In the "Good" section, you describe the size exactly the same way you described the size for the nano.

Tiny: It's small. Not Shuffle small, but "wife's small purse; isn't that cute" small. I find myself using this device the most so far for around town, walking and such. It's just so a great size.
Sunday, December 31, 2006 11:10:25 AM UTC
I think you left out the single most important feature of the PSP and what basically sets it apart from the other devices in your list (at least for now), namely its ability to wakeup from standby and automatically download all the podcasts you have subscribed to via WiFi.

This feature was added with the recent v3 firmware and has completely changed the way I have access to my prefered podcasts.

My PSP wakes up about 6 in the morning, automatically downloads the latest podcasts, ready for my listening when I put it in my pocket on my way out the door - no longer any need for syncing with my computer anymore, so nice.

Obviously the RSS features also support video podcasts, but it do need a feed available that provides either the iPod h.264 format or the strange PSP flavour of the MP4 format for this to work.

Last thing, you put the maximum memory stick size as 2GB, but I think the PSP actually supports the 4GB memory sticks, which are available at a quite reasonable price now.
Sunday, December 31, 2006 2:30:29 PM UTC
That was a really cogent and reasonable comparison - a refreshing surprise, nowadays! In fact, I never knew that some of those features in the PSP existed (must have been the latest firmware(s) bringing on all the goodness) - my DS is great, but I just might have to pick one of those up; allowing me to hit Google Reader and also to listen to my podcasts at work (leaving the iPod and DS at home)!

The real reason to post a comment wasn't to gush, but instead to propose a radical solution to your iTunes woes. I am a Windows programmer by day, but at home, I am all Macintosh. That said, through the years (since late 2001) I have been using iTunes starting with the 1st generation iPod, and never encountered the difficulties that y'all seem to have (I have over only about 2500 songs and movies at this point in time). For that matter, iTunes 7's first drop was the only iteration that had been flaky for me, but the recent revisions to that major version have been solid as a rock.

In fact, I have often heard that iTunes on Windows is by no means as capable or stable as on a PC. So considering that, why not migrate your library in some way, shape, or form, over to the Mac you have, and use that to sync your music. I realize, your review was for the PC-users who predominately read your blog, and I respect that - but, my suggestion was meant for you and those who have the - liberty? :-p (just kidding) - of choice.
Shawn Allen
Sunday, December 31, 2006 3:05:10 PM UTC
I checked out a Zune at the store shortly after they came out. I loved the interface, but after some web search found that it didn't handle podcasts very well and worse yet didn't work with Audible at all. (I also don't remember seeing a control for playback speed which is pretty handy.)

Since a large percentage of my listening falls in these categories, it was a deal breaker for me. I really wanted to switch as I am not a fan of the iPod click wheel.
Sunday, December 31, 2006 3:38:24 PM UTC
Shoot! That's what I forgot...the Clix and Zune don't have Audible yet...that's a real problem.
Sunday, December 31, 2006 4:38:42 PM UTC
Pretty good read, and a fair assessment of the devices. FINALLY - somebody mentions the PSP as a viable option to the iPod/iRiver/Zune space. I've been rockin' my PSP as my all-in-one media player ever since it came out (it has it's limitations, but it offers so much in return).

DUGG.
commonlyUNIQU3
Monday, January 01, 2007 5:41:30 AM UTC
I was looking really closely at the Zune, but at the last moment, the negative reviews and poor sales of the Zune made me think twice. I revised my Amazon wish list just in time for Xmas, and my wife got me a Creative Zen Vision:M (http://tinyurl.com/yhsf25). It's awesome.

I've got the 30 GB model. Like you, I really prefer my PSP for movies on the go, but it's nice to have options. And this is loaded with options. I've got my music library and picture library on it (slightly filtered to remove dead weight), with about 8 GB left to play with. And my favorite feature? This thing plays freakin' DivX/XviD!

So I'm working on ripping all my DVDs and encoding as DivX (approx 1.5 GB each). Using TVersity as a UPnP server, I can stream DivX directly to either of my two Xbox 360s (TVersity re-encodes to WMV on the fly), re-encode to DivX resized for my Zen's screen (for a significant savings in space, if I want to bother), or use PSP Video 9 to re-encode the DivX to MP4 for my PSP.
Monday, January 01, 2007 8:22:26 AM UTC
Just a real quick mention, the Zune screen may be dimensionally larger than an iPod, but it has a worse resolution. You actually have less visible content. Minor nitpick, but your comment about the screen size is misleading. The rest is great.
M V
Monday, January 01, 2007 10:40:21 PM UTC
for fairness (not to be too picky on the technical details) -- the sharing in zune does not ADD DRM to the file (i.e., it is still an MP3 that is sent/received) it is actually the device that applies the restrictions -- shared music is stored in a different area than the main library and that area has the limits...not the file. Adding DRM technically may violate the original user's copyright, or own DRM, which is one reason it is done this way. i'm not saying i like it either...but think of it -- if microsoft didn't add that type of feature, then they would have essentially created a portable napster (circa 2000) and been in bigger trouble. for the content owners it is a good thing, for consumers who expected to receive and then own, it isn't so good. the area it sucks is maybe when you want to transfer things that aren't necessarily rights managed (or where artists want them to be shared) i.e., podcasts, webcasts, self-recordings, indy/garage band recordings.

it is a slipery slope -- at the end of the day, as the first portable device that has this feature, they did the right thing. i've struggled with this as well, but came to the reality that the device owner has to do its best to protect the media...
Tuesday, January 02, 2007 3:20:47 PM UTC
Pretty good review. I think the 7.0 version of iTunes 7 was somewhat flaky, not for me, but the current version (at least until Macworld) 7.0.2 has been very good and I really like it. like Shawn Allen I am a Windows dev by day, but I use Macs at home and my iTunes library lives on a Mac.

The other thing is the comment in the conclusion about the Zune screen being better than the iPod video 5.5G. I don't have either, I have an iPod 4G, but both screens are 320x240, I would think the Zune looks more pixelated. Have you found that to be the case?
Tuesday, January 02, 2007 8:48:36 PM UTC
In my opinion, the Archos 604 is the best portable video player in the market. They are now in their 4th generation.

The latest one has a pdf viewer and wifi with beautiful colorful big screen. Comes with a DVR station and plays to a TV.

Bookmarking videos and audio files is important for me.

http://www.archos.com/products/video/video_generation4.html
Abdu
Wednesday, January 03, 2007 8:51:21 PM UTC
I got the Zune for Xmas and my son got the 30GB iPod. The Zune has more pluses than the iPod does, in my opinion. The video resolution is fantastic on the Zune, again in my opinion and depending on the quality of the video. On the iPod, you need a magnifying glass to really see the resolution.

One bad with the Zune: You would think WMV would work on it. Nope. It HAS to be formatted for the the Zune. No matter what size the file/resolution/etc. Kinda sucks, but gives third party software people something to sell: conversion software, even for WMV.

The Zune/Media Player software is actually easy to use, just not enough clues as to what to do. I need to work on album art next. It would be great if you could upload changes to CD info though.

I also like the FM radio, but AM would be nice too (yes, I listen to talk radio). I also like the ability to change the "wallpaper" on the Zune.

Accessories are next. The price needs to drop or lower featured/priced items need to be made available.

And an odd: I agree with Scott on the click wheel thingie. It just wants to be rubbed...
John Baughman
Thursday, January 04, 2007 4:02:44 PM UTC
Note that the latest firmware for the 2GB iRiver clix (version 2.01) and new 4GB clix (2.00) *do* in fact support Audible files. As someone with at least one of each of these devices in his extended family/friends, I think you did a fine and scrupulously fair comparison of them.
DLF
Sunday, January 07, 2007 7:39:15 PM UTC
Would be interesting to see your opinion of the Samsa (Sansa?) + Rhapsody combo...
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.