Zune software review: Syncing in Zune

GSMArena team, 22 November 2010.
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The basics

The Zune app uses a fluid interface with clean styling and smooth transitions. It is very similar to the interface on a Zune player or even a Windows Phone 7 mobile.

Once you install the app, it becomes a part of Windows – it’s even updated through Windows Update. If you’re on a Mac, you won’t be able to use Zune but there’s the Windows Phone 7 Connector to transfer multimedia files. In Microsoft’s words, however, “this software is not part of the Zune experience”.

By default, the Zune application on PC is set up to launch as soon as you connect a Zune device (you can disable that) and you can set a different startup view.

Which view you choose depends on your primary use of the Zune Software. If you use it for syncing mostly, then starting in the Collection screen is a good idea. If, on the other hand, you use it as a desktop player the Quickplay option is the better pick, or even the Marketplace if you’re the type to try out new music rather than sticking to the old playlists.

The Zune app is also the tool you’ll use to update your Windows Phone 7 mobile. There are no updates available yet, but once one comes out, check out the Phone tab in the Settings menu.

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Checking for updates

Setting up Zune

The first thing you’d need to do after you install Zune will be to add your music, video and photo libraries. The app integrates with Windows on this matter and uses your Library folders (for Windows 7) for the respective library (photo library, music library, etc.).

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First connection with the phone

Making modifications to each will result in a change in the Library folder itself – this is both easy and annoying. It’s easy because if you add a folder to your Zune library, it will get added to the Library (the one found in Windows 7 Explorer). You can opt out and have Zune manage folders separately from Windows if you want (this option is not available in versions earlier than Zune 4.7).

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Setting up the media libraries • syncing the phone

On Windows XP, Zune uses the My Music, My Photos, etc. folders in lieu of Libraries.

In terms of startup speed, Zune takes a while even on dual-core Intel rigs with 2 gigs of RAM.

Anyway, once Zune is started and you’ve set up your libraries you can start syncing. To send stuff to your WP7 phone, just find the item(s) or folder(s) in the Collection tab, select them, right click and choose Sync with Phone. Alternatively, you can drag and drop them to the device icon in the lower left corner.

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The sync is complete, now we have music and photos on our phone

To sync things the other way, find the items in the device tab and choose Copy to my Collection from the right click menu or drag it to the computer icon.

Photos get imported into the Pictures library in a folder called “Imported on ”. It would have been more useful if the folder was named after the album that the photo is in, the date we can find out easily elsewhere.

Videos are imported into the folder, without subfolders while music is stored in Artist folder with folders for each album inside.

That’s about all you’ll be able to sync though – the Zune Software does not support syncing contacts or calendars.

You can use WindowsLiveForMobile.com to do things like backing up your contacts (in this case, online). Other than that, you can just sync your desktop app of choice with your Live account.

When transferring media files with Zune, keep in mind they might be modified. For example, photos are downscaled to a little over a megapixel and videos might be re-encoded with a different codec and lower resolution.

Multimedia syncing with Zune can be done through a USB cable or wirelessly over Wi-Fi. To do that, connect your phone over USB and from the settings menu set up Wi-Fi syncing. To sync, the phone and the computer will need to be connected to the same Wi-Fi network, of course.

Wireless syncing is automatic and initiates as soon as you plug your WP7 smartphone in the power outlet for more than several minutes.

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You can sync your Windows Phone 7 over Wi-Fi as well

Exploring Quickplay and basic player UI

By default, Quickplay is the start screen for the Zune app and if you use it as a media player on your computer, that’s probably how it will stay.

Quickplay is separated into two halves – one half holds five Smart DJ slots (we’ll explain what this is in a moment) and the other is separated into three parts. The three parts are Pins, New and History.

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The two halves of Quickplay • adding a Smart DJ mix

The New section holds thumbnails of new media – songs, photos, videos – that has entered your collection. If you’ve just gotten a new song, this is the place to find it. The History section on the other hand shows thumbnails of media you’ve played recently.

Pins are slots to which you can add shortcuts. You can “pin” just about anything – a song or album, a video and not just from your collection but from the Marketplace too.

Both halves of Quickplay are always visible, but only one of them is active at a time. The inactive half is smaller and faded and it looks far away – but a click will bring it front and center and push the other half back.

At the lower right corner you always get player controls – play/pause, next and previous buttons along with volume controls and repeat / shuffle buttons. In the bottom left, you have shortcuts for dropping things onto your device (or transfer to the computer, depending on what you’re currently viewing), add to a burn list and create a playlist.

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The now playing interface is a wall of album covers

On one computer we experienced frequent graphics glitches and the Zune app would often hang up. We narrowed it down to integrated graphics card – it was disappointing that it didn’t run well on a Windows 7 machine that handles Aero without a hitch.

One thing that got us scratching our heads is the equalizer – there isn’t one. The “lowly” Windows Media Player that comes bundled with Windows has an equalizer, Dolby Digital and SRS WOW effects and yet Zune, which lives and breathes multimedia, has none.

Managing music

The lowest level of music organization that the Zune software does is sorting all your tracks by artist, album and albums. You can also create playlists – the easiest way to do that is to drag some songs to the New playlist icon in the bottom left and name the playlist.

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Zune organizes music by artist, album and genre

Smart DJ is another way to create playlists and it’s even simpler – you don’t. Right click on an artist/album/song and choose Play Smart DJ mix – Zune will automatically pick similar songs (from your collection and the online repository). This is a very easy way to set the mood – pick an appropriate song and let Zune worry about populating the playlist with similar sounding songs.

You can create Smart DJ playlists too – it does the same thing but it saves the list it generates as a playlist, with the option to auto-refresh the playlist periodically. One downside is that Smart DJ picks songs from the Marketplace so if you don’t have a Zune Pass, you’ll be able to hear just a 30 second preview.

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You can create a Smart DJ playlist that updates automatically

Depending on how tidy you’ve kept your music collection and how you’ve gotten the songs, you might or might not have album art for your songs. Ripping songs from a CD means they’ll come with very little track info and certainly no album art.

Worry not, Zune is fairly good at finding that automatically. We took a song, changed its name to “Some song.mp3” and deleted all ID3 info – and yet the Zune app managed to find the song and album info along with album art in a matter of seconds. It did stumble on some songs though and it also kept downloading wrong data to a generic music sample we use for our audio quality tests.

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Finding artist info and album art is automatic

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