Zune offers a social side to enjoying multimedia. In fact, Zune Social is a mini, multimedia-oriented social network in its own right.
You can create a profile page – with a biography, interests, photos and favorite artists and those SNS staples, status updates, following people (both friends and artists) and sending friend requests. You can also write reviews.
Zune Social also includes badges – you earn those by playing an album or artist tirelessly, or posting well-written reviews and comments. You can also create quizzes for others to take – before long you’ll know what was most people’s first concert or maybe a band they liked before but don’t listen to anymore.
Friends are yet another way that Zune offers to find new music – following people with similar tastes in music is one of the easiest ways to find good stuff that doesn’t depend on computer algorithms.
Unlike iTunes Ping (a competitive music-oriented social network), Zune Social doesn’t have integration with other social networks like Facebook or Twitter (you can invite your Live contacts though).
The Zune desktop software has a specific goal and achieves it quite well – it handles every aspect of your multimedia needs. But we would have preferred a centralized solution.
Syncing multimedia is great, but it would make things much, much simpler if it just handled contacts and calendars and such things rather than leaving you to rely on other services.
Anyway, Zune did very well as a media player – it handled all video formats and is quite adept at organizing music. Plus it’s quite slow to start every time and we like our multimedia players at the instant.
And the video conversion really needs some settings, even if it’s as simple as choosing between low and high quality for videos. For that matter, why WMV? MP4 is the more popular format and supports better codecs.
As for syncing media between your computer and your Windows Phone 7 mobile, it gets good marks. But the simple Mass Storage mode, so resolutely avoided by Microsoft, has its uses too – the simple act of taking a picture from your desktop and putting it on the phone to use as wallpaper gets overly complicated with Zune.
Luckily a recently revealed registry hack allows you to enable Mass Storage mode on your WP7 smartphone. This means you can move files back and forth straight from Windows Explorer - but if you put a file it won't be accessible on the phone (not even to sent over email). Still, this hack lets you use your phone as a thumb drive.
The occasional graphical glitches were annoying too. But the truth of the matter is that the Zune Software is the only option you have – other than, say, transferring files through SkyDrive, which is much too awkward. So, while Zune does OK at what it does, we’re not particularly excited to have to use it.
If Microsoft fixes some of the problems, we might reconsider. Until then, it’s under the list of things we’re not keen on about Windows Phone 7. Much like we’re not into using iTunes to sync stuff to the iPhone.