Zune 3.0: Quite Impressive, Broadcast SSID Gripes Aside
After having chastised Apple for various software and other stumbles yesterday morning (ironically followed by activations of a new 16 GByte 2nd-generation iPod touch—hands-on observations to come, complete with Prying Eyes teardown—and new-to-me Apple-refurbished 80 GByte iPod classic last night), it’s now time to turn my attention to Apple’s primary competitor, Microsoft. As I previously mentioned at the beginning of last week, the version 3 upgrade of Microsoft’s Zune client software and corresponding portable player firmware images was released on Tuesday morning. After waiting a half-day to monitor various blogs for any early-adopter dismay (I didn’t see any), I went ahead and did the updates that same evening.
Instead of downloading the standalone client software from Microsoft’s website, I checked for updates from within Zune v.2.5. The client upgrade on my Windows Vista-based Dell XPS M1330 completed fairly speedily and without incident, and all of my existing settings (along with my voluminous, mostly NAS-housed library) were intact when I re-launched the program. Next came the portable players. I have an 8 GB green flash memory-based device (along with a black-colored spare which I haven’t yet activated) and an 80GB black HDD-inclusive unit.
I tackled the 8 GByte device upgrade first. When I USB-tethered the player, the Zune software immediately alerted me to the availability of a newer firmware revision. After I clicked through several setup screens (which among other things, asked me to enter my Zune account login details so that I could subsequently direct-access the Zune Marketplace from the player…I don’t know why Microsoft didn’t just get this information directly from the Zune software…) the firmware update also finished in short order.
When the player rebooted, I was happy to see that my suite of subscription tracks stored on it had survived the firmware upgrade intact, but the Zune software still insisted on doing a full content handshake (note; I have this particular player set to manually sync, since there’s not enough available capacity to hold my entire music library). The sync locked up partway through with the player frozen and no longer recognized by the laptop, but after I disconnected the player, rebooted it and reconnected it, the process completed without further incident. I’d previously had Wi-Fi disabled on the player, and even though the Zune software indicated that wireless would automatically be turned on post-upgrade, this wasn’t actually the case in my case.
Now for the HDD-based Zune, which I have configured to do a full content auto-sync with my library at each USB tether opportunity. This time, the firmware update and subsequent initial handshake completed without incident the first time through, although for some unknown reason I wasn’t prompted for Zune account details and they weren’t configured in the player post-upgrade (I manually added them to the player later via the Zune client software settings screens). Again, wireless disable spanned the firmware upgrade. I un-tethered the player and excitedly turned on Wi-Fi so that I could explore direct access of Marketplace content (a feature which regular readers will remember I was quite fond of with the Sandisk Sansa Connect)…
…Whereupon I stumbled across a major grumble with this version of the player firmware.I have SSID broadcast disabled on my router, which I realize is a debatably effective security measure (which is why I’d never advocate using it standalone…robust WEP or WPA encryption should also be in place). My feeling is this:
- It doesn’t hurt security, after all, and
- Even though there are other ways to discover the SSID, they rely on the cracker already knowing that a wireless network is present. If a quick SSID scan uncovers no obvious Wi-Fi traces, the aspiring invader will likely just move on to more tempting potential targets.
The Zune product family has supported wireless sync to a paired PC for over a year now, with setup via the Zune client software. As such, even if SSID broadcast is disabled, you can manually key in the SSID and encryption key details for transfer to the player, which subsequently finds the obscured network just fine. One of the key aspects of Zune 3.0 is the ability to fully operate the player in a standalone fashion, but there’s no facility to manually enter network characteristics…even though full (and slick) alphanumeric capability is already present in the player’s Zune Marketplace search GUI. And the player can’t find the wireless network for direct Marketplace access even if it’s already using that same network for wireless sync-to-PC!
Hopefully, Microsoft will resolve this shortcoming in a coming-soon v3.01 firmware update. This issue aside, I’m really impressed with the Zune 3 additions I’ve tested so far. For example, I was easily and speedily able to download the 8-minute extended version of Cracker’s ‘Euro-Trash Girl’ (I saw the band, along with near-clone Camper Van Beethoven, at an outdoor concert on Labor Day weekend) to both the Zune 8 and Zune 80. See Robert Hensing’s post for in-depth download performance testing stats. Speaking of downloads, Microsoft has partnered with Wayport to provide free access at more than 9,800 McDonalds locations, much as Nintendo did on the DS…and an interesting counter-punch to Apple’s partnership with AT&T and Starbucks.
I haven’t (yet) tried out purchase-from-FM, MixView (which Wired seems to prefer to Apple’s Genius alternative) or some of the other notable features in Zune 3.0. For now, check out the reviews from Engadget and Gizmodo for full impressions. I’d actually encourage Windows users to download the software even if you don’t have a Zune player…the media organization is definitely more intuitive than with Windows Media Player 11, and searching for, adding, removing and revising content in the Zune library is substantially speedier than with WMP11, too. Plus, MixView will enable you to explore and rediscover the content you already possess. Wrapping up, check out this Microsoft-created promo video for a visual explanation of the Zune 3.0 enhancements:
Happy weekend, all!