So On and So Forth

And so the epic saga continues. Last week, the Zune HD had just been announced, right around the time that an irritating-but-not-fatal flaw had developed on my Zune 80. I was determined to resist the Zune HD. I bought an MP3 player in 2006, 3(!) in 2007, and another one in 2008, and I had decided that 2009 was going to be the year when I broke that streak. The problem was that the Zune HD was just too wonderful.

I loved my Zune 80. I said it last week, I’ll say it again next week, and I’ll probably keep saying it until I die: the Zune 80 is the best hard-drive based MP3 player ever made. (Technically, the Zune 120 should have that honor, considering that it was exactly the same as a Zune 80 in every way except that it had a bigger hard drive, but I never owned a Zune 120.) The thing is, hard drives were never really ideal for portable music players. Hard drives are fairly bulky, and they spin and have various moving parts. Jostle a hard drive too much, and it will fail. (As I learned when I dropped my Zune 80 on the bathroom floor while it was booting up.) But flash memory is smaller and has no moving parts, so it’s much more resilient. It’s also much more expensive per byte. So hard drives were used in MP3 players at first because they cost much less for a greater amount of storage. But once flash memory advanced to the point where it was reasonably cheap, MP3 player manufacturers abandoned hard drives as quickly as they could.

As much as I loved the massive memory capacity of my Zune 80, I yearned for the relatively worry-free joys of a flash-based MP3 player, and the Zune HD used flash storage. Not only that, but the Zune HD had a touch screen (futuristic!) and a web browser (convenient!), two features the Zune 80 didn’t have that I really wanted. Plus, there was the little problem of my Zune 80’s broken hold switch. I was very excited about the possibility of being able to bend over with my Zune in my back pocket again without going deaf.

Even with all of that, I was managing to temper my excitement and enthusiasm for the Zune HD. I was barely holding on to my determination to make 2009 “The Year of No New MP3 Player”. And then Microsoft finally released the thing, and my determination was shot to hell. It wasn’t just the shiny newness of a brand-new gadget that had features that my old Zune 80 didn’t. It was also the fact that Microsoft released a new version of the Zune PC software as well, that had a bunch of new features that were useless unless you had a Zune HD. So not only did Microsoft release something newer and nicer than what I already had, but they also made the device I already had obsolete.

So, I bought one. Two days after they were released, I went into Best Buy, plunked down $290, and walked out with a shiny new 32 GB Zune HD. Needless to say, I was super excited, but I think I can safely say in retrospect that it was a little disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it. But I didn’t love it as much as I loved my Zune 80. For one, the web browser was disappointing. It was very slow, and virtually unusable except on mobile websites. Unfortunately, mobile websites are ugly and not nearly as functional as full websites. It was also tough to get used to only having 32 GB of storage versus 80 GB.

The touch screen was very responsive and cool and the UI was much more impressive than the UI on previous Zunes, so it’s not like I regretted my purchase. And the Zune HD had features like Smart DJ and Quickplay that earlier Zunes couldn’t do either, so that was nice. But the Zune HD always kinda felt like it was missing something. I couldn’t help but compare it to the competition (i.e., the third generation iPod Touch), and while I felt like the Zune HD was a superior music player, and that’s what I used it for more than anything else, but I missed those other features too.

As time passed, those missing features seemed more and more important. Features like a camera, a decent web browser, an app store, and so forth. What I really wanted was a Windows Phone 7 device. These were announced in early 2010, and were released later that year.

Unfortunately, I can’t afford a smartphone because of the ridiculously expensive data plans. And the only device out there that offers smartphone functionality without actually being a smartphone is the iPod Touch. So when Windows Phone 7 finally came out and it became readily apparent that I simply couldn’t afford one, I realized it was time to switch over to the dark side (or the light side, depending on where your fanboy tendencies lie).

(Also, it should be mentioned that 2010 was the fifth year in a row in which I bought a new MP3 player. So far, it’s looking fairly promising that 2011 will finally break that streak. Although I did buy a laptop, a Kindle, and an iPad this year, so maybe that isn’t much of an accomplishment.)

Initially, I intended to continue using my Zune HD for music, while my iPod Touch was for, well, everything else. But I soon realized that the iPod Touch was actually a better music device than the Zune HD, too. So I stopped using my Zune HD entirely, and soon ended up selling it, because what was the point of keeping it if I wasn’t going to use it?

And then I got an iPad. Which is pretty much the greatest device ever made by humanity. Until something better comes along to replace it. But for now I’m content.

And that’s pretty much it. Well, for now anyway. I’m sure there will be other gadgets that I love in the future. Like this, perhaps.


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