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Tuesday September 15, 2009 1:59 am

Zune 4.0: The Complete Feature List Rundown

Zune 4.0 software

The wait for the big refresh that a lot of us have been clamoring for is finally over. Today, the launches, available from the Microsoft online store, Amazon, Best Buy, and others. Alongside that launch comes a much-improved Zune software and services package. That’s right, Zune 4.0 is here, and there’s lots to cover. Let’s dive in and take a look at all the major new features in Zune 4.0, as well as some of the smaller pieces of fit and finish that make this release shine, including the Zune Marketplace, Zune PC software, Zune on Xbox Live, and Zune.net.

ZUNE 4.0
From everything we’ve seen as it pertains to the Zune 4.0 software, this update is all about making music more enjoyable to listen to, easier to discover, and easier to manage. In addition, you get movies in the Zune Marketplace now (both rental and purchase,) Xbox Live integration, and a bunch of other features that make Zune 4.0 one of the best pieces of media management software that we’ve used to date.


Zune Quickplay

One of the first things you’ll notice about Zune 4.0 is the Quickplay screen. Similar to the Quickplay area on the new Zune HD, the Zune desktop software gets similar treatment. Here you’ll be able to pin specific content to the area, get a look at new content you’ve recently added to your library, pull up recently played content, and also get direct access to your Smart DJ mixes. Smart DJ, you say? Yes, read on.


Zune Smart DJ

This is going to be the easiest way for us to explain this - you know the Genius feature? That is kind of what you get with Smart DJ. Let us make clear, though, Smart DJ is better. Why? A few reasons. First, Smart DJ allows you to choose an artist, album, or song as the starting point to creating a custom mix - but it gets better. You see, Smart DJ will mix in results from both your personal library, as well as from the Zune Marketplace. Tracks that are from the marketplace are distinguished by the font color. If you are a Zune Pass subscriber, this means that the mixes are created with all data available in the Zune Marketplace, whether you have it on your computer or not. Compared to the iTunes Genius feature, this is a complete win for Zune. If you aren’t a Zune Pass subscriber, the Marketplace tracks still appear, but when you play the playlist, it will just skip over anything you don’t own - but you can just buy it with a click to incorporate it into your collection.

The Smart DJ feature is fantastic for discovering new music, especially for those who are subscribers.

Microsoft is still pushing the Zune Pass, and we still stand by our claim that Zune Pass is the best deal in music today, and they’ve improved and optimized the Zune Pass experience to make it even more valuable to consumers. If you’re unsure of what the Zune Pass is, it is basically a $15 per month subscription that allows you to listen to as much music as you’d like, and included 10 songs that you can keep each month, even if you cancel. You can use your subscription on up to 3 computers, and three Zune devices, as well as on the web. Here’s some of what they’ve done:

  • You can now listen to the Zune library through a web browser, using Firefox or Internet Explorer. Yup, that means that if you are on a Mac and have a Zune Pass, you can just pull up a browser to listen to music.
  • In the upper right-hand corner of the Zune interface, you will now be able to see how many keeper track downloads you have left in a given month, along with the expiration date. This will help you take full advantage of the free tracks that are offered as part of your subscription.
  • At the end of a month, the Zune software will suggest a track list of songs it thinks you might want to keep, so that if you are having trouble deciding, but don’t want to lose out on your free tracks, you have some assistance.

Based on your listening habits, Zune Marketplace Picks is an area that tailors itself to you and the music it thinks you’ll like. Usually, we’ve found it does a decent job, but the frustrating thing was that is would only update on a weekly basis. So if it suggested something that you hated, you just had to hope it would be gone the following week. Now, you have more control. Just hover over a track or section, and click ‘Show me something else’ - it’ll instantly get rid of what you don’t like, and replace it with something that should be more acceptable.


Zune 4.0 Mini Player

One of our little gripes with the Zune PC software has been a lack of a mini player mode, and that problem is solved in Zune 4.0. You just press the mini mode icon on the upper right-hand side of the player, and you get the mini mode. In mini mode, you can get access to Smart DJ playlists, and music pinned to the Quickplay menu.

This is another niggle we had with the Zune Player, as it was really difficult to find out what type of content each track was. You had a mix of tracks you ripped from disc, Zune Pass subscription music, purchased music that you’ve downloaded, etc. In Zune 4.0, you are able to filter so that you can get a look at just the type of content you want to see.

Well, this one is a no-brainer, what with Windows 7 launching in a little over a month, but nonetheless, you’ll find that Zune 4.0 is optimized for Windows 7. You have playback controls in the taskbar hover area, jump lists, and Snap support.

I know we’ve listed a lot there, but there are even more little interface tweaks that you’ll find as you play with the Zune 4.0 software. Seriously, it’s a great release. It’s time to forget about the horrible feeling that the original Zune 30 gave you, and stop judging the Zune platform on that first experience three years ago. Zune 4.0 and Zune HD mark a fantastic improvement to an already great offering from Microsoft, and it’d be a shame if you missed out on it due to fanboyism. If you are a music fan, and want a service that is tailored completely towards the love and experience of music, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything as thoroughly enjoyable as Zune.

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