Zune HD vs. iPod Touch: The T-Grid

By  |  Tuesday, September 15, 2009 at 11:29 am

It’s my instinct as a writer of stuff about technology to compare Microsoft’s new Zune HD against Apple’s iPod Touch. But the more I’ve played with the Zune, the less it feels like a direct competitor to the Touch: It has a number of features that the Touch doesn’t (HD output, HD radio, an OLED screen), a significantly different form factor (much smaller), and is missing the Touch’s single most interesting feature (support for tens of thousands of third-party apps). The Zune has no direct Apple counterpart–it feels a little like an iPod Nano in some respects, like the Touch in others, and is ultimately its own unique beast.

But like I say, my impulse is to compare the Zune HD to the Touch. So here’s a first pass at a T-Grid comparing the two devices’ specs and features. If all you care about is media playback, the Zune looks like a strong competitor–but stick around until the end of the grid.

This T-Grid is a work in progress, subject to expansion and revision:

The devices
Microsoft Zune HD
Apple iPod Touch
iPod Touch
$219 (16GB); $289 (32GB)
$199 (8GB); $299 (32GB); $399 (64GB)
Colors available
Black, platinum, green, blue, red
Dimensions and weight
4″ by 2.7″ by .35″; 2.6 ounces
4.3″ by 2.4″ by .33″; 4.05 ounces
Samsung ARM
Screen size and technology
3.3″, OLED
3.5″, LCD
Screen resolution
480 by 272
480 by 320
Video output
720p with optional dock
480p and 576p with optional cable
Battery life
Microsoft says up to 33 hours for music, up to 8.5 hours for video.
Apple says up to 30 hours for music, up to 6 hours for video.
Yes, HD
802.11 b/g
802.11 b/g
Per-track music downloads
Subscription music
Yes (Zune Pass)
Not from Apple, but Rhapsody offers it
Movie purchases and rentals
TV show purchases
Audio formats
Windows Media, WMA Lossless, AAC (no FairPlay), MP3
AAC (including FairPlay), MP3, Apple Lossless, WAV
Video formats
WMV, H.264, MPEG4
H.264, MPEG4
Audible audiobooks
Other Zunes support them, but I’m not finding evidence that the Zune HD does
Web browser
Instant Messaging
Not yet
Via numerous third-party clients
Facebook and Twitter
No, but due in November
Apps available
Games available
I could go on, but that’s it for now. Any additions, corrections, speculation, rumors. or questions?

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36 Comments For This Post

  1. Smithee Says:

    How are accessories for the Zune HD? Any competition to the long list of iPod gear?

  2. Lech Says:

    You may also want to toss up microphone support comparison… Zune HD doesn’t appear to offer anything, but a v2 iPod Touch (with cheap Apple headphones + built-in mic) allow for making recordings or VoIP calls with the right app.

  3. Scott Baker Says:

    Isn’t the zune HD output resolution really 720×480? Isn’t that closer to 480P than 720P? Maybe I’m wrong.

  4. Synthmeister Says:

    Besides Real, Spotify also offers a subscription music option for the iPod touch, at least in Europe. Wonder if Microsoft will allow competing music subscription services on the Zune.

    Also, remember, HD radio does not work anywhere else in the world but the US. And VOIP is very possible on the iPod touch, not so much on the Zune.

    Funny, iPod touch has Exchange support, Zune doesn’t.

  5. Synthmeister Says:

    Another tidbit others have discovered is that the wifi chip is ready for 802.11 b/g AND n. The 802.11n spec has just been finalized this month and not even the iPhone has it.

  6. Ren Says:

    I really like this article which compares the two in-depth:

  7. kl Says:

    >> http://www.roughlydrafted.com/2009/09/14/from-oled-to-tegra-five-myths-of-the-zune-hd/

    You got to be joking. That is the most biased piece of crap I hve ever read!

  8. Jocca Says:

    I tried the new iPod touch and with the included earbuds and built in speaker, I was able to make a 30 minutes skype call to Hawaii without dropping the call and the sound was absolutely clear all throughout the conversation. The unit is also a lot faster than my first generation iPhone. I think the iPod Touch is a very capable pocket computer and can almost take the place of the iPhone, only if Skype can implement background notification for an incoming phone call, this is it!!!! The virtual keyboard on the iPod/touch also sports handwriting recognition for the Chinese languages. I do not think the Zune HD is comparable to the iPod/touch, no matter how hard it tries to come close to it.

  9. Juan Says:

    Tell us more about the web browsers on each and the experience of using both

  10. Tom B Says:

    Juan makes a good point. MSFT has been unable to make a decent web browser for PC’s; have they achieved one in the mobile space?

  11. KK Says:

    Hey kl – Easy to say it’s (Roughly Drafted article) a biased piece of writing, but saying it, doesn’t make it so. How about a rebuttal, with, you know, things like FACTS?

    I would be interested in reading it. Thanks!

  12. Relyt Says:

    A lot of the things that the iPod Touch includes that you said the Zune HD doesn’t it technically does – through the web browser (such as email, maps, etc.).

  13. Jubei Says:

    Excellent list. There’s more, but it would really embarrass the Zune if you listed everything that the iPod offers based on the iPod Touch site from Apple. You’re being too kind limiting the list for the sake of a few Zune fans.

  14. Anraiki Says:

    I was wondering if the Zune HD will have .avi playback without having it to convert to mp4, can anyone confirm?

  15. iphonerulez Says:

    9 apps to 75,000. OMG! 7 games to 21,000. OMG!x2

    I think the lack of available apps will be a dealbreaker for most potential Zune HD buyers, at this point in time.

    Even as an Apple fanboy, I think Dilger is extremely biased and I wouldn’t believe half the stuff he says about Microsoft and it’s products. Let the buyers decide on whether the Zune HD will have decent sales. The Zune HD should hardly impact iPod Touch sales at all. The Zune HD will likely have a difficult time gaining traction due to the Zune’s poor history.

  16. JS Says:

    What PC World had to say:

  17. JR Says:

    I love how people bring up the apps when the apps are immaterial to a lot of people (a majority of users) out there. The percentage of people that grab apps or buy them and then let them rot on their iPhone or Touch is staggering. I think the data I’ve seen said that something like 11% of users routinely use various apps.

    The truth is that the Zune HD is a music player with a few additional features. The HD radio tuner is a great add in that is not on the Touch and it has wifi access so you can also quickly look things up in hotspots.

    AS a recovering Apple junky, I’m enjoying the Zune HD far more than my disposed of Touch, mainly because I grew weary of iTunes and how horribly it was programmed on the PC end. It worked well on the Apple end, but Macs are such rip offs that I jumped back to the PC end. Offer me something other than an iMac or a MacPro as a desktop, please.

    If the apps are your cup of tea then the Touch or iPhone is what you want. But I’ll bet there are more music listeners out there that could care less about the apps. The Zune HD is perfect for the majority of users that don’t care about apps. And the Zune Pass works great, especially with the new DJ feature and the added ability now for you to log onto any computer, PC or Mac, and stream full albums if you want through Zune.net.

  18. oiky Says:

    4″ by 2.7″ by .35″ vs. 4.3″ by 2.4″ by .33″

    A *much* smaller form factor? What sort of herb are you smoking Mr. McCracken?

  19. Marc Says:

    The Zune can sync wirlessly. I wish Apple could be bothered to implement this. I mean, I had a PDA that did it back in 2003 – it’s not rocket science!

  20. Marc Says:

    JR talks a lot of sense. For most people, Apps are meaningless. I do think though, with Apple promoting the new Touch as a gaming device, that this may change. Especially when it appears that the “new” iPod Touch costs less than the Zune (actually it’s the old iPod Touch with a new price point)

    Apple are promoting both the 32GB and 64GB iPod Touches and the 8GB one as equal gaming machines, when actually the 8GB does not have the new processor and Open GL support (according to The Register) that the 32 and 64GB versions do.
    At some point in time there will be a schism whereby some new apps (mostly games) stop working for the 8GB devices being sold today. I’ve noticed this, I have a 3Gs and first gen iPod Touch and some apps are painfully slow on the touch, unusable, but fine on my iPhone 3GS. Even the new 3.1 firmware is much much slower than when I first bought the Touch back in 2007. Yes the 20 odd icons on the home screen are vastly different to the 6 or so fixed icons it came with, and I wouldn’t change it for the world, I bet but there will be a point soon when Apple decide certain models wont be getting the new firmware releases.

    Plus I bet Microsoft are planning a Zune store. What about a “Zune Pass for Apps”? That would be cool.

  21. IcyFog Says:

    The Zune doesn’t even have a calendar?! What a joke!

  22. Ken Says:

    Don’t assume that apps are not being used on iPhones and iPod Touches. The download rate to use rate may be quite high. But a few apps may be used quite often. My experience, of course is anecdotal, but at this point I’m using apps more than listening to music on my iPhone. It’s become more useful than my laptop in some respects. (No mps file has 1) saved me from getting lost on the road and 2) found great restaurants in unexpected places.)

    I think you’ll see Zune HD transform into more of a multifunctional device as well.

  23. David Says:

    I do agree with JR. A lot of us want a very good, unadulterated music player. The Zune HD blows iPod away as far as audio quality is concerned and I, for one, cannot stand iTunes, so the Zune software is a welcomed change. Sure, apps might be nice, but at the end of the day, when I am working out, apps are the least of my concerns. I love the Zune’s organization, and I love the fact that I can easily stream new music as I am working out. If you are looking for a solid music player, Zune is the way to go. If you want an app heavy device (which I know for some is a selling point), then you want the iPhone.

    Who cares which is “THE device” – how about selecting the one that best suits your needs and be happy with it. I love my Zune…I don’t care for the iPhone, but that’s me. Most people at work have an iPhone and love it. Good for them, good for me. Who CARES???? I love my HD radio and the beautiful screen…that is my choice.

    And if a v2 or v3 Zune comes out with new advancements and still no apps, I would get them also. I love it for the wonderful music player it is and that is the #1 reason I bought it.


  24. Seth Says:

    My wife has the iTouch and she loves it (minus iTunes).
    My decision for a music device is easily the Zune HD. Hands down, the Zune HD blows away any other portable music player (including the iTouch). Sorry all of you apple fan boys and girls… the tide has turned in the world of portable music.

  25. Drew Peacock Says:

    Look on the apple support site….the touch does not output in 480p! Only the classics can do this! Plus the Zune is technically 720i not 720p….get your facts straight

  26. MasterHitman69ER Says:

    I can’t wait to get the Zune HD 33 hours of battery life compare to 30 hours of Ipod i mean an extra 3 hours is alot for music also the OLED compare to apples LED well common that’s a winner im hoping for the Zune to come out MSFT is actually starting to make good gear 😛 YAY! dont get me wrong i find fantastic the Ipod Touch but common what comes down here is music and well microsoft has that itunes are system hoggers so that’s my choice…… and for the video it can’t take AVI because avi. files have different decorders but MSFT will support WMV just like apple supports MOV files

  27. Joel Says:

    The Zune hd does support Audible

  28. Matthew Says:

    Zune HD has much more apps, not official though. Third party separate download, that’s the main deal breaker. However its strong point is at music/media, you think it would be the other way around.

    Both are good.

  29. ted Says:

    Compare them out of the box their is only one choice for the smart consumer

  30. Seth Says:

    I posted earlier and just got the Zune HD for Christmas (16gb). This paired with the Zune Pass is the most superior music player available! Try to tout otherwise (you really can’t), but the iTouch does not even come close to the Zune HD as a music lovers device.

  31. bobby jimface Says:

    Once upon a time….. zune kicked ipod’s butt

  32. Valle Says:

    I’m writing this on my zune HD which I prefer to the Ipod touch. I have several audiobooks from Audible.com that play on my HD. You forgot to mention the Zune’s HD out function.

  33. Sisu Says:

    I own an iPhone and a Zune HD 32gb, so I feel like I can speak from a fairly unbiased and experienced perspective here. However, I will admit that once upon a time I was an iHater. I hate the fact that even I now make “iWords” when it seems to work. I still agree with JR that Apple is a ripoff, and I would add that they have a freaky, cult-ish marketing scheme. But I bought an iPhone for three reasons a) I got a stupidly good deal; b) I heard you can easily make ringtones out of any 30 second clip of any song you want with a program called iRinger; and c) I finally had to admit that you just can’t argue the functionality of the iPhone as far as the interface and texting capabilities. The features of the iPhone’s keyboard more than make up for its lack of tactile response. As for Microsoft, I’m not a hater. I own an XBOX 360 and a Windows 7 based pc that I built along with my Zune HD. On an unrelated note I also own a Playstation 3, so you may be getting the idea that I try not to be swayed by fanboyism. I actually got my first Zune for a birthday present, and at the time I had never even heard of them. I got one of the original 30gb black Zunes, but later used my warranty to trade it for the notorious brown Zune (what can I say, I like earth tones). So there’s my history with each company at a glance.

    As for my comparison, the same functionality and intuitive interfaces are basically the same for all iDevices, so I would imagine the iPod touch is great in this regard. However, as I was looking down that T-chart, it became clearer and clearer that the Zune HD was meant to be an extremely capable multimedia entertainment device, and it is, regardless of apps or email support. Why the hell would I want email on my mp3 player?

    The Zune HD is also a highly functional and intuitive device. The touchscreen feels great, it makes my iPhone look and feel cheap. The interface of the Zune HD is brilliant and very easy to quickly navigate to where you’re trying to go, throw together a playlist of any size, and save it. Almost every day I create and modify playlists while I’m at work, I can make a specialized 8 hour playlist with ease in about one minute. I haven’t used the HD radio or HD video output yet, so nothing to report there, but of course I love having those abilities. Obviously the OLED displays pictures much better than my iPhone. The sound quality and battery life of the Zune is fantastic, the only time my Zune charges is when it’s syncing to my car, my computer, or my xbox. I never have to actually *think* about charging it, it’s just always ready to go and believe me, I use it ALL day and into the evening. The only thing I can think of that bothers me about the Zune, is the fact that I can’t “save changes” to a playlist, I essentially have to make a new copy of the playlist with the additions that I want. It happens just as fast but leads to a cluttered list of playlists. I never liked the way iPods operate, but that’s just personal preference. The Zune PC software has come a LONG way from where it started. I used to love iTunes, and was a little bit pissed when I got my first Zune and had to switch my software. The Zune software was TERRIBLE in the beginning. It’s gotten a lot better, but they’re still trying to streamline it too much, not allowing for things like a fully fleshed out graphic equalizer. I never understood why Zune couldn’t at least match Windows Media Player in that regard. Also, I still have iTunes for my iPhone, and I really don’t like the direction that software has taken. I think it still has more advanced options than the Zune PC software, but Zune wins as far as navigation and ease of use in my opinion.

    In conclusion, if anybody’s paying still attention (lol) my opinion is that the Zune HD wins unless you really need thousands of apps and email to go along with your music. Personally I barely even use the video features. I’ve had my Zune HD for about a month and a half now and the “wow factor” still hasn’t worn off. I ordered a green Zune Original with custom art and inscription on the back. The artwork (a picture of a knight decked out in armor and standing guard) and inscription (SISU – Finnish for toughness and perseverance) are both laser engraved, very very cool. The whole package is personalized and really sleek, add matching metallic green FMJ ear buds from Skullcandy and you’ve got a pretty irresistible little device. I really do love this Zune HD, but not because it’s a Zune. I love it because it’s fucking awesome.

  34. paige Says:

    another thing is that the zune hd also comes in 64 gb not just 16gb and 32gb

  35. jjf Says:

    touch owns zune, even the stats here prove it. but im not saying the zune is bad, just the itouch is better

  36. Gdog Says:

    Zune HD has an email app a calendar app and an eReader app if it helps…