Windows 7 : Zune to Go: Using Zune Devices (part 1) - Installing and Configuring the Player

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The Zune PC software is free: You can download it, check it out, and dump Windows Media Player entirely if you'd like. Ditto for Zune Marketplace and Zune Social: While you do have to link your Zune tag to a Windows Live ID, both services can at least be accessed free. Of course, you'll need to spend some money if you want to buy music at Zune Marketplace.

The biggest investment you're going to make on the Zune platform occurs when and if you decide to go all in and snag a Zune portable media player. These devices, which compete with various Apple iPod models, are not inexpensive. They're high-quality, competitive devices, and if you like what you've seen with the Zune software and services, you're probably going to enjoy the Zune hardware too.

The current generation of Zune hardware is the second that Microsoft has offered in the market. Whereas the first-generation Zune platform included just a single hardware device—the 30GB Zune 30 player (see Figure 1), the second generation expands into a more complete product lineup. Interestingly, Microsoft didn't actually replace its Zune 30 player with a new model. Instead, it augmented that player with other new models and added new capabilities that are available on all players, old and new. (Microsoft no longer sells the Zune 30, however.)

Figure 1. Microsoft no longer sells the Zune 30 but it has augmented it with new Zune capabilities over time.

As of 2009, the second-generation players had been updated with two ultra-portable devices that utilize 8GB and 16GB of flash storage instead of heavier, bigger, and slower hard disks. Dubbed the Zune 8 and Zune 16, respectively, these devices come in a variety of colors, but color and storage capacity aside, they're all otherwise identical (see Figure 2).

On the high end, Microsoft has added a 120GB hard drive–based mode, the Zune 120, shown in Figure 3. This player is available only in black and red and is roughly the same size as the Zune 30, but is thinner and features a larger, nicer-looking screen.

Figure 2. The Zune 8 and Zune 16 utilize flash storage and offer a small form factor.

Figure 3. The Zune 120 is Microsoft's premium digital media player.


More Zunes are on the way (like the Zune HD), according to Microsoft, as are Zune software capabilities for Windows Mobile–based phones. By the time you read this, the Zune ecosystem will likely have grown somewhat.

1. Choosing a Zune

Pricing for the Zune lineup is similar to that of Apple's iPod lineup. At the time of this writing, the Zune 8 is about $140, while the Zune 16 comes in around $175. The Zune 30 has pretty much disappeared from the market, which makes sense given its age. Meanwhile, the Zune 120 retails for about $230. Zune HD pricing is dependent on capacity as well; check with your favorite retailer for the latest prices.


If you purchase a Zune online through Microsoft's Zune Originals service (, you can choose from numerous custom, laser-engraved artwork designs and add your own text. These designs are applied to the back of the device. Zune Originals is not available for the Zune 30, yet another reason to forego this model.

Because the software-based functionality on all three Zune models is identical, any decision about models should come down to the following:

  • Form factor: The Zune 8 and Zune 16 will appeal to those who have less content, and who value small size over capacity. If you're going to use a Zune while exercising, for example, a Zune 8 or 16 is ideal from a form factor perspective.

  • Capacity: While a Zune 120 might seem like overkill from a capacity perspective, this is the device to have if you intend to load up with videos and large photo collections in addition to more typical audio content. Few people have tens of gigabytes of music, but video adds up very quickly.

  • Price: Like other high-quality electronic devices, Zunes are fairly expensive. If you can't afford a Zune 120—or just don't want to drop $230 on what is essentially a digital bauble—the lower-end Zunes are also quite nice. Sometimes, simply meeting your budget is the most obvious and important factor of all.

2. Linking Your Zune: Installing and Configuring the Player

Whichever Zune you purchase, the process for connecting it to your PC and synchronizing the device with the Zune PC software is nearly identical. First, ensure that you have the latest version of the Zune PC software installed, preferably, connected to a Windows Live ID. After removing the Zune from its packaging, connect it to the PC with the included USB cable (which, sadly, is specially made for the Zune, so you can't just use any old USB cable) and then follow these steps:

  1. Wait while Windows finds and then installs the drivers needed to interact with your Zune. This process, shown in Figure 4, is automatic and should conclude quickly. Once the drivers are loaded, the Zune PC software will appear.

    Figure 4. Zune drivers will be found and installed automatically the first time you plug in the device.
  2. Launch the Zune software if you haven't already. The device setup process will begin. First, supply a friendly name for the device (see Figure 5) and determine whether you want to link the Zune to your Zune tag/Windows Live ID. If you've already begun using the Zune PC software and have established a Zune tag, there's no reason not to link it with the device now. That said, you can link the device to your Zune tag anytime.

  3. In the next phase of device setup, you can optionally agree to send Microsoft information about any issues your Zune device may have. This improves the Zune experience for everyone and we recommend that you agree to do this.

  4. At the final and most crucial phase of the setup wizard, shown in Figure 6, you determine how the Zune syncs with your media library. There are two general options, Smart Sync and Manual Sync. If you choose Smart Sync, you will get sepa-rate entries for music, video, pictures, podcasts, and friends, and in each case you can choose between Sync All and [Content] I Choose. With Manual Sync, you are selecting to individually sync content item-by-item in the Zune software. How you sync depends on a number of factors, including the size of your media collection and the capacity of your device. For example, if you have 30GB of music, you can't just use Smart Sync to sync all of your content with a Zune 8 because that device has only 8GB of storage. Because this is a big decision, we examine it further in the next section. For now, just select the [Content] I Choose options for each media type under Smart Sync and then click Finish to complete the wizard.

    Figure 5. This time it's personal.
    Figure 6. Zune's synchronization options are well thought out.
  5. At this point, the Zune PC software displays the main screen (Collection => Music), which is a bit surprising, but if you look in the lower-left corner of the application window, you'll see a colored Zune icon—that matches the color and Zune device you purchased, by the way—that's lit up and synchronizing, as shown in Figure 7. You can watch the synchronization progress via the percentage text under the device icon.

    Figure 7. It's subtle, but the Zune PC software will trigger whatever sync options you set up in the wizard.
  6. Click the Zune device icon to display the Device Status screen (Device => Status) shown in Figure 8. From here you can see an almost life-size device icon (again, in the correct color and style) with Just Added, Now Syncing, and Syncing sections that, together, give you an idea of how well the synchronization process is going. There's also a Total Space Used graph on the bottom that indicates how much of the device's storage space is used.

Figure 8. In Device Status, you can see how sync is going and find out how much of the device's capacity is utilized.


The Total Space Used graph is interactive: as you mouse over the various segments of the graph, it will tell you how much space each type of content—music, pictures, podcasts, and videos, as well as reserved space—uses individually.

You can sit and watch the device fill up with content (if you configured it to sync) or simply begin using any other part of the Zune PC software UI. You can also do other things while the device syncs, including shop in Zune Marketplace.


This one is kind of fun: Microsoft includes content on the Zune. This means you can actually view photos, watch movies, and listen to music on your new Zune before you even get it home and sync it with your computer. That's not to say you're going to enjoy any of this stuff, but it's an unusually generous preload.


Speaking of the content included with the Zune, one additional thing you should be aware of is that the Zune will not sync it back to your PC by default, so if you'd like to back it up, you should do so. Here's how: in the Zune PC software, navigate to Device and then Music, Videos, Pictures, and Podcasts in turn. In each of these sections, select the preloaded content, right-click, and choose Copy to my collection. This content will then automatically sync back to the PC. Music and podcasts are copied to your Music folder, while pictures are copied to your Pictures folder and videos are copied to your Videos folder.

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