Windows 7 : Zune to Go: Using Zune Devices (part 2) - To Sync or Not to Sync, That Is the Question

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3. To Sync or Not to Sync, That Is the Question

Okay, you've just purchased a new Zune device and you obviously want to get some content on there, and fast. The question is, how are you going to make that happen? The Zune PC software offers two basic options for synchronizing your media library with your Zune device. That is, you can automatically sync all content or you can manually sync only certain content.

3.1. Choosing a Sync Strategy

We want to be very clear about this choice: if you can do it—that is, if the capacity of your device is large enough to handle the size of your media library—the Smart Sync option is much simpler to use and manage than Manual Sync. That said, you may not want all of certain content types to sync with your device. For example, while a Zune 4 or Zune 8 is perfect for enjoying music and podcasts, its tiny screen makes it more difficult to enjoy pictures. And as for videos, forget about it.

Here are some basic rules for choosing how to sync:

  • If the device has enough storage, use Smart Sync: If you can get every last song, picture, video, and podcast from your media library onto the device, do so. A Zune 120 should be enough storage for all but the most demanding users. Smart Sync is easier.

  • Unless you have specific needs, choose music first: Choose music at the expense of other nonaudio content. Put simply, today's Zune is optimized for audio. In this case, you might choose All Music under Smart Sync and then [Content] I choose for the other content types.

  • Understand what you're getting into with Manual Sync: The Zune's manual sync functionality is a bit harder to manage. There is a single place in the Zune UI to see what you're syncing to a particular device, but it's not clear.

3.2. Manual Sync

Suppose, for whatever reason, you've decided (or been forced) to manually sync content from your Zune media library to your device.

Here's how it works, using music as an example. As you navigate around your music library in the Zune PC software, you'll notice that you can manually sync artists, albums, and even individual songs with your device. To manually sync an artist, album, or individual song (or songs) you need to right-click one or more of those items and choose Sync with device name (where device name is the name of your Zune device) from the pop-up menu that appears (see Figure 9).

Figure 9. Manually syncing artists and albums isn't exactly intuitive.

When you choose this kind of synchronization, whatever content you've selected is copied to the device immediately, and the Zune creates something called a Sync Group, which is a collection of items that are synced together as a whole to a device. In the Songs column, you'll see a tiny On Device icon (in the shape of a Zune device) appear next to each song that is synced with the device.


When you right-click individual songs in the Songs column, you'll see an additional option that's not available when you click artists or albums: never Sync with device. This provides you with some fine-tuning, so even if you choose to automatically sync everything by a particular artist, for example, you can manually exclude certain songs.

The problem with manual sync, of course, is that it's obvious where you go to see and manage what you're syncing. As you navigate around your music collection, tagging individual artists, albums, and songs for sync, the list of synced items is growing ever larger. You'll see those little On Device icons sprouting up here and there. How do you manage this mess?

As it turns out, this information is managed from within the Device section of the Zune PC software. This makes sense when you think about it, because it's certainly possible to own two or more Zune devices and configure sync differently for each. Therefore, to see which songs you're syncing, navigate to Device => Status. Then click the View Sync Groups button. You'll see a screen similar to the one shown in Figure 10.

Figure 10. You can manage manual sync from within the Device area of the Zune PC software.

To stop syncing particular artists, albums, or songs, just right-click as appropriate. What you will see varies according to which items you've chosen to sync, and then which items you're choosing here in the UI. For example, say you've chosen to sync all music from the band Collective Soul. The way you did that was to right-click Collective Soul in the Artist list in Collection => Music and choose Sync to device. Okay, so now you navigate to Device => Music and you want to remove some items. Here are the options:

  • Right-click on the artist's name: If you right-click on the artist's name in the leftmost column, called Sync Groups, you see an option titled Remove group. If you select this, Zune will stop syncing music from this artist and will immediately remove all of the music that was previously synced to the device. (Obviously, the music will remain on your PC and in your Zune media library.)

  • Right-click on an individual album within a sync group: You can delete individual albums from the device by choosing Remove group. When you do this, the album is deleted from the device only. More important, it is removed from the Sync Group as well (in this case, all music by Collective Soul), so when you sync the device in the future, music from that album will no longer be synced.

  • Right-click on an individual song within a sync group: You can also delete individual songs from the device by choosing Remove group. As with albums, the song is deleted from the device and removed from the Sync Group.

If you navigate back to Collection => Music, you'll see that songs you have removed from Sync Groups have a small "Excluded" icon next to them instead of an On Device icon.

It's also worth pointing out that Sync Groups aren't always as clear-cut as an individual group. As you sync more and more content to your devices, a number of Sync Groups will appear, some of which are more arbitrary collections of music. And, of course, you'll have Sync Groups that comprise other content types such as podcasts, pictures, and video.

In any case, as you can see, manual sync is a lot of work. It's not so bad if you want to sync only a couple of items of a particular content type, but it can quickly get out of hand if you start adding more and more items. Smart Sync is the way to go if possible.

3.3. Wireless Sync

The type of synchronization we've been discussing thus far is very similar to the way that you would sync iPods, iPhones, and other portable digital media devices, but the Zune offers a fairly unique feature, called wireless sync, that enables you to synchronize content over your wireless home network.

Wireless sync works with all Zune models, including the older Zune 30, and requires an 802.11b/g Wi-Fi wireless network. (The PC can be connected via wired Ethernet.) Obviously, this kind of sync is slower than a USB tether, especially if you're stuck using the older, slower, and generally less desirable 802.11b variant. It's not particularly battery-friendly either. For this reason, Zune devices will not automatically sync wirelessly with your PC-based Zune library unless the device is powered somehow (either by a dock or a USB sync cable that's plugged into electric power with an optional Zune power adapter).

You can, however, trigger a manual wireless sync via the device. To do so, however, you must first configure the device for wireless sync using the Zune PC software. After ensuring that the device is connected to the PC via USB—you can't configure this feature otherwise—navigate to Settings => Device and then choose Wireless from the list of options. You'll see a screen like that shown in Figure 11. Click Set Up Wireless Sync to continue.

Figure 11. Before you can wirelessly sync with your Zune device, you must configure this feature in the Zune PC software.

At this point, the Zune software will search for available wireless networks. If you're connected to a wireless network already, Zune will ask if you'd like to use that network for wireless sync. If not, you can choose the appropriate wireless network from a list. Click Finish and Zune will connect to the wireless network and configure the device accordingly.


Can't connect? Zune has certain requirements for wireless networks, including compatibility with a limited range of wireless security technologies. These include open networks with no encryption (which, obviously, you would never do), WEP (64-bit or 128-bit key), WPA-PSK (TKIP), WPA-PSK (AES), WPA2-PSK (AES, not supported on Zune 30), and WPA2-PSK (TKIP, not supported on Zune 30). For more information and wireless sync troubleshooting tips, please visit the Microsoft Web site:

Once that's completed, perform a normal, wired sync with the device. Then unplug it from the PC to test wireless sync. On the device, navigate to Settings => Wireless => Sync and then select Sync with PC. The device will connect to your wireless network, connect to your PC, and perform a sync, albeit a bit slowly.

Aside from rampant abuse of battery power, why might you find wireless sync desirable? First, many people are now in the habit of charging their digital devices in a central location, perhaps using one of those charging stations you may have seen. This way, when they head off to work in the morning, everything is charged, ready, and accessible. By enabling wireless sync, you can charge your Zune along with your smart phone and other devices, and not worry about carting it over to the PC every few days to sync manually.

Second, and an arguably more interesting use for this technology, is home entertainment. Many people keep a digital media device dock next to their home theater so they can use this device with the best stereo in the house. (Note that because the flash-based Zunes don't support video out, this scenario would only include audio content such as music and podcasts with these particular devices.) If you keep your Zune by the home theater with an AV dock, you can ensure that it's always up-to-date, as it will be silently syncing back to the PC in the other room while it's docked.

Finally, many users simply forget to sync. Enabling wireless sync means that all you have to do is charge the device within range of your wireless network (typically almost anywhere in your home) and it will sync automatically.

4. Updating Zune

As with any electronic device, make sure your Zune is always up-to-date. That's because Microsoft often ships updates, both for the Zune's PC-based software and for the firmware that runs on the device itself. (For whatever its worth, Microsoft also updates Zune Marketplace and Zune Social regularly, but because those updates occur in the cloud, you don't have to do any work to stay up-to-date.)

The Zune PC software should alert you periodically when new updates are available. However, you can manually check for software updates by navigating to Settings => Software => General. Then click the Check for Updates button in the Software Updates section.

Likewise, the Zune PC software should periodically alert you when updates are made available for whatever Zune device(s) you own. To manually check for a firmware update, plug in the device and then navigate to Settings => Device => Device Update in the Zune PC software.

The Zune 8/16, Zune 30, and Zune 120 all use slightly different versions of the Zune firmware, so Microsoft makes different updates available for each of these devices.


One feature that's not obvious is that you can restore your Zune device in various ways. If you just want to erase the content on the device and start over, you can do so from within the Zune PC software, but if you want to literally restore the Zune to factory condition—that is, with the firmware version that originally came on the device—you need to do that directly from the Zune itself. The process is somewhat complicated, but is described in Microsoft Knowledge Base Article 927001 ( Note that restoring your Zune in this fashion will not restore the music, photo, and video content that originally came on the device, so be sure to back that up before restoring the device. You can back up Zune-based content—that is, copy it back to the PC—by navigating to Device => Music (or Device => Videos or Device => Pictures) in the Zune PC software, right-clicking the content, and choosing Copy to Collection.

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