We recently had some family over for the holidays. My sister took it upon herself to recharge her 8gb iPod on my desktop, so when I came into my office one morning, I saw it sitting next to my Zune. I figured I'd play around with both devices a little and blog my findings.
First impressions: size. Both devices are pretty similarly sized, the iPod a bit wider, but the Zune is both taller/thicker. Overall, I'd guess the Zune's volume is a tad larger, but I imagine this wouldn't make much difference and that personal preference of form factor would be most relevant. As for weight, both devices seem to weigh about the same -- I'm sure one of the other is a few grams more or less, but I couldn't tell a difference.
The menu systems, also, were fairly similar. The Zune seemed more visually appealing, but nothing over the top. Just like the form factor, I don't think there's a clear superior device -- I think it would depend on personal preference. I hate to make this sound so even-keeled, but I also think the navigation controls are largely equivalent.
As with anything else, I think the answer to the question of which is better comes down to usage. For me, the compelling feature about the Zune is subscription based music. I listen to many different kinds of music and enjoy the flexibility a subscription offers. I know many folks prefer to buy all of their music, but I enjoy the subscription service. The music transfers to my Zunes, as well as streamed to my XBOX 360 and Roku without any issues. The only other way I'd consider buying music is if it's completely DRM free, and that would involve either buying the physical media myself, or use one of the emerging DRM free stores, but the selection and availability is still limited. And apparently, buying media and encoding it to MP3 format so it's DRM-free is apparently illegal, too
. Maybe in a couple of years, I'll abandon the subscription in favor of other options, but for now, it's a great value.
One feature I like about the Zune is the FM Radio. There's one specific case where this is handy: at the gym, where TVs are often broadcast over FM channels. Otherwise, I'm not sure how much uptake the radio feature would have, so as such, I'm guessing this feature is great to have for a small percentage of folks, and useless to the rest.
The iPod has a number of features on it as well, such as a few simple games, a stopwatch, and calendar/contacts. Like the Zune's FM Radio, I'm guessing this is used by a very small percentage of folks.
The Zune has wireless, and this is really cool for syncing remotely. The sharing idea is neat, but I haven't used it yet.
I really like that iTunes (from what I've seen from those who use it, anyway) has richer support for movies/TV shows. Sure, this is possible on the Zune, but what I'm talking about is simple click and download. I don't want to encode files, copy them across my network, etc. And this is just a hunch, but I suspect the iPod's screen orientation would be better suited to watching video. The whole experience for TV/Movies is not there for the Zune yet -- at least, not there for the online service. Having said that, given the Media Center software, where it's going, integrating with XBOX, etc., I'm hoping this is just a natural evolution of the platform.
So there you have it. To sum it up, I think the latest Zune devices are quite good. If you're into subscription music, I think it's the best device you can get. If you're into catching missed episodes of your favorite TV show and don't mind paying a couple of bucks, the iPod/iTunes is currently better suited. If you like to do both, well, then I guess you need to decide between the two :).