Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Unboxing my custom Zune 80

As a longtime iPod loyalist, I had a lot of mixed emotions ordering a Zune 80 for myself last Sunday. Part of me felt like a traitor, honestly. I thought about my poor 5G video iPod, which had been ignored for weeks at the bottom of my messenger bag while I played with Microsoft's loaner for my review. Now, I'd never abandon my iPod completely, especially considering that part of my job is reviewing the seemingly endless parade of iPod accessories. Still, I figure there's room in my life for another MP3 player, right? I mean, I would be negligent as a digital audio journalist if I didn't order one.
Well, my Zune 80 arrived today, and I can honestly say I have no regrets (so far). I went the custom route and ordered the Zune 80 directly from Microsoft on its ZuneOriginals site, complete with custom artwork. Say what you want about the Zune, but the designers have definitely outdone themselves on packaging details. From the foil-embossed box, to the golden envelope, the entire package from ZuneOriginals felt like it should be holding Lil' Jon's diamond-encrusted Pimp Cup. Considering that Microsoft is offering these deluxe versions of the Zune for roughly the same price I'd pay in the store, it feels like a bargain despite the fact that I'm really putting more money in Microsoft's pocket by ordering direct. From an industry perspective, I think it's interesting to see how the marketing team behind the Zune is using the ZuneOriginals concept to both make good on its "You make it you" campaign, and at the same time offer a real incentive for customers to buy direct.
I know all this Zune-love is going to make me sound like a shill for Microsoft, but trust me, I have my complaints, as well. I'm writing this because I think what Microsoft is doing with the design and marketing of the Zune is noteworthy, especially when so many iPod competitors seem to be getting more sheepish about their product launches year-by-year. I had just as much excitement opening my custom Zune 80 this morning as I did unboxing the iPhone on the day it was released--and that's no small feat. It may sound like novelty, but part of that excitement was because of the mystery of how good or bad the artwork etching would turn out (quite good, I thought). I think it's also worth noting that this was a fun product to order, thanks to the online customization tool employed on the ZuneOriginals Web site. Getting two lines of text etched into my iPod was not nearly as exciting as browsing Zune's catalog of full-size artwork. As a longtime iPod fan, it pains to admit when the competition looks this good, but I honestly believe the Zune deserves some recognition here.
And now for the show...Here's a hastily-produced video of the unboxing of my "Originals" Zune 80, with running commentary from Josh Lowensohn and Nicole Lee. A more detailed photo gallery can be found here.

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