Hands-on with Microsoft's new Zune

[intro]This morning the new Zune landed on my desk direct from the US of A – and do you know what? I quite like it[/intro]Despite the fact you could c

[intro]This morning the new Zune landed on my desk direct from the US of A – and do you know what? I quite like it[/intro]

Despite the fact you could choke a donkey on the original Zune, there was one thing that made it stand out over the iPod – the much prettier menus. This was in the days before CoverFlow and the gorgeous Touch of course but the Zune’s changeable wallpapers and sleek transitions between menus were a winner for me.Now I’m well aware that a nice bit of eye candy alone isn’t going to make a winning MP3 player and that’s exactly why I’m an iPod owner, but this new Zune has some brains to go with its inner beauty.I’ve got the 8GB model and there’s a really nice new way to navigate those pretty menus. Unlike the clunky old 4-way d-pad on the original Zune, the new rounded-square pad is also touch sensitive – that makes it much nicer to browse through pics and tunes and offers some smart ways to control your music. A simple vertical swipe of the finger alters track volume, while a flick left or right skips backwards or forwards between songs. A full vertical swipe will scroll all the way to the end of your library.It takes a little bit of getting used to – you’ll almost certainly skip to the next tune by accident at least half a dozen times when you first get hold of it – but it works really well. The Wi-Fi features have been tweaked too. The restricted capability of the wireless on the original Zune was something that really crippled it and induced the ‘typical Microsoft’ type comments. I’m not saying the new one is perfect – the 3-day limit has gone but you still only get three plays of shared tunes – but over-the-air syncing is a very cool touch.Of course the Zune is only available in the States at the moment but a quick currency conversion tells me the 8GB version would be just a smidge over £90 – bit of a bargain if you just so happen to be across the pond anytime soon.