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"Hello from Seattle". That's what it says on the back of all earlier generations of Zune devices. Much derided at the time, Microsoft's very late answer in 2006 to the iPod still to this day remains the punchline of many jokes.
I don't care. I just tracked back my original purchase transaction (September 2009), and after some reminiscing and googling, I can establish that in 2009, the Zune HD had just come out, was overpriced, and was not going to be available in Canada anyway, so I settled for the prior generation when Future Shop--now taken over and shut down by Best Buy--cleared out their remaining inventory. I got mine for $99.99, and they threw in the car adapter, itself usually overpriced, for free.
I'm not an Apple fan, and at the time, had already gone through many of the cheaper MP3 players, ranging from $20 to perhaps $75. They all died rather quickly or, because of their own infuriating quirks, met an early demise by my own hand. I found the Zune to be the best alternative and stopped looking elsewhere.
So I've been using it for over 9 years now, and I can confidently say nearly every day. I hardly listen to music, but it's been a great podcast player all this time, and it simply behaves exactly like the ideal podcast player ought to behave. It's been dropped more times than I care to count from considerable height on hardwood floors, concrete slabs, gravel driveways, and even found its way half-buried in dirt in a flowerbed, and somehow always managed to survive unscathed. Even the battery still lasts a lot longer than I need it to.
But 2018 has been a rough year for my Zune. I dropped it on the floor once too many times, and the screen finally cracked at the beginning of the year. Not a big deal, as the cracked area was restricted to a corner and didn't even cover any viewable area of the display. I noticed a problem with static electricity last winter, when the air tends to be drier than it is during summer. It seemed like every time I reached for it, I would hear (and feel) a tiny spark, and almost invariably, the Zune would immediately reset itself. But it kept going, until one day a spark seemed to have fried the firmware (it actually showed a message indicating it needed to be re-flashed). I managed to re-apply the latest firmware through some nasty hacks I won't get into, which brought it back to life. It survived the remainder of winter, then the static electricity problem disappeared as we went through spring, summer and fall, although by then it did get dropped on the floor a few more times, and I guess because it'd already been weakened, it developed another, much larger crack. Now with winter back, static electricity still causes the occasional reset when I pick it up.
Then a few weeks ago, after leaving it in the car for a few hours when the temperature dropped to -30C, the Back button stopped working. Nothing gets it working again, so if I'm navigating the menus and need to go back up one level, I have to force it to power off, and then power it back on to get to the root menu--very impractical.
To finish it off, now the backlight may or may not turn on anymore. This is pretty much the last straw.
In hindsight, never have I owned an electronic device work for so many hours and take such a beating for such a long time. I knew the day would come, so a few years ago I went trawling (not trolling) a local eBay equivalent and purchased two spare Zune HD players for a lot less money than they originally went for. What few competitors still existed at the time still sucked. I'm finally putting the "new" players to good use, but it's clear that by the time the Zune HD had come out, the touchscreen craze had already taken over, and I'm finding it to be a lot less user-friendly. For one thing, I could count the clicks as I pressed the original Zune's big fat round button so I could perform most functions in the car by feel and not take my eyes off the road, which is not possible with touchscreens.
Is there a point to this? Other than saying the Zune got a lot more crap than it should have, probably not. Like most underdog stories, this one deserved a lot more praise than any of its competitors ever got.
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