Zune on Windows Phone 7


Having Zune on my Windows Phone 7 device is great and something I use at least once a day. However this constant use means I’ve found a few niggly things that I’d like to see changed.

1) You can’t create playlists on the device. This is something I’d do on my Android device quite a lot…a great way to quickly create lists on the fly. Only being able to create them on the pc feels quite restrictive.

2) You can’t put playlists on random. Now if one created a playlist with proper care & attention, I can see that this probably wouldn’t be necessary. However I don’t put that much effort into my playlist creation! I usually go through my catalogue by artist and add songs in that I’d forgotten about…this means I get runs of one artist for maybe a dozen songs, and I like my playlists to be much more varied than that…

3) You can’t spend Microsoft points. This one I really don’t get. I can spend Microsoft points in Zune on Xbox, Zune on PC but not Zune on Windows Phone 7…why? If you want to purchase something from the Zune marketplace, you have to use real money and that just seems odd. This means I tend to wait until I’m at a pc to purchase anything from the Marketplace…which certainly defeats the mobile aspect!

Microsoft Zune Pass available internationally


Microsoft are making the Zune Pass available in countries other than the US. That gets a big:

from me and I’m sure, 1000’s of others across the world too!

The imminent arrival of Windows Phone 7, which has the Zune player built in, means making this available worldwide is high on the list of things Microsoft need to do Smile

The Zune Pass is something I’ve been looking at for a long time as it represents great value for money. In the UK, it will be £8.99 a month which will give you full access to stream the huge library of music available in the Zune Marketplace. That in itself wouldn’t be enough to sway me as I have enough music already (!) but here’s the kicker:

Each month, you can permanently download and keep 10 tracks.

Which works out as 89.9p per track. So the streaming AND the keeping – that’s a winner right there!

Also, it will probably mean I will use Spotify very infrequently…

Accessing Zune Marketplace in UK


As you can see from my previous post (here) I am now a huge fan of Microsoft’s Zune 4.0 desktop software. However being in the UK means that a lot of the features are unavailable to us…mainly the Zune marketplace.

Zune Marketplace:

The Marketplace is where you can preview and purchase songs, videos, apps, podcasts, games and more.

Zune marketplace

As you can see in the screenshot above, it’s got pretty much everything you could want:

  • New releases
  • Top Songs
  • Top Videos
  • Topical/focus sections

and you can split it down into genre, which then gives you all the above but specific to that kind of music.

Zune marketplace video

The video section is similar and also lets you purchase movies.

Zune marketplace apps

Above is the Zune App section of the marketplace, which looks pretty great. If I actually had a Zune HD, I’d definitely be loving this!

Anyway I digress slightly. You’re quite probably wondering how this is possible-what with me residing in England and Zune Marketplace being US only…well let me tell you.

UK Access

I was having a look around the internet to see what I could find on accessing the Zune Marketplace from outside the US and I came across this blog. Here the author, Ian Blackburn, details how to get initial access to the Marketplace; and it’s much simpler than I would have thought.

You simply change your PC location to “United States” via “Region & Language” in Control Panel.

The next step is being allowed to download things. To do this, you simply need to log into Zune Marketplace with a Live ID that is set to US location.

I changed my Live ID location and it worked. I was in Marketplace and downloading a free track from “People Under the Stairs”…brilliant 🙂 However, when I tried to download something a few minutes later, it said that “marketplace wasn’t available in my location” and blocked me from downloading anything 😦

The way I found around this was to download HotSpot Shield (available here) which masks your IP address. This gave me proper, full access to the Marketplace as well as Zune Social; plus little things such as syncing my proper play count…and the big one – enabling me to download things once again! The only downside I’ve found to Hot Spot Shield is that it places banner ads at the top of web pages which is a bit annoying; however I can put up with that…

Over at Bbits, Ian ponders how one would purchase things from Zune…and I agree with his theory. As the Zune marketplace users Xbox points as currency, one should be able to redeem a code against the LIve ID used for Zune and be able to download freely, without worrying about a US address/credit card etc. I haven’t tried it but if I do, I’ll let you know 😉 Another thing I’m going to investigate is getting a Zune Pass…but that’s for another day.

So there you have it, a relatively easy way to access the Zune marketplace from the UK, or indeed anywhere else…have fun!

Zune 4.0 Desktop Software


I’ve always been a big Windows Media Player (WMP) fan. I never bothered with any of the alternatives as WMP has always had most/all the features I’ve needed, and I despise iTunes (for way too many reasons to go into here!).

When I first got the beta of Windows 7 back in Feb/March (?), one of the first things I did was check out WMP 12. I was very pleased with what I found…it’s quicker and smoother and has got numerous great new features such as “Play To” for streaming to other devices, the ability to be played remotely to another Windows 7 machine, the ability to preview songs and more. It works really well and is much improved over V11 but recently I’ve been thinking about checking out something different.

I’ve been wanting a Zune for years but as they aren’t properly available here in the UK, I’ve not got one. While thinking on possible replacements for WMP 12, I remembered hearing the Zune desktop software getting good reviews; so I thought – will it work without a Zune? Perhaps obviously, yes it will…and it is truly great!!! 🙂

I’ve only been using it for a little under 24 hours but so far, I’m a huge fan of it. I’ve taken a bunch of screenshots so you can see the elegant, modern, media centre style vibe it’s got going on.

This is the Welcome Screen I get when I load it up:

Zune Quickplay View

It’s divided into four sections:

New: This section contains any news tracks added into the library

History: This contains the tracks/albums that have previously been listened to.

Pins: You can “pin” albums/singles to the front page with a simple right click

Smart DJ: Automatically generates playlists based on your library.

Smart DJ

This I’ve heard a lot about. It creates playlists all on its own, based on artists that you give it as a reference after analysing your music. It’s just finished analysing my music and has given me a Smart DJ playlist based on Wu-Tang Clan and it’s excellent:

image

As you can, it’s not just other Wu-Tang songs – it’s got Nas and Canibus in there too, artists who are indeed related.

This Smart DJ based on “Onyx” is even more impressive:

image

Every artist is different there-great stuff 🙂

Collection

This is where you can see all the songs/albums/artists/genres etc in your library, much like Windows Media but just better.

Zune Artists View

Rather than them being separate section as in WMP, you can see Artists, Albums and individual songs all at once. This section has got a very current, web 2.0 app style feel and I’m a big fan.

The “Songs” section also includes a “Play Count” column which is what I was originally looking for. I know it’s pretty gimmicky and all the rest of it, but I like the idea of being able to see what songs get played the most. This features aligns quite nicely with today’s IT drive towards ever deeper data mining too 😉

Album View:

This is clearly taken from Media Centre but that’s no bad thing:

Zune Album View

I love the tiled album art background and the changing colour schemes that it moves through…also, the tiles in the background flip round – small things eh?! 🙂

Another nice touch is the ever-present yet subtle graphic equalizer down at the bottom of the screen:

image

There are a few things that aren’t in there when compared to WMP 12-inc most/all the new Windows 7 features (play to, stream, preview etc) but I don’t really mind that. The biggest downside for me is that I can’t sync my Windows Mobile device with it. I know that seems logical as it’s designed for the Zune but as it can work without one – it’d be nice to have that option. The mobile syncing is the only thing keeping WMP12 in the picture…and I never thought I’d say that…

All in all, I’m a HUGE fan of Zune 4.0 Desktop software and I highly recommend you go and download it here right now!

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