SAN FRANCISCO--One of the nice things about Microsoft's new Zune is that it can download or stream songs at a hot spot. The downside: the music player won't work at just any hot spot.
The big limit is that the Wi-Fi locale not only has to be free, but also of the variety that doesn't pop up a browser window before letting users online. That's because unlike the iPod Touch, the Zune has no browser.
To get a sense of just how big a limitation that was, I decided Wednesday to put on my sneakers and head all over town to see where I could and couldn't get new tunes. I was sure I would have better luck than when I went across town two years ago in search of another Zune.
I loaded up the Zune with a few albums and videos the night before. I also selected a few "channels"--essentially playlists programmed by others that get updated on a regular basis. Among the channels I included were Billboard's top Latin hits, as well as one programmed by KROQ--the LA-area radio station I listened to throughout high school.
Apparently, though, I hadn't synced the channels to the Zune, so I had to wait 45 minutes while it downloaded the 112 tracks over my home Wi-Fi connection.
I wrote a blog as the last of the KROQ channel made its way to my Zune. At 9:45 a.m., as the Violent Femmes' "Blister in the Sun" played in my headphones, I walked out the door, and headed to my first stop--the independent Nervous Dog Coffee, one of my personal favorites. The Zune didn't immediately find any Wi-Fi.
Assured by the staff that indeed, there was free and unprotected Wi-Fi, I gave the Zune a reboot. I guessed correctly that you needed to hold down the left-most button while pressing down on its touchpad. Sure enough, that did the trick and I sat down with my chai and started reading that day's copy of The Wall Street Journal.
With nothing but depressing headlines about the financial meltdown, I decided I simply had to listen to R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)." So I downloaded that using the Zune Pass subscription graciously loaned by Microsoft, along with the player. (The 16GB player will set you back $199, while the Zune Pass costs $14.95 a month.)
With my new party trick working, I walked back up to the counter to show Joe Belen, the coffee shop's ever-jovial owner. I asked him to pick an artist and he opted for Tears for Fears. As I struggled to enter the name using the Zune's scrolling mechanism (it has no keyboard or touch screen) he quipped, "Is that too long? Should I pick Cher?" … Read more