The best thing about the upcoming third-generation Zune? I already own it.
Just like last year's free update for first-gen Zune owners, Microsoft has confirmed that all existing Zune owners will get a free third-generation firmware upgrade once the product sees its official launch on September 16. Not "Apple free"--but "free" as in zero-cost.
As earlier articles have already shown, the details for Microsoft's third-generation Zune MP3 player hardware have been revealed as a few of the devices have accidentally hit the shelves. This year's Zune hardware offers a new color option (blue) and 120GB hard drive and 16GB Flash capacities, but is otherwise unchanged from the hardware we saw with its second-gen players. This means that side-by-side, it should be nearly impossible to tell a third-gen Zune apart from an updated second-gen Zune.
So, what will the new Zune update get you? Let's recap the leaked features.
Device to Cloud Finally, the Zune's Wi-Fi feature does something worthwhile. With the ability to access public and password-protected Wi-Fi hot spots, your Zune can now update itself on the fly and download tracks directly from Zune Marketplace. Zune Pass users will get the most from this feature since they'll be able to stream as much music as they want directly from Zune Marketplace as an added value. Pair this feature up with a speaker dock and you essentially have a killer commercial-free jukebox.
FM radio tagging We've been a longtime fan of the Zune's RBDS-enhanced FM radio, but the third-generation firmware promises to make the feature even better. So long as the FM radio station you're listening to supports RBDS or RDS song data, you'll be able to earmark any song you hear and download it later when you connect your Zune to your computer or over Wi-Fi in the Device to Cloud scenario. Seems like a great feature for folks who often use the radio to discover new music, and again, Zune Pass subscription users will now have a new way to milk the most new music from their monthly fee.
Zune Channels If you've already played around with your Zune's Social and Zune Card features, you probably know that you can automatically download recently played songs from folks you've befriended using Zune Social. Think of Zune Channels as the Friends feature on steroids (or better yet, think of it as Rhapsody Channels). You get regular and automatic updates of new music from channels you select based on artists, genres, DJs, and celebrities. You'll also get a personal recommendation channel based on ratings you've made to your music library.
Channels can be updated by connecting the Zune to your computer or using a Wi-Fi hot spot, and content will refresh weekly by flushing old songs out and bringing new tracks in. Zune Pass users will have the option to hold onto any of the Channel content, while non-subscription users will be bound by the Zune's three-play rule with the option to buy. … Read more