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Cybernaut

Microsoft lays an oeuf

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Microsoft released its answer to the iPod Touch last week to mostly positive reviews, and while I seriously considered purchasing the Zune HD, Microsoft is only releasing the player in the U.S. - for now.

There are a lot of reasons why it's not available in Canada, not least our bilingual requirements for hardware, software, packing, etc. - one of the reasons the original Zune player was not released in Canada until 15 months after its U.S. release.

I had hoped this product might be available here and some credible rumours - including one from usually reliable Ars Technica (www.arstechnica.com) - that the Zune HD release would be international. Up until last week that appeared to be the case, although Microsoft shrouded the Zune HD release in so much secrecy that it was impossible to tell for sure either way. Currently there's no release date available for Canada, but it's possible it could take a year or longer for the hardware to arrive here. That's a lost opportunity for Microsoft, which will find itself even further behind Apple by the time they can make the Zune HD available around the globe.

That said, there's nothing stopping me from going to the U.S. to buy the Zune HD player, and if the release of the earlier Zune models is any indication the Zune Marketplace and Zune Pass should work just fine. I tried to download the new Zune 4.0 software and it worked fine as well.

But while the Zune HD remains an option for me, I'm not sure at this point whether it's worth the trip when the iPod Touch is readily available in Canada and is likely a better player.

While I believe the Zune has a bright future as a portable music player it's nowhere near as versatile as the iPod Touch, at least not yet. It does music and video very well, and the Zune Pass system where you can pay $15 a month for unlimited music, 10 free downloads and some free videos is far better than iTunes when it comes to overall value.

The Nvidia Tegra chip that powers the Zune HD is also probably a little better than what you'll find under the hood in the iPod Touch, given its low power architecture, ability to process HD video and real 3D experience. However at launch there were only a handful of simple games available, none of which showcased this technology and very few useful apps other than the web browser.

Calculator? Weather widget? Really?

Out of the box the iPod Touch has a web browser, calendar, contact book, e-mail client, messaging software, social networking apps, maps, and more. The 32 GB and 64 GB version include earphones that come with a microphone that allows you to record audio, which the Zune HD can't match yet. Add a library of over 20,000 apps in the iTunes App Store, many of them free, and the Zune comes off looking kind of anemic. Zune HD is promising more in the near future like a Facebook app, but that's the kind of thing that really needed to be there at launch.

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