Microsoft made the Zune HD official last week with a press release. Some details they’ve kept hush about, but they announced just enough juicy details to get everyone interested. The announced features are:

  • 3.3 inch, 480×272 pixel, 16:9, OLED capacitive multi-touch screen
  • Built-in HD Radio receiver
  • 720p video output through Zune AV Dock which can be purchased separately
  • Built-in web browser based on Internet Explorer with on-screen full QWERTY keyboard
  • Buy content on the device over Wi-Fi, no need for wires or a computer
  • Scheduled to be released sometime this fall (rumored Sept. 5th)

To be honest I was a fan of the original Zune even though I never owned one. I like to root for the underdog and I think the Zune was an interesting device I just think it was improperly marketed which is why it never sold. I probably would have purchased one if I didn’t have an iPod at the time, and if the iPhone wasn’t announced the Zune might have been a replacement for when my iPod died.

I really love the design of the device, I think it looks great. I like the sharp squared edges more than I like the rounded edges of the newest generation iPods. The screen looks amazing, and I would love to see it in person with some HD content playing.

The Zune HD looks to be Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s iPod Touch which is quickly taking over as the most popular iPod model. To compete with the iPod Touch, Microsoft is going to have to come up with some kind of app/game store so that people can do whatever they want on the device. It is quite possible that they could allow XNA community games to run on the device, but they need to do something for regular non-gaming apps. Apple makes all the developer tools freely available as long as you have a Mac and charges you a one-time fee to release your apps to the public. Microsoft needs to do something similar if they want any hope of competing.

One problem I foresee is the Internet Explorer-based web browser on the device. IE renders pages horribly on a full-sized monitor, I can’t imagine how mangled they will look on a small 3.3″ screen. The screen size also bothers me a bit. I saw a picture of the device on Engadget in the hands of Steve Ballmer, and either Ballmer has huge mitts, which is entirely possible, or the device is in fact fairly small. If anyone has tried to play games on the iPhone or iPod Touch they can attest, even on their slightly bigger 3.5″ screens, it is hard to control with the touch screen. Your fingers have to be in the way of some of the screen otherwise you can’t use it and it makes for awkward gameplay. I’m wondering how this is going to work on the 3.3″ screen if Microsoft wants to get games on the Zune HD.

When all is said and done I think this looks to be a fairly solid media player and looks to create some pretty solid competition in that market. And now with Microsoft cross-branding Zune on the Xbox 360, this generation Zune could be much more profitable for them than any of the last and put them in a better position to compete with Apple, the market leader. That being said, I still don’t think this will dethrone Apple, but if you are in the market for a media player that doesn’t have a built-in phone, this could be the next one on your list. I for one already have an iPhone (and will probably buy the new rumored one) so I won’t be getting the Zune HD, but if they turn this into a Zune Phone somewhere down the road I would have a hard time making up my mind especially if the price point is low enough. So here’s hoping the rest of the details are as good as what they’ve let out so far.