Yesterday morning I replaced my iPod with a new Zune 2. I've owned 4 iPods over the years, and I've always loved them. When the first Zunes released, I wasn't tempted at all to replace my trusty iPod. That all changed when I heard of the new features in Zune 2, and after using the new Zune for a day, I am convinced that it's hands-down better than what Apple offers.

The Hardware

My 80GB Zune feels smaller than my 80GB iPod, but the screen on it seems HUGE in comparison. I'd love to see a higher resolution screen on the Zune for video (you can see pixels if you look closely enough), but it's not a big deal to me. Video looks great and the colors are incredibly vibrant. The huge, widescreen display is perfect for watching my video podcasts. (Yes, the Zune has podcast support now.)

Another great thing about the Zune 2 is that it's extremely scratch-resistant. The screen is glass, so it's just about impervious to scratches. The rest of the front of the case is a matte finish that resists fingerprints. The rear of the case is a matte aluminum that doesn't show fingerprints and doesn't scratch. It also provides a great feel when holding the Zune.

The new controller on the Zune is called a ZunePad. It's one of those things that you can't truly appreciate until you use it. It's touch-sensitive so that you can swipe your thumb across it for fast scrolling, but it's also a tactile clicker. I've often been frustrated by the iPod wheel because it's sometimes hard to select an item with it. Because the ZunePad can be swiped with the thumb as well as clicked for precise selection, it's a perfect solution.

The new Zunes also offer WiFi sync. It works well and is a huge convenience. Users of first-version Zunes get all of the new software features in a firmware update, including the ability to sync via WiFi.

The Software (on the device and on the PC)

The Zune 2 software flashed onto the device is nice for someone coming from the utilitarian iPod. My favorite feature is the full-screen album art. I'm not a big fan of the huge letters on the home screen. It would be nice to have the option of making them smaller.

Navigation is easy and very attractive. I played with a friend's first-generation Zune when they first released and I found it confusing and a little awkward. The Zune 2 is a huge improvement and I find it to be very intuitive. It also has nice touches that you don't appreciate at first. For example, when you select an album for a particular artist, you get the typical screen showing the tracks where you can select to play all tracks or an individual track. However, you also get a horizontally-scrolling thumbnail view of all of that artist's albums along the top of the screen. If you're trying to find a particular song but you're not sure which album it's on, you can swipe your thumb left and right until you find the track. That same operation on the iPod requires you to select an album, scroll through the track list, click Menu to go back, scroll to a new album, select it, etc. The Zune's interface feels more polished to me.

The Zune software that installs on your PC is equally nice, and it solves some of the frustrations I have with iTunes. Podcast support is certainly not an afterthought (as I thought it would be) and unlike iTunes, you can control how many episodes are kept, etc. for individual podcasts. In other words, I have some podcasts that release daily, and I want to keep the latest 4 episodes. Another podcast might release weekly and I might only want to keep the latest episode of that one. The Zune software makes configuring that easy. You can't do it at all in iTunes.

Another enormous advantage is being able to add as many folders as I want for my music collection. I like to keep my music separated from video and podcasts. Using the Zune software, I can add as many folders as I want (on any drive) and Zune software will watch those folders. With iTunes, you have one folder and that's it.

When I first set up my Zune, I pointed it to the music on my external firewire hard drive. After using it for a few hours, I decided that I wanted to put all of my music on my laptop hard drive, so I copied it all over and reconfigured the Zune software to point to the new folder on my hard drive. When I synced my Zune, it was smart enough to accept the new configuration without requiring me to resync the entire device. Making that same change in iTunes often requires a resync of your iPod, a process that can take a considerable amount of time.

Another huge plus with the Zune is the Zune Pass. For $15 per month, I can download anything I want. I can use that music on up to three computers and three Zunes, and I can keep it as long as I keep my subscription active. The iPod doesn't offer any subscription services.

The Zune Marketplace doesn't have as much music as iTunes yet, but it does offer more music than many other music services. (James Taylor's new album released yesterday and I was able to download it immediately!) You can also purchase DRM-free MP3 music from the Zune Marketplace. (Yes, MP3 format, not WMA.)

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. I'm sure you think that I'm a Zune fan because I work for Microsoft. Not true! I've been an iPod junkie for years. I am a fan of the Zune 2 because it truly is a superior device in my opinion, is a joy to use, sounds great, and "fixes" many of the annoyances I have with iTunes/iPod.

Great job, Zune team! This one's a winner.

Jim

 [In order to avoid prolonging the debate of iPod vs. Zune, I've decided to close comments on this post. I think the existing comments sufficiently represent both sides of the debate.]