More on the Zune Pad
This is probably the most notable change over the previous model. The Zune Pad is a squircle-shaped (yes, that's a real word) soft pad that replaces the plastic five-way navigator on the original Zune. It doesn't really provide any extra functionality, per se, but you are able to swipe your finger across its surface to scroll through playlists and navigate through the menu.
For instance, when you swipe from the top to the bottom, you can quickly scroll your way down a playlist, similar to what you may do on an iPhone or an iPod touch. What's cool is that when you achieve a certain speed of swiping, letters start to pop up on the screen so that you can skip to a certain part of the playlist. Realistically, you can achieve the same effect by holding down the bottom portion of the Zune Pad; it still functions as a regular five-way navigator if that's what you prefer.
Veterans of the iPod's click wheel may need to take a little time to get accustomed to the Zune Pad, because it does not operate in a circular fashion. Up is still up, down is still down. While listening to a song, sliding your finger up and down adjusts the volume, whereas horizontal swipes skip to the previous or next track.
Beyond the Zune Pad, there are two other buttons on the face of the Zune. The one on the left is "back" and it allows you to retract through the menu, whereas the one of the right is play/pause. You can probably guess what that does. On a side note, you press the center of the Zune Pad (you definitely feel a "click") to select an option rather than the play button. Overall, I'm pleased with how the Zune Pad works, because it provides the intuitiveness of touch-sensitive controls, but it also has solid tactile feedback when you actually press it down.
Fantastic Earphones Included
Having a large 3.2-inch color display is great and all, but what about the sound department? Unlike so many other MP3 players on the market that come with the cheapest earbuds imaginable, Microsoft has really stepped it up with the earphones that come bundled with the Microsoft Zune 80GB. These in-ear headphones have soft foam pads and a noise-blocking feature to help you better enjoy your music.
Sound quality was very good for earphones that come for "free" with the player. They may not necessarily compete against the Shure and Sennheiser offerings on the market, but they're pretty fantastic for what they are. Better still, the two earbuds are actually magnetic, so they'll hold together in your pocket, minimizing tangles. I would have preferred a non-cloth cord, however, as brushing the headphone cord against your clothing is amplified through the earbuds.
Oddly, the Zune 80GB does not appear to have any sort of equalizer settings, so you are not really able to crank up the bass or turn down the treble. Just the basic ability to choose between a few pre-determined equalizer settings would have been appreciated.