Zune on Windows Phone 7


Having Zune on my Windows Phone 7 device is great and something I use at least once a day. However this constant use means I’ve found a few niggly things that I’d like to see changed.

1) You can’t create playlists on the device. This is something I’d do on my Android device quite a lot…a great way to quickly create lists on the fly. Only being able to create them on the pc feels quite restrictive.

2) You can’t put playlists on random. Now if one created a playlist with proper care & attention, I can see that this probably wouldn’t be necessary. However I don’t put that much effort into my playlist creation! I usually go through my catalogue by artist and add songs in that I’d forgotten about…this means I get runs of one artist for maybe a dozen songs, and I like my playlists to be much more varied than that…

3) You can’t spend Microsoft points. This one I really don’t get. I can spend Microsoft points in Zune on Xbox, Zune on PC but not Zune on Windows Phone 7…why? If you want to purchase something from the Zune marketplace, you have to use real money and that just seems odd. This means I tend to wait until I’m at a pc to purchase anything from the Marketplace…which certainly defeats the mobile aspect!

Microsoft Zune Pass available internationally


Microsoft are making the Zune Pass available in countries other than the US. That gets a big:

from me and I’m sure, 1000’s of others across the world too!

The imminent arrival of Windows Phone 7, which has the Zune player built in, means making this available worldwide is high on the list of things Microsoft need to do Smile

The Zune Pass is something I’ve been looking at for a long time as it represents great value for money. In the UK, it will be £8.99 a month which will give you full access to stream the huge library of music available in the Zune Marketplace. That in itself wouldn’t be enough to sway me as I have enough music already (!) but here’s the kicker:

Each month, you can permanently download and keep 10 tracks.

Which works out as 89.9p per track. So the streaming AND the keeping – that’s a winner right there!

Also, it will probably mean I will use Spotify very infrequently…

Windows Phone 7: Unlocking the Emulator


Windows Phone 7 is going to be with us later this year but it’s still a fair way away. Don’t fret though, there is a way to play with Redmond’s upcoming mobile OS…Unlock the Emulator.

Gizmodo have got a great, easy to follow guide on what you need to download etc to get up & running…find that here. It only took about 15 minutes to get up & running and that includes the download time and re-starting the machine, so it’s not particularly arduous!

I’m now going to take a look through the various screens, sections and folders of the WP7 emulator and see what’s hiding. This post will be resplendent with screenshots of course :-)

Homescreen:

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The 1st hub is

“People”:

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Clicking the “+” next to “all” allows you to add new people to your contacts:

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Social networking is also handled by this hub and the default accounts available to set up are:

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Click any of those, enter your address and password and setup begins.

The next hub is

Messaging:

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Not a huge amount to show for the Messaging hub really :-) Onto the

Calendar

You get the standard “day” view:

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but I’m a big fan of the “Agenda” view:

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It makes it nice and easy to see what you’ve got coming up. Also, the homescreen hub shows upcoming appointments:

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Up next,

Internet Explorer

Here’s this very blog as viewed in “Desktop” mode on WP7 IE:

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Here’s Bechtle’s UK site:

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and here’s Gizmodo:

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One new addition that I’m very pleased to see is this:

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You are now able to open multiple browser windows at the same time, and switch between them:

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This is one of my favourite things about mobile browsing on my Android phone and something I definitely wouldn’t want to lose in my next phone, so it’s great to see it in Windows Phone 7.

The extra settings screen in IE:

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Pin to Start does what it says on the tin and pins that site to your start screen:

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That’s the Microsoft site in the bottom corner there.

“Settings” doesn’t bring anything up at the moment, at least not for me.

The next hub is one of the most exciting:

XBOX Live & Games:

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Don’t ask me why the New York Times is classed as a game but click on it and you get:

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You can see the easy “Try” & “Buy” options there, a huge improvement over app interaction in previous Windows Mobile editions.

I can’t get the Emulator to connect to Windows Live, so I can’t explore the Xbox integration any further. I have asked Twitter if it can be done though!

Our next stop is:

Pictures:

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The extra settings button gives you:

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Again you can see sharing as an integral part of the OS. Currently its only option is text messages but I assume that, once set up, your other social media accounts (Twitter, Flickr, Facebook etc) will appear there too.

This next hub is the one I am most excited about…Microsoft mobile devices, welcome:

Zune:

I’ve been using the Zune desktop software for a few months now and I love it. It’s cool, clean, sexy, swish, awesome and fully featured…to be able to continue that experience on my mobile device will be fantastic!

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It’s not just the look and UI (User Interface) of Zune that I’m a fan of, there are 2 main things and the first is:

Marketplace

Clicking the link above takes you to the Marketplace, where you can see:

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So a huge range of media available to purchase directly from your mobile…awesome :-)

The arrow at the top right of the homescreen gives you access to the other features of the OS:

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The “Convert” option is a nice addition, I use the new conversion features of the Windows 7 calculator a lot so I’m definitely a fan of this:

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All the Office Mobile Apps are there but there’s also a “Microsoft Office” option, allowing access to all the programs at once:

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Excel:

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A new feature that shows the direction MS are taking with Office integration can be found in the “personalize” section in Excel:

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This is a clear tie in with Sharepoint and one that will be welcomed by many mobile users and fits in well with the Office 2010/Wave 14 message of Increased Productivity.

Word:

Word has got an easy to use commenting feature:

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and there’s the option to send files directly from Word:

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Sharepoint:

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This gives you quick and easy access to your corporate Sharepoint sites from your Windows Phone 7 device.

The settings for the Sharepoint Client are:

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Built in support for UAG (Unified Access Gateway) isn’t something I was expecting to see, but perhaps isn’t surprising.

OneNote:

OneNote currently gives this error message:

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This is the first time I’ve seen Skydrive integrated into any other Microsoft products, and I think it’s a great idea. The 25GB of free storage sitting in Windows Live is under-utilised by almost everyone I know which is a shame, as SkyDrive is a brilliant, and generous, offering.

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OneNote has lost none of it’s rich media inclusion in the mobile version, with the ability to add pictures & audio recordings right on the device.

Powerpoint:

Oddly, Powerpoint isn’t listed in the Office App but it is still there! However there are no .pptx’s built into the emulator so there’s nothing for it to open:

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All in all, Office on Windows Phone 7 certainly looks a lot sleeker and easier to navigate than on Windows Mobile 6.1.

Other apps in the OS include:

Maps

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That is a very well rendered image of the London Eye in the Windows Phone 7 Maps app.

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The above shows that it’s very clear and well designed application, easy on the eyes and easy to see where you’re going.

Camera:

One camera setting I really like is the top one:

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Being able to wake the phone up with the camera button will allow you to grab those snaps that little bit quicker…which can be the difference between a great picture and a picture of nothing!

Settings:

The settings menu shows that Microsoft MyPhone, the online backup service Microsoft released last year, is now integrated into the Operating System rather than being a separate add-on.

Myphone Features:

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Themes:

If you’re not a fan of the dark default theme, you can brighten it up as so:

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System Info:

This gives a screen familiar to PC users across the world:

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ands also:

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The “Shortcuts” menu also gives you access to the file structure:

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I think it would be a good idea to keep these in the final version of the OS; it makes it more consistent with the desktop Windows experience and is also usual to many users. However, Jason Chen of Gizmodo said something similar and Long Zheng said he was a “moron” who deserved to “be sacked” so I’ll stay away from that hornet’s nest ;-)

Conclusion:

There are still bits of the OS that aren’t present in the emulator as well as a few areas that are a bit glitchy, but that is to be expected with something that isn’t even a beta but simply an expanded emulator!

However there are plenty of things in here that make it clear this is Microsoft’s greatest Mobile Operating System ever. Gone are the confusing menu layers and different styles of previous Windows Mobile editions and in are smooth, sleek lines of the new Metro User Interface. I’m an Android user now and am pretty pleased with it but Windows Phone 7 has a real chance of winning me back…however, it’s going to be all about the apps at the end of the day. My HTC Hero is an e-book reader, a barcode scanner, a food tracker, a translator and more…if Windows Phone 7 can’t be all those things, and more, then it’ll have to be “thanks but no thanks Redmond”.

So I think image

Accessing Zune Marketplace in UK


As you can see from my previous post (here) I am now a huge fan of Microsoft’s Zune 4.0 desktop software. However being in the UK means that a lot of the features are unavailable to us…mainly the Zune marketplace.

Zune Marketplace:

The Marketplace is where you can preview and purchase songs, videos, apps, podcasts, games and more.

Zune marketplace

As you can see in the screenshot above, it’s got pretty much everything you could want:

  • New releases
  • Top Songs
  • Top Videos
  • Topical/focus sections

and you can split it down into genre, which then gives you all the above but specific to that kind of music.

Zune marketplace video

The video section is similar and also lets you purchase movies.

Zune marketplace apps

Above is the Zune App section of the marketplace, which looks pretty great. If I actually had a Zune HD, I’d definitely be loving this!

Anyway I digress slightly. You’re quite probably wondering how this is possible-what with me residing in England and Zune Marketplace being US only…well let me tell you.

UK Access

I was having a look around the internet to see what I could find on accessing the Zune Marketplace from outside the US and I came across this blog. Here the author, Ian Blackburn, details how to get initial access to the Marketplace; and it’s much simpler than I would have thought.

You simply change your PC location to “United States” via “Region & Language” in Control Panel.

The next step is being allowed to download things. To do this, you simply need to log into Zune Marketplace with a Live ID that is set to US location.

I changed my Live ID location and it worked. I was in Marketplace and downloading a free track from “People Under the Stairs”…brilliant :-) However, when I tried to download something a few minutes later, it said that “marketplace wasn’t available in my location” and blocked me from downloading anything :-(

The way I found around this was to download HotSpot Shield (available here) which masks your IP address. This gave me proper, full access to the Marketplace as well as Zune Social; plus little things such as syncing my proper play count…and the big one – enabling me to download things once again! The only downside I’ve found to Hot Spot Shield is that it places banner ads at the top of web pages which is a bit annoying; however I can put up with that…

Over at Bbits, Ian ponders how one would purchase things from Zune…and I agree with his theory. As the Zune marketplace users Xbox points as currency, one should be able to redeem a code against the LIve ID used for Zune and be able to download freely, without worrying about a US address/credit card etc. I haven’t tried it but if I do, I’ll let you know ;-) Another thing I’m going to investigate is getting a Zune Pass…but that’s for another day.

So there you have it, a relatively easy way to access the Zune marketplace from the UK, or indeed anywhere else…have fun!

Zune 4.0 Desktop Software


I’ve always been a big Windows Media Player (WMP) fan. I never bothered with any of the alternatives as WMP has always had most/all the features I’ve needed, and I despise iTunes (for way too many reasons to go into here!).

When I first got the beta of Windows 7 back in Feb/March (?), one of the first things I did was check out WMP 12. I was very pleased with what I found…it’s quicker and smoother and has got numerous great new features such as “Play To” for streaming to other devices, the ability to be played remotely to another Windows 7 machine, the ability to preview songs and more. It works really well and is much improved over V11 but recently I’ve been thinking about checking out something different.

I’ve been wanting a Zune for years but as they aren’t properly available here in the UK, I’ve not got one. While thinking on possible replacements for WMP 12, I remembered hearing the Zune desktop software getting good reviews; so I thought – will it work without a Zune? Perhaps obviously, yes it will…and it is truly great!!! :-)

I’ve only been using it for a little under 24 hours but so far, I’m a huge fan of it. I’ve taken a bunch of screenshots so you can see the elegant, modern, media centre style vibe it’s got going on.

This is the Welcome Screen I get when I load it up:

Zune Quickplay View

It’s divided into four sections:

New: This section contains any news tracks added into the library

History: This contains the tracks/albums that have previously been listened to.

Pins: You can “pin” albums/singles to the front page with a simple right click

Smart DJ: Automatically generates playlists based on your library.

Smart DJ

This I’ve heard a lot about. It creates playlists all on its own, based on artists that you give it as a reference after analysing your music. It’s just finished analysing my music and has given me a Smart DJ playlist based on Wu-Tang Clan and it’s excellent:

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As you can, it’s not just other Wu-Tang songs – it’s got Nas and Canibus in there too, artists who are indeed related.

This Smart DJ based on “Onyx” is even more impressive:

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Every artist is different there-great stuff :-)

Collection

This is where you can see all the songs/albums/artists/genres etc in your library, much like Windows Media but just better.

Zune Artists View

Rather than them being separate section as in WMP, you can see Artists, Albums and individual songs all at once. This section has got a very current, web 2.0 app style feel and I’m a big fan.

The “Songs” section also includes a “Play Count” column which is what I was originally looking for. I know it’s pretty gimmicky and all the rest of it, but I like the idea of being able to see what songs get played the most. This features aligns quite nicely with today’s IT drive towards ever deeper data mining too ;-)

Album View:

This is clearly taken from Media Centre but that’s no bad thing:

Zune Album View

I love the tiled album art background and the changing colour schemes that it moves through…also, the tiles in the background flip round – small things eh?! :-)

Another nice touch is the ever-present yet subtle graphic equalizer down at the bottom of the screen:

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There are a few things that aren’t in there when compared to WMP 12-inc most/all the new Windows 7 features (play to, stream, preview etc) but I don’t really mind that. The biggest downside for me is that I can’t sync my Windows Mobile device with it. I know that seems logical as it’s designed for the Zune but as it can work without one – it’d be nice to have that option. The mobile syncing is the only thing keeping WMP12 in the picture…and I never thought I’d say that…

All in all, I’m a HUGE fan of Zune 4.0 Desktop software and I highly recommend you go and download it here right now!